Installation view of the Immersion Room. Photo Matt Flynn.

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum director Caroline Baumann stood in the center of an artwork by Damián Ortega on Tuesday morning, at a preview of the museum galleries, opening Friday after a three-and-a-half-year, $91-million renovation. Controller of the Universe (2007) consists of dozens of found antique tools hanging by wires from the ceiling, arranged such that they radiate out from the piece's center as if in an explosion; viewers can walk into the middle of the work via two narrow walkways. It's part of one of the museum's inaugural exhibitions, "Tools: Expanding Our Reach" (through May 25, 2015). Nearby is a wall-size video screen showing a delayed video feed of the surface of the sun, enabled by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

"Standing here in the Ortega, with the sun wall behind it, sends home the power of design," Baumann said. The contrast of new and old, digital and analog, human-size and stellar-scale, underscored her point.

Baumann was in the area of the museum that saw the most dramatic change as part of the renovation, overseen by New York firms Beyer Blinder Belle and Gluckman Mayner: a third-floor space that housed a library and staff quarters was converted into a 6,000-square-foot gallery, allowing a 60 percent increase in the institution's exhibition space (the library and offices were moved offsite). "There was red shag rug here," Baumann pointed out, where there are now blond wood floors.

The rehab of the building is evident as soon as you enter, though; in the entryway, note the beautiful carved stone ceiling, which was previously covered by a dozen layers of paint. Inside, the redesign has made for brighter, roomier galleries; bold signage by design firm Pentagram and updated display furniture add modern flair. Pentagram's work also nicely offsets the traditional aspects of the spaces, like gorgeous teak wood detailing in the grand staircase and in galleries on the second floor.

Founded in 1897, the Cooper Hewitt has been part of the Smithsonian since 1967, and is housed in a 1902 Beaux-Arts mansion built for Andrew Carnegie on Fifth Avenue at the north end of Museum Mile. (The mansion is now a historical landmark; among its other distinctions, it was one of the first in New York to have an Otis passenger elevator.) The museum boasts a collection of over 210,000 historical and contemporary objects; the size of its collections places it among the top 10 in collection size among design museums, Baumann told A.i.A.

The Cooper Hewitt grew out of the collection of Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt, granddaughters of the industrialist Peter Cooper, and was originally the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration. In order to acknowledge distinctly the two families that are part of the museum's history, the museum has dropped the hyphen that used to appear between Cooper and Hewitt.

Near where Baumann was standing, juxtapositions of old and new, small and massive, take place throughout one of the museum's main inaugural exhibitions. The "Tools" show consists of over 700 works from the museum's collection. Encompassing about 175 objects spanning nearly two million years, the show includes a display of simple stone hand tools like pestles in a case alongside the newest sort of handheld implement-an iPhone and a flexible Microsoft mouse from 2011.

Other inaugural exhibitions include "Beautiful Users" (through Apr. 26, 2015), focused on user-centered design, and "Hewitt Sisters Collect" (through 2015), displaying objects acquired by Sarah and Eleanor. Upcoming shows include the next iteration of the museum's design triennial as well as "How Posters Work," drawn from the museum's collection, and a study of architecture and design from  the London studio of Thomas Heatherwick.

Despite the impressive collection and the historic site along Museum Mile, the Cooper Hewitt has low attendance figures. Owing to a show of Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry, the museum hit a high of 225,000 over the 12 months before it shuttered, which was considerably over its previous high of 170,000. The Guggenheim Museum, just a block away, drew 470,000 visitors to its 2013 James Turrell exhibition alone. Baumann hopes to draw 500,000 people a year to the Cooper Hewitt's newly revamped facility. "But hey," Baumann told A.i.A. in a recent visit, "we'd be happy with 300,000."

Those goals may seem ambitious, but the museum is counting on novel technology as a draw. Its most notable new gizmo is a chunky, 8½-inch-long, three-ounce, graphite-colored electronic pen, of which the museum plans to produce around 3,000; several design firms, including SistelNetworks, MakeSimply and GE, were tapped to work on the pen alone. By tapping a wall label, visitors will be able to have information on the pertinent object stored in the pen, which vibrates to acknowledge the information transfer; they can later send the data to a folder on the museum's website, which they can access at home via a code printed on their ticket stub. The pen thus creates an easy way for museumgoers to access information online on the objects they like.

"We saw people taking photographs of museum labels with their phones," Seb Chan, director of digital and emerging media, told A.i.A. "Come on. We have the Internet now."

The pens are great fun to use, especially with the large interactive tables throughout the galleries; by drawing a circle on a touch screen, for example, visitors can call up objects from the museum's collection that feature circles. You'll have to wait for the pens, though; production delays mean they won't be available at the museum's public opening, though there were a number on hand for members of the press to try out on Tuesday.

The museum is hoping that star guest curators will account for some increased visitorship, and will give over one first-floor gallery to guest-curated shows. Architect David Adjaye is tapped for 2015, and currently on view is "Maira Kalman Selects" (through June 14, 2015), featuring 40 of the New York artist and illustrator's choices from the museum's holdings. These include clothing, teapots, illustrated books, a Gerrit Rietfeld Zig Zag Chair (ca. 1934) and Abraham Lincoln's gold pocket watch. She engaged composer Nico Muhly to compose a chamber piece to complement the show; it will play periodically in the gallery.

There are also some pieces from Kalman's own collection, including her piano; at the Cooper Hewitt, it's displayed with a pair of gray striped pants that belonged to Arturo Toscanini, slung over the piano bench. A handwritten sign in Kalman's distinctive script reads, "Kindly refrain from touching the piano or Toscanini's pants."