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American Museum of Natural History announces conceptual design for the Gilder Center
Proposed Interior—Gilder Center Central Exhibition Hall—View East From Entrance Into Building. Visitor view from the entrance of the Gilder Center into the Central Exhibition Hall. Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Board of Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History today endorsed the conceptual design for the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, a new building that will invite visitors to experience the Museum not only as a place of public exhibitions but as an active scientific and educational institution. In addition, the Board authorized proceeding to schematic design.

Designed by architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects and set into the Columbus Avenue side of the Museum complex at 79th Street, the Gilder Center is the embodiment of the Museum’s increasingly 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 will offer visitors, including the general public and school groups, new ways to learn about science and to share in the excitement of discovery. To ensure that the next generation has the skills and imagination for scientific innovation, the Gilder Center will provide interdisciplinary learning spaces that place STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and other educational experiences in the context of world-class scientific research and collections.

The conceptual design for the Gilder Center is consistent with longstanding but previously unrealized aspects of the Museum’s 1872 master plan, while reflecting a contemporary architectural approach that is responsive to the Museum’s mission and to the current uses and character of the surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Park and neighborhood.

“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,” said Museum President Ellen V. Futter. “It will connect scientific facilities and collections to innovative exhibition and learning spaces featuring the latest digital and technological tools. Jeanne Gang’s thrilling design facilitates a new kind of fluid, cross-disciplinary journey through the natural world while respecting the Museum’s park setting.”

Architectural Concept
In developing the architectural concept for the new Center, Jeanne Gang worked from the inside out. She saw an opportunity to reclaim the physical heart of the Museum and to complete connections between and among existing Museum galleries and new space, leading to a conceptual design that includes links to 10 Museum buildings through 30 connections.

“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.”

In designing the Central Exhibition Hall, which will serve as the Museum’s Columbus Avenue entrance, Gang came up with the core idea of connecting this space to the geographic center of the Museum. Informed by processes found in nature, the gallery 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 many programs. Recessed cavities in the sculptural walls create niches that will house exhibition elements designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, as well as laboratories, imaging facilities, visualization theaters, and classrooms while also revealing more of the Museum’s extensive scientific collections. Following Studio Gang’s signature approach, in which material and structure are expressed for their inherent properties, the reinforced concrete walls of the Central Exhibition Hall, with its arches and niches, will have more than a purely aesthetic purpose: they will form the weight-bearing structure of the building’s interior.

The visual language of the Central Exhibition Hall informed the conceptual design of the façade, 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 façade at the same height as the buildings on either side of the new entrance. On the south side, the façade 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.

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.

“With active learning environments for classes and the general public that better align with the highly interdisciplinary world that we live in, the Gilder Center will reveal the latest scientific thinking and its relevance to many of the most important issues of our time. It will enable learners of all ages and backgrounds to better understand the world around them and their place in it. It will also connect for the first time, both physically and intellectually, many of the Museum’s existing galleries, thereby vastly improving visitor circulation and experience,” said Futter.

“We are focused on the needs of 21st-century learners, offering unparalleled opportunities to engage with science and scientists. The exhibits in the Gilder Center will incorporate a blend of innovative learning strategies and imaging technologies with the Museum’s extraordinary collections and far- reaching scientific research,” said Ralph Appelbaum of Ralph Appelbaum Associates.

Mobile technology will be integrated throughout the new Center for seamless links between onsite and digital visitor journeys of discovery, a fully realized extension of what the Museum first piloted in 2010 with the introduction of the first indoor-navigation app, Explorer, which is currently being updated with more personalized and contextualized features.

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