The Jazz Age

New York, New York

An exploration of the dynamic changes in American taste and lifestyles during the 1920s, The Jazz Age is VHA’s first exhibition design for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The show explores the period through a broad range of furniture, jewelry, fashion, textiles, decorative arts, and architecture, as well as art, film, and music.

The show begins with a collection of traditional objects from the early 20th century, setting the stage for the boundary-pushing experimentation to come.   Featuring 411 objects in a variety of media, the show is densely arranged across two floors of the museum’s Carnegie Mansion (1901), a National Historic Landmark.  In order to manage the large object count, tight budget and aggressive schedule, VHA utilized a detailed 3D model to ensure a well-coordinated and timely design.

Furniture, textiles and domestic objects dominate the show’s first section.  VHA’s continuous furniture platforms with interlocking cases provide a dynamic, compact arrangement of objects while accommodating visitor flow and thematic relationships.

Music, dancing and nightlife are celebrated in the show’s third section, with jewelry and fashion taking center stage.  To display the wide range of precious objects within the budget, VHA worked closely with the museum to reuse existing cases wherever possible, minimizing the amount of new, bespoke material required for the show.

The influence of the skyscraper is seen throughout the show.  Numerous skyscraper-inspired objects are gathered on a wing-shaped platform at the end of a long view axis, creating a dramatic moment within the show.

Abstraction emerged in the 1920s, and its influence is noted through dozens of objects in a variety of media.

A section about technology and innovation includes iconic chairs from the 20s and 30s.  Throughout the show, rich colors and simple, unadorned surfaces create a dignified backdrop, allowing the objects to take center stage.

The show continues on the second floor, with a gallery devoted to international design influences of the period.  A ten-panel, gold leaf screen fills an entire wall, creating a dramatic focal point.  VHA’s installation incorporated the gallery’s permanent central vitrines, which proved well suited to the show’s fashion and decorative arts objects.

The show concludes with two oil panels from Josef Urban’s 1927 Ziegfeld Theater (demolished 1966).  The 16 foot panels are installed in the mansion’s historic grand stair, requiring careful modifications to the space’s existing windows and lighting.


Photographer: Matt Flynn, © Smithsonian Institution

Graphics: Tsang Seymour Design

Local Architect: Castro Watson Design