Something Old, Something New – Interactive Design for a History Museum

By Amy Stein-Milford, Deputy Director

Last month I worked with a group of students from the Parsons School of Design as part of a graduate class on Interactive Design taught by Jeff Tancil.  I always look forward to working with Jeff’s students. Each year we present a different challenge for them to solve and they always come up with creative, new ways to incorporate interactive experiences at our historic site.

The class assignment this year was to propose an experience or program that Eldridge Street would submit as part of the New Museum’s Ideas City Festival. The project needed to relate to the themes and mission of the Museum at Eldridge Street, explore the Festival’s theme of “The Invisible City,” and engage new audiences. Their thoughtful, well-researched and creative responses inspired me to write this post and think about the way historic sites like ours can integrate the new into the old. Here are their proposals:

Blended City
By Kehul Liu, Eric Jiang, Jenna Demchuk, Lama Sheshadeh

Blended City - Proposal for the Museum at Eldridge Street

Blended City – Proposal for the Museum at Eldridge Street

Every wish you could step back in time and see what the city looked like 100 years ago? That’s just what the “Blended City” team’s proposed project would let you do using Oculus Rift technology. The project would place three virtual reality stations outside the synagogue. Put on the Oculus Rift headsets and discover the invisible historical surroundings of the Eldridge Street Synagogue.


Coloring Sound
By Minjung Alice Kang, Yeyoung Cho, Rosalind Paradis, Isabella Cruz Chong

Coloring Sound- Proposal for the Museum at Eldridge Street

Coloring Sound – Proposal for the Museum at Eldridge Street

Horses hooves, Yiddish conversation, cantorial singing – these are the sounds you would have heard 128 years ago during services at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.  The Coloring Sound team’s proposal is envisioned as a collaborative workshop in which kids and adults color in images of the Eldridge Street Synagogue on a large-scale touch-sensitive drawing. Pressure sensors, speaker wires, and Arduino software are mounted to the back of the drawing paper. As each zone of the drawn line image is filled in, archival sounds specific to the space will be triggered. Check it out here:

City Wheelz
Caroline Voagen Nelson, Umi Syam, Hsuan Chou

City WheelzEye-catching, playful, and thoughtful, the City Wheelz team’s proposal insets a transparent image of the stained glass window by Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans into the wheels of a vintage bicycle, affixes a zoetrope animation revealing a time-lapse history of the Eldridge Street Synagogue to its top, and – voila! – you have a stationary cycletrope for festival-goers. A secret history is revealed every time you pedal on the wheels! (See picture at top of page, too.) The team also recommended an area bike tour to bring people to our space.

LES Then & Now
Joo-Hee, Linda, Pink, Luobin

LES Then and Now - Proposal for the Museum at Eldridge Street

LES Then and Now – Proposal for the Museum at Eldridge Street

The “LES Then & Now” teams proposal reveals the secret history of the Lower East Side through a mix of a virtual tour, screening and an interactive exhibition on the steps of the Eldridge Street Synagogue and other intriguing sites in the area.  Hidden icons and messages are revealed to those who search through the neighborhood using their smartphones and optical technology a la the Apple Perspective

While all four of the teams had very different proposals, they all shared a commitment to integrating their innovative technologies in a way that was utterly responsive to the history of our 1887 site. What better way to bring new ideas and fresh insight to our 128-year old landmark site and museum?

 What are your favorite examples of historic sites bringing art and technology to their space?



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