Cooper-Hewitt Adds The First Piece Of Code To Its Design Collection

Programmers know how beautiful well-written code can be, but most users will never see the source code behind their software. The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, however, wants to showcase the artistic potential of computer programming. It just acquired iPad app Planetary and its source code, the first time the museum has added a piece of code to its collection.

Developed by Bloom Studio, Planetary was first released in 2011 and has been downloaded more than 3.5 million times. The app (available for free on the App Store) uses astronomical bodies to visualize your iTunes music library. For example, artists are represented by stars, albums by planets and individual tracks by moons. Orbits are determined by the length of tracks and albums and the brightness of stars vary according to how often you play each artists’ music.

Cooper-Hewitt has made Planetary’s source code, which was originally written in C++ using the Cinder framework, available at its GitHub. By making it open source, the museum says it wants to encourage people to view the code as a “living art” that highlights the possibilities of programming as an interactive and collaborative art form.

The acquisition of Planetary is also an experiment in preserving and curating software, which, like almost all technology, starts to become outdated as soon as it is released.

“The release of the source code allows us to test open sourcing as a new model for long-term software preservation. It also allows the museum to consider programming languages as ‘materials,’ and future researchers to undertake new forms of design research, software and critical code studies,” said Sebastian Chan, Cooper-Hewitt’s director of digital and emerging media, in a statement.

Planetary’s code was gifted to the museum by its creators Ben Cerveny, Tom Carden and Jesper Anderson, the three principals of Bloom Studio. The startup was based in San Francisco from 2011 to 2012 and developed applications that promoted new ways of visualizing information. Planetary also drew on the talents of artist Robert Hodgin, who was Bloom Studio’s creative director.

For more information, check out Cooper-Hewitt’s post about its acquisition of Planetary.