With the unveiling last week of Studio Gang’s design for the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, USA, the public got its first look at the potentially controversial project. At issue is whether the museum’s expansion project, which encroaches into neighbouring Theodore Roosevelt Park, will negatively impact the quality of life of its Upper West Side residents by reducing precious park space and creating traffic problems. Such concerns are typically viewed as part and parcel of city living. But lately the city has sided with residents in battles that have pinned them against powerful cultural institutions. The Frick Collection and the Museum of Modern Art are the latest museums in New York to have their expansion wings clipped by community opposition. Gang’s design for the Gilder Center takes a proactive approach to the potentially controversial project by offering up for public consideration a contemporary expansion project that has a lot of upsides and treats the existing museum complex and grounds with intelligence and sensitivity.
Gang’s design for the Gilder Center is a fanciful confection straight out of the imagination - part Guggenheim Museum part Jurassic Park. Inspired by glaciers and rock outcroppings that occur in nature, the design features a curvy glass and stone exterior and a “cavelike” interior with concrete walls that form voids and niches that invite exploration and create spaces for exhibition. The Center’s main space and indeed its star attraction is the Central Exhibition Hall. More than a gallery, it reimagines the museum not only as a fun place to visit with lots of exciting second-to-none attractions. It forges meaningful connections between the museum’s collections, scientific education and research. In addition to the main gallery, the Center will have a Collections Core, a vertical feature spanning several floors; an immersive, Invisible Worlds Theatre; library; and insect hall. These spaces will be joined by laboratories and classrooms that will offer programs that will connect STEM education to real world scientific research and discoveries. To tie the center to the existing museum complex, Gang has provided 30 connective bridges that will link it to 10 Museum buildings. This strategy creates opportunities to connect the museum's materials in new and interesting ways while correcting also it’s vexing and well-known circulation problems and eliminating its many dead end corridors.
“We uncovered a way to vastly improve visitor circulation and Museum functionality while tapping into the design for exploration and discovery that are emblematic of science and also a part of being human,” said Gang. “Jeanne Gang’s thrilling design facilitates a new kind of fluid, cross disciplinary journey through the natural world while respecting the museum’s setting,” said Museum President Ellen V. Futter.
To make way for the $325m expansion project and to minimize its impact on the neighbouring park, three existing buildings within the museum complex will be demolished. If approved construction of the Gilder Center could start as early as 2017. The goal is to open the facility in 2020 at the conclusion of the Museum’s 250th Anniversary.