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History of the ordinary

Name

The Partners

Idea

To highlight the design history of ordinary objects on the streets of New York with the Museum of the Mundane (MoMu).

It feels like everyday, an exciting new innovation is getting thrown at our faces. But what about the forgotten objects and ideas that have always surrounded us, quietly fulfilling their function? International creative agency, The Partners, decided that everyday objects should also have their time to shine.

Scattered throughout the streets of New York, The Museum of the Mundane (MoMu) displays gallery-like wall texts next to the seemingly mundane; the manhole, the hotdog and the chain link fence are all part of MoMu’s ‘collection’. By outlining the surprising design history behind the objects we take for granted, MoMu invites the public to reconsider what they interact with on a daily basis.

Paying homage to the ‘mundane’ seems like a timely thing to do. What motivated you to start this project?

The Museum of the Mundane came about as a reaction to NYC x Design - New York's design week. While the event was a catalyst, we saw it as an opportunity to put our point of view out in the public domain. Yes, design can represent a disdain for Comic Sans and a $1,500 lamp, but it's also present in the simple, ingenious commonplace that comfortably surrounds us. We wanted to get the message out there that brilliant design shapes our lives every day, often without us even noticing.

I read that you went from an initial list of 60 objects, down to 20. What were some objects that didn't make the cut? Are there still some today that you wish you had included?

That is true, we originally brainstormed a list of 60 objects. We whittled it down to 20 artefacts after conducting more in-depth research, and then selected the objects with the most interesting stories and design breakthroughs. For example, a textile company developed the chain link fence by mimicking the woven pattern of fabric. A few didn't make the cut; concrete - which dates back to Roman times, as well as the wheel were a bit too obvious, and the pedestrian crosswalk because some research shows these actually increase traffic accidents. Some others we wish we had included are the magnetic strip and the hills hoist.

The hills hoist would be great in an Australian MoMu. What’s something you’ve learned in creating the Museum?

People are hungry to learn, if given the opportunity. Also, a catchy acronym does wonders.

What is one artefact in particular whose history surprised you upon researching it further?

Our group favourite is the hot dog. It's a New York staple, but we knew nothing about its origin, other than that it must be vaguely Germanic. We discovered that hot dogs came over to America as sausages, and as a means to protect customers' fingers from the scalding meat, street vendors used to loan out gloves. Unfortunately, people would often steal the gloves or forget to return them. Antoine, the inventor, and his brother-in-law, a baker, came up with the ingenious solution: soft, edible bread rolls that perfectly fit the sausage and protect fingers. No waste, no pain, no stolen gloves.

Some of the objects in MoMu are distinctively 'New York' - what impact do you hope MoMu makes on the city and its inhabitants? And do you think you’ll bring this project to an international scale?

We purposely selected artefacts that could be found across the streets of New York. That said, we knew this idea had legs beyond NYC, and we encourage any and all to carry this out in their home city or town. The main takeaway: we hope people take the time to stop, look around them, and discover the brilliance of everyday design.

Interviewed by
Vinisha Mulani

Photography by
Thanks to MoMu and The Partners