Since opening in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has served as one of the world’s preeminent scientific and cultural institutions. With a dual mission devoted to science and education, this world class facility is about to expand its offerings. Recently, museum officials unveiled its plans for a $325 million, 218,000-square-foot expansion, pending approval from city officials.
Museum President Ellen V. Futter adds that “The Gilder Center embraces the museum’s integrated mission and growing role in scientific research and education and its enhanced capacity to make its extensive resources even more fully accessible to the public.” The newly revealed expansion plans were designed by architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects.
The architect explains her vision of the project. “We uncovered a way to improve vastly 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,” says 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 will include a variety of education areas for learners of all ages and levels, including the 500,000 annual visitors who come to the museum as part of school and camp groups. Students of all backgrounds will have opportunities to observe and participate in the processes of scientific discovery in spaces designed to facilitate cross-disciplinary thinking and personalized learning.
Several integrated exhibition and program elements in development include:
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: This will showcase the variety, diversity, and abundance of specimens from the museum’s insect collection, and also feature a variety of live insects. The hall will also be the new home of the museum’s popular live butterfly conservatory.
Exhibition niches: This series of open, recessed chambers with exhibitions 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 rainforest 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.
Bedrossian shares that if city officials approve the project, construction of the Gilder Center will begin in 2017 after completion of the design. The goal is to open the Gilder Center in 2020, at the conclusion of the Museum’s 150th anniversary in 2019. More information on the American Museum of Natural History can be found at www.amnh.org. ■