A sculptural addition to the American Museum of Natural History encases the New York institution within a cavernous structure that captures the immensity of deep, geological time. The project of Chicago-based Studio Gang, the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation is a massive, dramatic space spanning 230,000 square feet with sweeping exhibition halls, a research library with a ceiling evocative of a gilled mushroom, a theater, and a five-story atrium filled with natural light.
Similar to the museum’s Central Park West entrance, Milford pink granite cloaks the exterior, and the undulating cliff-like facade features windows of fritted glass, a porous material that reduces glare, energy costs, and most importantly, the risk of bird collisions. The interior of the center mimics a hidden cave with walls that appear eroded by wind and water to reveal round, asymmetric openings, all of which are made with textured shotcrete, concrete that’s sprayed on an armature of rebar and metal mesh and then shaped. Designed as a system of loops to connect parts of the new wing with the existing building, the center’s structure allows visitors to seamlessly flow from one space to the next.
The Gilder Center. Photo by Iwan Baan
Many of the previously hidden collections and research labs are visible to the public for the first time, alongside the robust butterfly vivarium with more than 1,000 specimens, an interactive honeycomb that descends from above, and approximately four million fossils, skeletons, and other objects. Between the exhibition spaces are curved passes decked with their own displays, including a 19-foot recreation of a crystalline vein in Arkansas’s Ouachita Mountains as shown below. “The architecture taps into the desire for exploration and discovery that is so emblematic of science and also such a big part of being human,” said Jeanne Gang, founder of Studio Gang, in a statement. “The building invites you on a journey toward deeper understanding, sparking your curiosity and helping you find the amazing organisms and knowledge inside.”
In the making since 2014 with several setbacks, the Gilder Center officially opens on May 4, and you can find more of Studio Gang’s organic designs on its site.
The Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium. Photo by Iwan Baan
The Hive in the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium. Photo by Alvaro Keding
Yurman Family Crystalline Pass and the link to the Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals. Photo by Alvaro Keding
The David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center. Photo by Alvaro Keding
The Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core. Photo by Alvaro Keding
Left: The Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium. Right: Sightlines from the third-floor bridge. Photos by Iwan Baan
The staircase in the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium. Photo by Iwan Baan
Magnifying glass stations in the Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium. Photo by Denis Finnin
The second floor of the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core. Photo by Iwan Baan
Fourth-floor bridge links and connections. Photo by Iwan Baan