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Thread: American Museum of Natural History

  1. #1

    Default American Museum of Natural History

    April 2, 2006
    Shoring Up a Castle Wall

    Joshua Freedland, a conservator, takes paint samples, seeking the original colors.

    O.K., the castle wall won't come tumbling down just yet. But for 115 years, the entire 700-foot-long southern redoubt of the fortress that is the American Museum of Natural History — the familiar facade that has long been the museum's public image — has never been fully restored.

    Now, decay is pressing the issue. Ironwork window grates are rusting. The facade's pinkish granite is cracking and needs to be patched, and stone at many window arches is fractured. Whitish deposits of deteriorating mortar are staining the exterior. Original window frames of black cherry and pine are deteriorating, and even the sills are rotting out.

    And so, the museum is embarking on a $37 million restoration of the Romanesque Revival facade on West 77th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, which would actually be 924 feet long, not 700 feet, if all its twists and circumambulations were straightened out.

    As museum patrons have looked on in puzzlement, hard hats in bucket lifts and inspectors rappelling down ropes from the castle parapets have begun investigating each of the great wall's 35,000 stones.

    The facade "is an American treasure, our great castle on the West Side," said Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which approved the restoration in February. The work "is extremely intricate, and the restoration plan is the size of the Manhattan phone book."

    The heavily rusticated facade, which wraps around to the east and west sides of the museum, is a fantasy of towers, exuberantly carved cornices, stone eagles, cartouches, wreaths, finials and other decorative flourishes.

    The work, expected to be finished by 2009, "is by far the largest restoration we've done in the history of this institution," said Ellen V. Futter, the museum's president. "We are the stewards of this wall, and preserving it is an immense undertaking."

    And an immensely expensive one, at three times the cost of the $12.2 million restoration of the Fifth Avenue facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a project that was recently completed across Central Park. The greater cost is necessary because the natural history museum's facade is "more complex," Mr. Tierney said. About $28 million has been provided by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and the City Council, and the rest has been privately financed.

    The work is the first full restoration of the facade since it was completed in 1897, although the wall was cleaned and its mortar repointed 49 years ago, said Timothy Allanbrook, a senior consultant for Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, the restoration architect.

    The 19th-century 77th Street facade was married to the relatively stripped-down, salt-and-pepper granite exterior of the Roosevelt wing facing Central Park West in 1936; that newer wing's restoration is less pressing for now, Ms. Futter said.

    On a recent morning, Joshua Freedland, an architectural conservator from Wiss, Janney, opened his kit of eight scalpels to perform some microsurgery on the windows' wood, to capture a cross-sectional painting history.

    "To restore the windows, sills and sashes," Mr. Freedland said, "we needed to figure out the original paint color." It was his task to sample the facade's 637 windows in 14 different designs that were built from 1891 to 1897.

    He studied the window sash, then dug into the wood, making a quarter-inch-by-quarter-inch cut, "a minor nip and tuck," he said. Then the layered sample was examined with a scanning electron microscope and infrared spectroscopy to identify the original pigment layer. It turned out to be a glossy oil-based black, a color that will be reproduced for the restoration in acrylic "because it breathes more, and that prevents the wood from warping," Mr. Allanbrook said.

    Some of the granite is spalling — flaking away because of weathering — and needs to be replaced. After some sleuthing, Mr. Allanbrook's team traced the original source to Picton Island, north of Watertown, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River. The quarry there had long since closed, but enough waste stone remained to provide more than enough replacement granite.

    The facade's 77th Street entrance opens into the castle through a 112-foot-wide porte-cochère. It will be refurbished as well, and its sweeping staircases with their 60 granite treads will be disassembled, refurbished and reset.

    The original marble zodiac mosaics under the linoleum on the lobby floor will be revealed and restored; the lobby will serve as a grand gateway to the museum's 1877 hall, the first of the building's 25 interconnected structures.

    That lobby has long been the showcase for the museum's Haida canoe, known to almost every city schoolchild: the 63-foot-long seagoing Indian vessel that has adorned the museum since 1883. Consequently the canoe, and the Indian figures within it, are also being restored, and they will be installed in a new place of honor in the 1877 hall.

    Instead of sandblasting the facade, the architects will use a water mist infused with microfine glass particles that will be blown in a vortex pattern onto the stone, so that grime — but not the stone itself — can be removed.

    In the end, the restoration "is about preserving the magic of a castle in New York," said Ms. Futter, the museum's president.

    "As you come through the 77th Street door, it's almost like, well, once upon a time," she said "And then as you explore, the story unfolds."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  2. #2


    Quote Originally Posted by Kris
    Instead of sandblasting the facade, the architects will use a water mist infused with microfine glass particles that will be blown in a vortex pattern onto the stone...
    What happens when those get stuck in your lungs?

  3. #3


    They're microfine...probably no worse than sand particulates getting stuck in your lungs, or whatever gets kicked up off the street on a daily basis.

  4. #4


    Quote Originally Posted by czsz
    They're microfine...probably no worse than sand particulates getting stuck in your lungs, or whatever gets kicked up off the street on a daily basis.
    You mean like asbestos?

  5. #5


    I wouldn't be surprised. God knows what floats in the air here.

    Anyway I'm sure the workers will be wearing protective suits and masks of some sort.

  6. #6


    For the workers it's an occupational hazard. I was thinking of babies in carriages, passersby and neighbors.

  7. #7
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Meanwhile, on the inside ...

    Rounding Up Nature to Preserve Under Glass

    At Home With: Stephen Christopher Quinn

    Keith Meyers/The New York Times
    Stephen Quinn, senior project manager, in one of the habitat dioramas he superintends.

    April 6, 2006

    In Stephen Christopher Quinn's world cheetahs roam the forest's edge near the Zambezi River in Mozambique, scimitar-horned oryx and dama gazelles feed in the Libyan desert, wolves hunt down white-tailed deer at night on a lake in Minnesota and moose lock antlers in Alaska. All perfectly at home, just off Central Park.

    Though Mr. Quinn is not an architect, a contractor or an interior designer, he makes homes for a living. As the senior project manager at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, he is responsible for the creation and conservation of the museum's wildlife habitat dioramas: the more than 150 environments that depict animals and birds in their natural element. He has written a book on the subject, "Windows on Nature" (Abrams), being published this month.

    Video: Diorama O-Rama

    In the parlor of the Quinn family habitat in Ridgefield Park, N.J. — where Quinns have lived since 1921 in a Craftsman-style house built by Mr. Quinn's grandfather, and where Mr. Quinn, his wife, Linda, and his children, Tom, 16, and Claire, 15, live now — Mr. Quinn recalled his boyhood in the once rural area. There is a diorama at the museum, created in 1902, of the Hackensack Meadowlands, which depicts a Hudson River sloop near the Quinn house, sailing reedy wetlands that are now largely Routes 80 and 95.

    A self-described "nature nerd," Mr. Quinn concealed his binoculars beneath his jacket as he hiked to the Overpeck marshes, still open and unbuilt upon when he was a teenager. "I didn't want other kids to know I was a bird-watcher," he said. Now Mr. Quinn, 55, bird-watches openly at his desk, having spied 79 species, including the swamp sparrow, in Roosevelt Park on 81st Street, where others might be hoping for sightings of Madonna or the Spielbergs. He listens to bird song tapes while commuting in his car.

    During the 1950's and 60's much of the Meadowlands was filled in, covered by the New Jersey Turnpike and suburban development.

    "There was the constant sound of the pile drivers, day in and day out," Mr. Quinn said. "It was constantly on your mind that wetlands were being lost." He and friends, finding birds' nests in the spring at the edge of encroaching construction — mallards, moorhens and bitterns — would climb the landfill and pull the spark plugs and distributor caps off the bulldozers "to slow them down, so they wouldn't dump over the nesting birds," Mr. Quinn said.

    The disappearance of the wetlands near his home informed his determination to help protect habitats and their animals, birds and plants, he said, though it would be as an artist working with dioramas, which were conceived in the 19th century as educational tools for promoting environmental awareness, as records of a vanishing wilderness and as pleas for wildlife preservation.

    Frank M. Chapman, the natural history museum's first curator of birds and an early proponent of conservation, was said to have identified 40 species of birds, while strolling on Fifth Avenue, by the plumes in ladies' dresses and hats.

    Mr. Quinn, an accomplished wildlife painter, was hired by the museum in 1974 as an artist, which is how it characterizes staff members who work on all aspects of its dioramas, whether as taxidermists, tanners, muralists or computer programmers. His father, the foreign advertising manager for The New York Herald Tribune, and his mother, a school librarian, often took their children to the museum.

    "One of my earliest memories is coming around that corridor on the second floor and seeing the Akeley elephants before me," Mr. Quinn said, referring to the Akeley Hall of African Mammals. "I can remember that as though it were yesterday."

    At age 4, he explained, he pointed to the dioramas and told his parents he wanted to work with them.

    Last week Mr. Quinn and I stepped into the looking glass, entering several of the dioramas in the Hall of North American Mammals through small trapdoors in the sides of the monumental cases. A wooden sill by the glass folds down into a narrow walkway.

    "Do you smell that very sweet smell?" Mr. Quinn asked, two adult male moose crashing like cars a few feet away. "That's the glycerin. All this moss was collected in Alaska while still fresh and green; put in hot water, then glycerin and formaldehyde tanks; dried; lacquer-sprayed white; then painted green and installed in big mats."

    The moose droppings are also real. The moose themselves are papier-mâché, sculptured from plaster casts of the animals, with the actual skins and antler racks fitted to them. A mirror hidden in a stump hole catches a bit of overhead light, bouncing it into the alpha moose's eye and giving it a murderous glow.

    As a testament to the dioramas' enduring power, children gathered outside the case were more interested in the bashing moose than in Mr. Quinn or me as improbable figures in the scene. The hyperrealistic artificial habitats, which operate as a kind of special effect, predate modern wildlife photography and film, as well as computer technology.

    "You really could think of them as an early form of virtual reality," Mr. Quinn said, ratcheting the bolts back on the world we had just left.

    At the Quinns' home in Ridgefield Park, the small strips of yard are being ripped up by landscapers. Mr. Quinn is installing what he called an ecosystem, which will include a butterfly garden in the front. In the back he is restoring ponds that his father built for his brother, John R. Quinn, also a naturalist and painter, when he was a boy and collected waterfowl and other birds.

    Inside, there are artifacts of life as a Quinn. A green stained-glass plaque that reads "Quinn" hangs between the dining room, where an Irish lace tablecloth dresses the table, and the parlor, where a wall of portraits includes Bartholomew Dempsey, one of Mr. Quinn's maternal great-grandfathers, who came to the United States in the 1860's and fought for the Union Army.

    "This is where my two paternal grandparents, John and Loretta, were laid out, in a typical Irish wake," Mr. Quinn, an affable man, said, standing in the parlor and pointing to its carpeted center as though parts of the diorama had come down some years ago.

    Masai necklaces, arboreal porcupine quills, mandrill death masks and coyote and Arctic fox skins are also on display, souvenirs of Mr. Quinn's travels into the field. (He has had malaria, amoebic dysentery and worms, and has been evacuated from sudden war zones by puddle-jumping single-prop planes.) On family trips, taken in conjunction with the museum's Discovery Tours, which Mr. Quinn has led, Claire has swum with sharks and was parasitized two years ago by a botfly, which required surgical removal.

    A crested-oropendola nest from Trinidad hangs in the study. The bird, an oriole as a large as a crow, knits a pendulous nest that looks like a four-foot drop of mucus. Mittens, the Quinns' cat, a black and white "tuxedo," prowls the house with what seems to be a little uncertainty as to whether he enjoys full protection as a domesticated pet.

    Tom and Claire, Mr. Quinn said, "are probably past the point of no return" in terms of their interest in nature, though as teenagers they now realize that not every family plays animal charades for entertainment. "They might be in denial, because they're both great naturalists."

    Mr. Quinn explained that one evening, "Tom and Claire did an amazing performance of the courtship behavior of the albatross," adding, "Linda and I did the courtship behavior of the blue-footed booby."

    "It's kind of creepy when you think about it," said Tom, who had spoken with a career counselor the day before about becoming an architect.

    Claire said of weekend outings, "The only time we go to the beach is in the winter — to look for seabirds and snowy owls." There is also the annual hawk watch picnic in September, and Big Day, in May, when the Quinns log as many species of birds as they can in a day. Last year's was a record 124.

    Asked what he would include in a diorama that depicted his family of man, the Quinns of northern New Jersey, Mr. Quinn said: "I would love to go back to the time of my childhood. In a very short walk, you could experience an untouched wild area. I feel that my own children have lost that opportunity."

    He recalled his mother holding him up to watch quail hatch in a strawberry box with cotton in it, placed over the pilot light of the kitchen stove when the quail would not sit on their own eggs.

    "In my short life span there are aspects of growing up that have passed," Mr. Quinn said, with professional acceptance. "I would want to somehow relive those old days."

    Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

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  8. #8


    have they started renovating this yet?

  9. #9
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Canoe Goes Upriver, Without Its Paddlers

    James Estrin/The New York Times
    Workers at the American Museum of Natural History
    hoisted a restored Northwest Coast Indian canoe last
    month, for display at the new 77th Street entrance.
    November 14, 2006

    The canoe is coming back to its home at the American Museum of Natural History. But the Indians won’t be paddling it anymore.

    The colossal Haida canoe populated with 17 painted plaster Northwest Coast Indians had been a fixture of the museum’s West 77th Street halls for so long — almost a century — that the life-size Indians themselves acquired their own kind of historical significance.

    But this year, workers removing decades of grime from the canoe discovered just how much a good cleaning enhanced the beauty of its original paintings, of an eagle and a killer whale.

    So now the 63-foot-long canoe will be exhibited as it originally was in 1883: hanging from the ceiling. The paintings will be in full view 15 feet from the floor, but up in the air, the Indians would be barely visible. So they are not coming back.

    The Indian sculptures “were accurate,” said Peter M. Whiteley, the museum’s curator of North American ethnology. “But the figures were composites of different tribes. We thought it was time to celebrate the beauty and ethnographic value of the canoe itself.”

    The restored canoe will be revealed to the public on Friday, as a symbol of the $37 million restoration of the southern facade and entranceway of the museum. The canoe will henceforth be the ornament of the museum’s new 77th Street entrance, to be known as the Grand Gallery, a gateway to the museum’s 1877 Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the oldest of the building’s 25 interconnected structures.

    “I suppose some people will miss the Indians, just as some people miss Pluto,” Dr. Whiteley said, referring to the recently demoted planet.

    The canoe is believed to have been made from a single Western red cedar around 1878 using fire and iron adzes; it was steamed into its sleek shape, Dr. Whiteley said, and its design and paintings reflect the style of the Haida tribe (thence its name). After it was acquired in British Columbia on a museum collecting expedition, the canoe was transported by steamer to Panama and across the isthmus by rail in the pre-canal era, then shipped to a Manhattan pier, from which it was taken to the museum by horse-drawn wagon.

    After years on exhibition upstairs, and then after a move to the ceiling of the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians on the main floor, late in the first decade of the 20th century the still-Indianless canoe was moved to the floor of that hall.

    The Indian figures were created in 1910 by a sculptor, Sigurd Neandross, who depicted them paddling to a potlatch ceremony, a feast of gift-giving and trade.

    Fifty years later the canoe was moved, Indians and all, to the adjacent lobby. The Indians, which will remain in storage, “are in all of our genes, and will be treated with the same concern as our dinosaur bones,” said David Harvey, the museum’s vice president for exhibition. “They are a fascinating part of the history of exhibition at the museum.”

    Curators believe that the canoe is the largest surviving 19th-century canoe used by Northwest Indians. It was restored as part of the largest refurbishment in the museum’s history, that of its 700-foot-long southern face between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. The Romanesque Revival facade, along with its 112-foot-wide porte-cochère and sweeping granite staircases, is being cleaned and reconstructed.

    The lobby ceiling has been renovated and given new exhibition lighting and hanging fixtures, and the ceiling has been treated with thick acoustic insulation to hush the reverberating sounds of children that “would mercilessly echo in that space,” Mr. Harvey said.

    The original archway of the West 77th Street entrance has been restored, new doorways have been constructed to make the 1904 gallery symmetrical, and floor mosaics of Carrara marble have again been revealed.

    In the spring, as the other work was proceeding, the Indians were removed from the 77th Street entrance and the canoe was encased in plywood. A nine-person conservation team set to work.

    At one point during the restoration, curators hoisted the canoe up so they could clean the painting on its underside, “and that was the moment when we realized it had to be exhibited above,” Mr. Harvey said.

    For four months the canoe underwent “its first comprehensive conservation effort,” Mr. Harvey said. For a time, museum visitors could observe restorers peering through magnifying glasses as they cleaned the canoe with Q-Tips.

    “The wood was in surprisingly good condition, and needed only minor structural repair,” said Anne Léculier King, who directed the canoe conservation.

    And so it was at 6:10 p.m. recently, after the museum had closed for the day, that Steven Warsavage, the project manager for the installation, gave orders to move the canoe into final position. As long as two school buses end to end and weighing 2,250 pounds, it required eight workers to propel it on a wheeled cradle.

    But the canoe was hardly as dangerous to install as mastodons and dinosaurs, “which, being fossils, are heavy as stone and fragile as an egg,” said Mr. Warsavage, who has moved them all.

    The canoe was separated from its cradle at 7:21 p.m., then slowly heaved upward; by 7:48 p.m., the seemingly aerodynamic shape of the canoe had been wired to the ceiling.

    What, then, of the Indian sculptures?

    There are no plans to remove them from storage, Mr. Harvey said, “but they are valuable to us. We’re not a place that throws things out.”

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  10. #10


    July 29, 2007
    Streetscapes | American Museum of Natural History
    The Face Will Still Be Forbidding, but Much Tighter and Cleaner

    What Is, and What Isn't A view of the American Museum of Natural History in 1922.

    Now the museum’s south front is covered in netting so that its windows can be repaired and its granite cleaned.

    THE stocky fortress of the American Museum of Natural History’s south front, spanning 77th Street from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, has vanished under a broad, gauzy construction net. It’s scheduled to re-emerge in 2009 cleaned and repaired.

    Built from 1888 to 1899, it was the much-expanded museum’s closest approach to a unified design. But in the 1940s, it was nearly wiped away by a generation that saw it as a fortification to keep visitors out, rather than to protect the collections within.

    The Museum of Natural History was established in 1869 and eight years later built its first structure on Manhattan Square, the park bounded by 77th Street, 81st Street, Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

    The rich red-brick Victorian Gothic building was designed by Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould, who were already closely identified with the architecture of Central Park.

    The firm of Vaux & Mould envisioned a broad complex about 800 feet on a side. The 1877 segment remained in lonely isolation for a decade, by which time tastes had changed. In 1888, the museum trustees retained Josiah Cleveland Cady to continue the building program along West 77th Street.

    Mr. Cady made no little plans and conceived a massive complex similar to the first part, but in movie-style Romanesque, with great sweeps of pink granite dotted with turrets, tourelles and other castlelike features.

    The central section was finished first, in 1892, with its double stairway and projecting bays. On an early visit The New York Times reported that the most popular displays were the diamonds, followed by ostrich feathers, and then the apes and monkeys.

    The Cady design never progressed beyond the south front. Within a decade, Romanesque was old hat. When construction continued along Central Park West in the 1920s, the wings were executed in no particular style, although centered on the triumphal Roman-style Roosevelt Memorial, now the museum’s main entrance.

    By 1943 all of the historic styles were in bad odor. That was the year the architect Eliel Saarinen consulted with Aymar Embury II, a New York architect, on a complete redesign of the south facade. Their proposal — which in the end never went beyond the planning stages — was to tear off the corner towers and reduce the 77th Street front to the simplest possible granite facade, like some gigantic crematorium.

    A. Perry Osborn, the acting president of the museum, wrote to the board endorsing this doctrinaire Modernism. “I particularly dislike the brown granite pseudo-fortress that composes the south facade of our museum,” he said. “After all, a fortress was designed to repel people, not attract them.”

    Curiously, Mr. Osborn contended that modern exhibition design could not mix natural and artificial light, so it would be necessary to block up the windows. But that could not be done in matching stone, because “the particular quarry this stone came from is played out,” he wrote, so the only alternative was to rebuild the entire south facade.

    A Times editorial described the proposed design as “austere and rigidly rectangular and no curlicue nonsense in sight.” Many readers expressed their displeasure. In a letter to the editor, B. S. Bowdish said, “I am quietly thanking God that at least I have not many years in which to suffer mental nausea over this once-beautiful building’s fate.”

    The museum’s board even considered extending the brave new design of the south front all the way around the block in the name of architectural purity, leaving only the Roosevelt Memorial intact.

    Since 1930, little has been built, except for the old Hayden Planetarium of 1935 and its haunting, dramatic glass-cube successor of 2000.

    Over time, several ironies have overtaken Mr. Cady’s neo-Romanesque south front. In a historicist age, the 77th Street facade is now viewed warmly. You don’t have to loiter long to hear “Look at the castle!” as parents coax their children inside.

    And contrary to Mr. Osborn’s precepts, the museum returned to mixing natural and artificial light in a renovation of the 1990s.

    That exhausted quarry he referred to turns out to have been a more complicated matter. The museum’s consultant on the latest renovation is Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, an architectural and engineering firm with headquarters in Northbrook, Ill.

    Timothy Allanbrook, a senior consultant at the firm, said that at least three different quarries — in New York State, Texas and Canada — had supplied the stone for the museum. This was understandable, he said, given the multiyear construction period.

    Steven Reichl, a spokesman for the museum, said that the work would include restoring 650 black-cherry window frames and stone repairs using granite recently taken from one of the original quarries, in New York State.

    The facade will be cleaned, Mr. Reichl said, “to make the stone look like it did originally” more than a century ago.

    Despite the popularity of the 77th Street facade, it lacks the spark and vitality of other Romanesque Revival works in New York. Buildings like Charles Romeyn’s 1889 Grolier Club at 29 East 32nd Street and Frank Freeman’s 1892 Brooklyn Fire Headquarters on Jay Street are lively and inventive and make the museum’s front look timid and uninspired.

    The museum’s rocky south front disappeared this spring, and now its appearance is strictly a recollection. That may produce a startling collision in 2009, when the real museum returns to confront memory.

    In 1943, Aymar Embury II, in consultation with Eliel Saarinen, proposed a starkly Modernist renovation, bottom, which was never carried out.


    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

  11. #11


    American Museum of Natural History Plans an Addition

    By ROBIN POGREBINDEC. 10, 2014

    A model of the American Museum of Natural History as it is now.
    Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

    The American Museum of Natural History, a sprawling hodgepodge of a complex occupying nearly four city blocks, is planning another major transformation, this time along Columbus Avenue: a $325 million, six-story addition designed to foster the institution’s expanding role as a center for scientific research and education.

    The new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation would stand on a back stretch of the museum grounds near West 79th Street that is now open space.

    The addition, to be completed as early as 2019 — the museum’s 150th anniversary — would be the most significant change to the museum’s historic campus since the Art Deco Hayden Planetarium building became the glass-enclosed Rose Center for Earth and Space 14 years ago
    The addition, not yet designed, would feature exhibitions showcasing scientific topics, as well as labs and theaters for scientific presentations. Since 2008, the museum, through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, has bestowed a Ph.D. in comparative biology, something rare for a museum.

    The museum plans an addition on land that is part of Theodore Roosevelt Park, which surrounds it.
    Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

    In 2011, the museum also established a separate master’s program in teaching science.

    “We have a real gap in the public understanding of science at the same time when many of the most important issues have science as their foundation — human health, biology, environment, biodiversity, climate change, mass extinction,” said Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president, during an interview at her office. “This museum has a role to play in society in terms of enhancing the role of science.”

    The museum, with its dioramas, castlelike turrets, cavernous hallways and giant whale, is one of the best-known buildings in the city, partly because school trips there are such an integral part of a New York City childhood. Many others have come to know a version of it through the film “Night at the Museum.

    The expansion will probably face close scrutiny from residents of the Upper West Side. That neighborhood is known for its fierce development battles, such as the 1956 fight over the Adventure Playground at West 67th Street in Central Park, which the city’s “master builder,” Robert Moses, had wanted to turn into a new parking lot for Tavern on the Green. More recently, there were conflicts over renovation of the New-York Historical Society’s museum.

    Though Central Park is only a block from the museum, proposals to reduce any open space in the city can be particularly contentious. Museum officials said that while there were no drawings yet defining the addition’s footprint, they recognize the interest in preserving city parkland, which the museum sits on. “The vast majority of the open space on the west side of the museum, between 77th and 81st Streets, will remain open space when the project is completed,” said Ann Siegel, the museum’s senior vice president for operations and capital programs.

    The museum is a veteran of such debates, having successfully weathered protests over its Rose Center, which some neighbors had argued would ruin the neighborhood.

    Ms. Futter sounded prepared. “We take it very seriously, and I’m sure it will be an important discussion,” she said, adding, “We want it to be sensitive to being a museum in a park in a historically designated area and in the West Side community.”

    Because the museum is a landmark owned by the city and on Theodore Roosevelt Park, its addition must be approved by various city agencies, including the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Cultural Affairs Department and the parks department.

    “We’ve been informed about their proposed addition and will be reviewing it with the board in the future,” William T. Castro, the parks department’s Manhattan borough commissioner, replied in a statement when asked about the museum’s plan.

    But the city’s preliminary support is already reflected in $15 million included in the city’s capital budget for the addition.

    Richard Gilder, a stockbroker and longtime donor to the museum, is contributing another $50 million; a third of the cost has already been raised from these and other sources.

    For its architect, the museum has selected Jeanne Gang, a MacArthur Fellow and founder and principal of Studio Gang, whose projects include Aqua Tower and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo — both in Chicago, where the firm is based.

    Ms. Gang said it was too early to discuss how the addition would interact with the existing complex, which encompasses about 25 buildings constructed at different times in styles including Romanesque, Victorian Gothic and modern glass and steel.

    The museum chose Ms. Gang, Ms. Futter said, because she designs “on a human scale” and has demonstrated “an acute sensitivity and sensibility about the relationship of nature to the built environment in an urban setting.”
    The new center’s permanent exhibits would be created by Ralph Appelbaum, who has designed several areas in the American Museum of Natural History — including the Dinosaur Halls and the Hall of Biodiversity — as well as projects like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Clinton Presidential Center.

    Over all, the addition would total 218,000 square feet, roughly the size of the new Whitney Museum of American Art downtown. Of that, 180,000 square feet would be new; the rest would incorporate existing space. The addition would improve visitor circulation throughout the entire museum, Ms. Futter said, and create spaces targeted to different age groups. There also would be food and retail areas.

    Connecting to the existing museum on its western side, where there is now an entrance, the addition would be the same height as the current main building, Ms. Futter said.

    With the expansion, the museum also wants to better accommodate its swelling visitor numbers — attendance has increased to five million visitors a year from three million in the 1990s — and a collection that has grown to include more than 33 million specimens and artifacts.

    In addition to the expansion of its degree-granting programs, the museum has developed a more formal relationship with the city’s Education Department, training teachers and, along with other cultural institutions, supporting middle school science investigations through the Urban Advantage program.

    Founded in 1869 and chartered by New York State as a museum and library, the institution today employs 200 research scientists who each year conduct more than 100 expeditions around the world. And the museum has “the largest free-standing natural history library in the Western Hemisphere,” Ms. Futter said.

    “We have always been something of a hybrid,” she said. “It’s long been a scientific institute.”

    The museum is also responding to a digital imperative, Ms. Futter said, to present information about “invisible worlds” like the human brain, the depths of the ocean, the outer reaches of the atmosphere or the composition of a grain of sand.

    Mr. Gilder has been involved in every major initiative of the museum’s during the last 20 years, Ms. Futter said, having spearheaded the Rose Center, for example. His gift will put his total contributions to the museum at more than $125 million during that period, making him the single largest donor in the institution’s history.

    Referring to Ms. Futter and Lewis W. Bernard, the museum’s chairman, Mr. Gilder said, “When you have leaders like that, you want to give them all the ammunition they need.”

    On a larger level, the expansion represents the changing nature of museums, Ms. Futter said, and a departure from their role as “cabinets of curiosity.”

    “They were about collecting things and cataloging things,” she said. “Now what we’re interested in is what the connections are among the different things that we have. It’s a much more interdisciplinary world.”

    “This facility is going to transform what it means to be a museum in the 21st century,” she added, “what we do, how we do it and whom we reach.”

    © 2015 The New York Times Company

  12. #12


    Preservationists watchful as New York’s American Museum of Natural History taps Jeanne Gang for addition

    Thursday, January 8, 2015
    Alan G. Brake.

    The Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History (David Sundberg/ESTO)

    Last year, Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects opened a New York office, and now it is clear they made a smart decision in doing so: the firm has been selected to design a six story addition to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The current museum complex is an eclectic jumble of architecture styles, and it’s most recent addition is the Rose Center for Earth and Space by the Polshek Partnership (now Ennead).

    Aerial view of the American Museum of Natural History looking north. (Courtesy Bing Maps)

    The project is likely to be controversial, as it will encroach on Theodore Roosevelt Park, a small neighborhood park immediately adjacent to Central Park. Preservationists and neighborhood advocates are watching the project closely. “Because the ‘plans’ announced by the American Museum of Natural History are long on laudatory sounding goals but short on details, Landmark West! (LW) is in a wait and see mode regarding the expansion plan. Once the full details of the plans are known, LW will carefully review them and formulate a response. However, the AMNH’s publicly stated intention of encroaching on the surrounding park land is of serious concern to LW. We would prefer that the AMNH use the park land to further the study of natural history and redouble its commitment to conserve it,” wrote Arlene Simon, the president of the board of Landmark West!, in an email to AN.

    Copyright © 2014 | The Architect's Newspaper, LLC

  13. #13
    Forum Veteran TREPYE's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    Brooklyn, NY


    Quote Originally Posted by ZippyTheChimp View Post
    Preservationists watchful as New York’s American Museum of Natural History taps Jeanne Gang for addition

    Thursday, January 8, 2015
    Alan G. Brake.

    ....Landmark West!....
    Copyright © 2014 | The Architect's Newspaper, LLC
    What's with the needless explanation point; reminds me of:

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