when the American Museum of Natural History first announced plans for a major expansion devoted to science, the museum president, Ellen V. Futter, talked about the “gap in the public understanding of science at the same time when many of the most important issues have science as their foundation.”
Now, in a world that has been transformed by the mounting dangers of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, that concern has become ever more pressing, Futter said, and it has informed the construction of the museum’s $431 million Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation, the finer details of which were unveiled Monday, along with a new opening date of next winter.
“It’s only become more intensified and urgent in a post-truth world where we also have acute threats to human health in the form of the pandemic and to the environment,” Futter said. “At the same time, we have a crisis in science literacy and education in this country and we have denial of science.
“This is a building for our time,” Futter said of the 230,000-square-foot structure that is visibly taking shape along Columbus Avenue near West 79th Street. She added that it “speaks to some of the greatest issues before us as a society, as a natural world.”
During a recent hard-hat tour of the six-story structure featuring an undulating stone and glass exterior, architect Jeanne Gang said the building is “about connections.” Architecturally, for example, Milford pink granite was used for the Central Park West entrance, designed by John Russell Pope, in the 1930s. The same stone, from a nearby quarry, is being used for the west facade of the new project.
The project also emphasizes links between the museum’s various themes and activities — from exhibition to education; from children to scholars; from dinosaurs and whales to insects and butterflies.
The building also seeks to improve the museum’s physical circulation, creating about 30 new connections within 10 existing buildings so visitors can flow more easily from one area to another. “We’ve been plagued with dead ends for years,” Futter said. “They are gone.”
Whereas the museum has always projected a kind of imposing, inscrutable majesty, its new building is consciously more porous, with welcoming floor-to-ceiling classroom windows that allow people “to look in and look out,” Futter said, adding, “This is an invitation.”
The center’s transparency also extends a hand to the museum’s neighbors, some of whom were unhappy with the project’s initial incursion into the adjacent Theodore Roosevelt Park (the footprint was scaled back in response). A legal challenge brought by a community group against the Gilder Center was dismissed by the New York state Supreme Court Appellate Division in 2019. A new landscape design of the park by Reed Hilderbrand adds seating and new plantings.
An expanded library also aims to engage more of the public with a new scholars’ reading room, an exhibition alcove and learning “zones” — as well as sweeping western views. This centering of the library situates “the scholarly side of the institution right at the front,” Futter said..--NYT