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American Museum of Natural History to Add 218,000-Square-Foot Science Center

One of the older sections of the American Museum of Natural History, which is planning an addition (photograph by Matt Martyniuk, via Wikimedia)
One of the older sections of the American Museum of Natural History, which is planning an addition (photograph by Matt Martyniuk/Wikimedia)

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York is planning to add a $325 million, 218,000-square-foot science center, the New York Times reported. Already composed of 25 connected buildings enveloping four blocks on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this will be the institution’s most significant expansion since 2000, when the Rose Center for Earth and Space was completed.

View from the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the last major AMNH expansion (photograph by the author) (click to view larger)
View from the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the last major AMNH expansion (photograph by the author) (click to view larger)

The Times broke the story today, revealing plans for the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation, which is to be completed as soon as 2019. Architect Jeanne Gang has been selected to design the expansion.

Her Studio Gang has worked on similar institutional projects, like a nature boardwalk at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, but her most major undertaking was the 2009 Aqua skyscraper, also in Chicago, with undulating outcroppings rising 82 stories. AMNH’s science center is more modest at six stories, but may face a contentious local battle if the designs released are as bold as Aqua. However, as the Times article points out, AMNH “is a veteran of such debates, having successfully weathered protests over its Rose Center, which some neighbors had argued would ruin the neighborhood.”

The proposed building will need city agency and historic preservation approval, and is to be sited in an open area, currently the museum’s Theodore Roosevelt park, at Columbus Avenue and 79th Street. Exhibition galleries, education facilities, a family learning center, a middle school academy, and other features are planned to connect the scientific research laboratories to the public. The AMNH has taken other recent steps to enhance its education and research focus, adding a graduate program in comparative biology and a master’s in teaching science.

It remains to be seen what the Gilder Center will look like, but it’s possible it could be similar to the London Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre, opened in 2009, which is a distinct space in the institution holding both a research facility and scientific public programming. “[T]he role of museums is changing and the American Museum of Natural History aims to have a growing impact on science literacy and STEM education,” AMNH president Ellen V. Futter said in a release today.

Biodiversity gallery in AMNH (photograph by the author)
Biodiversity gallery in AMNH (photo by the author)
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