American Museum of Natural History Gilder Center

Location
New York, NY

Status
In design

Client
American Museum of Natural History

Type
Cultural, Educational

Size
195,000 sf

Sustainability
Targeting LEED Gold

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The American Museum of Natural History's Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation is a new building that embodies the Museum's integrated mission of science, education, and exhibition. At a time of urgent need for better public understanding of science and for greater access to science education, the Gilder Center offers the general public and school groups new ways to learn about science and share in the excitement of discovery.

To learn more about the American Museum of Natural History and the Richard Gilder Center, please visit the Museum's project website.

“We uncovered a way to vastly improve visitor circulation and Museum functionality, while tapping into the desire for exploration and discovery that are emblematic of science and also part of being human,” said Gang. “Upon entering the space, natural daylight from above and sightlines to various activities inside invite movement through the Central Exhibition Hall on a journey towards deeper understanding. The architectural design grew out of the Museum’s mission.”

The Central Exhibition Hall, which will serve as the Museum's Columbus Avenue entrance, was informed by processes found in nature. The space forms a continuous, flowing spatial experience along an east-west axis, allowing visitors to move beneath and across connective bridges and along sculpted walls that house the Museum's programs. Recessed cavities in the sculptural walls create niches that will showcase exhibition elements designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, as well as laboratories, imaging facilities, visualization theaters, and classrooms while making the Museum's extensive scientific collections more visible and accessible. The reinforced concrete walls of the Central Exhibition hall, with its arches and niches, will form the weight-bearing structure of the building's interior.

More than any other gallery, the Central Exhibition Hall and the niches housed in its walls will reveal the Museum as an active scientific and educational institution with closely integrated educational experiences, scientific resources, and exhibition areas. The public will be able to engage with innovative tools used by Museum scientists, such as the tools used for gene mapping, 3D imaging, and big data assimilation and visualization, to gain a deeper understanding of nature’s complexity and how science is conducted today.

The design team saw an opportunity to reclaim the physical heart of the Museum and to complete connections between and among existing Museum galleries and new space, linking 10 Museum buildings through 30 connections.

The design greatly enhances visitor circulation at a museum where annual attendance has grown from approximately 3 to 5 million over the past several decades. It connects an array of existing galleries to new ones in ways that highlight intellectual links across different scientific disciplines, create adjacencies among and facilitate interaction within classrooms, laboratories, collections, and library resources, and place educational experiences within current scientific practice.

The visual language of the Central Exhibition Hall informed the conceptual design of the facade, which imagines the interior walls emerging and wrapping around the exterior. The exterior will be clad in glass and stone, which will be selected in the upcoming design phase with consideration of materials used in the existing complex. The conceptual design maintains the current heights of the Museum building complex on its western side, placing the Columbus Avenue facade at the same height as the buildings on either side of the new entrance. On the south side, the facade is aligned with the adjacent building and steps back to meet the bordering building to the north. The conceptual design is consistent with the axial intention of the original 1872 master plan while recognizing the park setting in which the Museum is located.

Program elements:

The Collections Core, a vertical feature spanning several floors that will showcase a working section of the Museum’s world-class collections and the activities of researchers who come to study its invaluable specimens and artifacts.

The Invisible Worlds Theater, an immersive theater that will reveal new frontiers of scientific research made accessible with new imaging technology, from the intricate architecture of the human brain to our microbial ecosystem, and from the shadowy depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of the atmosphere.

An insect hall, which will showcase the variety of one of Earth’s most diverse and abundant groups with specimens from the Museum’s insect collection, one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of its kind, and live insects. The hall also will be the new home of the Museum’s popular live butterfly conservatory.

An interpretive wall, located at the center of the Museum’s building complex, which will orient visitors, facilitate way-finding, and spark further exploration by showcasing current science, illuminating important concepts such as geologic time scales and evolutionary relationships, and issuing real-time updates on the pulse of our planet in a mosaic of video, data imagery, and interactive exhibits. The interpretive wall will not only anchor the onsite visit but will also become a crucial part of a seamless visitor journey that integrates onsite experiences with visitors’ digital interactions with the Museum.

Exhibition niches, a series of open, recessed chambers with exhibitions that will connect the wonders of the natural world with our own powers of perception and sensation. Visitors will experience such phenomena as the deep blue light emitted from the depths of an ice cave, the sounds of a tropical rain forest teeming with life, and the ultrasound cries of bats in the night sky and of whales in the deep ocean—sounds that are out of range to the human ear without the aid of sensitive sonars.

Educational laboratories and classrooms, which will directly address the need to enhance STEM teaching and learning and enable teachers and students to access the Museum’s extensive scientific resources. New facilities in the Gilder Center will allow students to carry out research projects in data visualization and assembly that mirror those conducted by Museum scientists and better prepare them for secondary education and the workforce. Classrooms featuring the latest digital and technological tools will be connected to scientific facilities and collections, and will offer innovative spaces for teaching science to middle school, early childhood, family, and adult learners.

Scientific laboratories, which will be equipped with powerful state-of-the-art optical and electron microscopes, CT scanners, and workstations for 3D reconstruction and animation, will enable Museum scientists to image and analyze extensive amounts of information resident in fossil organisms, meteorites, and even cultural objects—all at levels of detail and accuracy that far exceed anything thought possible even a few years ago. Adjacent spaces will be devoted to investigators conducting computational research on big data produced through these detailed visualizations, with visitors having opportunities to observe ongoing lab investigations and resulting visualizations.

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New York Times — “American Museum of Natural History Releases Design of Gilder Center”

New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman took a look at the Studio Gang–designed Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History.