The Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium is a soaring, four-story-high civic space that serves as a gateway into the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. Neoscape, Inc.

Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History, today announced that the Museum will open the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation in winter 2022-23, transforming the experience of the entire Museum and greatly advancing public science education for all ages at a time when the role of science in addressing society’s most pressing issues is urgent.

With its spectacular architecture, designed by Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang, the 230,000-square-foot Gilder Center project invites exploration of the fascinating, far-reaching relationships among the Museum’s rich collections, trailblazing research initiatives, educational programs, and exhibits. Physically, the Gilder Center connects many of the Museum’s buildings, creating a continuous campus across four city blocks as envisioned more than 150 years ago. Intellectually, it provides a dramatic embodiment of one of the Museum’s essential messages: that all life is connected. 

In announcing the scheduled opening, President Ellen Futter also unveiled new details of key components of the Gilder Center:

  • The Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium, a soaring, four-story-high civic space that serves as a gateway into the Gilder Center, flowing through the Museum to create a connection from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, and opening onto Theodore Roosevelt Park
  • the Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center, a dynamic hub that connects visitors with the Museum Library’s many unparalleled resources and helps patrons navigate flows of information, both print and digital
  • the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core, three stories of visible research and collections spaces providing glimpses into the Museum’s collections of millions of scientific specimens and displays offering insight into the evidence and process of scientific discovery in various types of collections, from fossils to insects, with the first and second floors supported by the Macaulay Family Foundation
  • the 5,000-square-foot Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium, the first Museum gallery in more than 50 years dedicated to the most diverse – and a critically important – group of animals on Earth
  • the new year-round, 3,000-square-foot Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium, a permanent exhibition where visitors can mingle with free-flying butterflies, a group that are one of nature’s vital environmental barometers
  • and the extraordinary 360-degree Invisible Worlds Theater, an innovative melding of science and art that will give visitors a breathtakingly beautiful and imaginative yet scientifically rigorous immersion into the networks of life at all scales

“As New York City, our country, and the world continue to recover from the pandemic with science leading the way, there has never been a more urgent time to share our Museum’s mission of scientific research and education,” said Ellen V. Futter. “The Gilder Center uses modern architecture and design, coupled with the most advanced and inventive exhibition and science visualization techniques, to reveal the evidence and processes of science—and, through these, its vital importance and integrity as a force in our society. The Gilder Center will offer a thrilling new destination to welcome back New Yorkers and tourists alike. I salute the extraordinary team that has envisioned this truly transformative project and offer my deepest thanks to the partnership of public and private supporters, led by the late Richard Gilder.”

“Our design works with the Museum’s mission to make their collections visible, legible, and accessible from both inside and out,” said Jeanne Gang, founding principal and partner of Studio Gang. “It creates an exciting new entrance and new connections among existing buildings that will transform visitor flow through the entire campus. Experientially, the architecture intends to kindle the spirit of discovery and offer an invitation to explore.”

Newly Unveiled Project Details

In today’s announcement, the Museum revealed new details of the designs of the following components of the Gilder Center:

  • Breaking down traditional boundaries between research, education, and exhibition, the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium will offer an experience unlike that at any other natural history museum in the world. From the moment visitors enter, they will be transported on a journey of discovery. The space’s elegant and dramatic curves and recesses will reveal the Gilder Center to visitors and encourage exploration and discovery, which have been integral to the Museum’s mission and work since its inception.
  • An expansive facility on the fourth floor with sweeping views toward the West Side of Manhattan and the Hudson River, the Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center will be larger than the Museum’s existing library and situated for easier access by the public. Included within the space will be a new scholars’ reading room, exhibition alcove, group study zone, and an adult learning zone where visitors can stop during the day to read or browse, as well as to attend organized programming. An interior wall within the space will be used to display collections that, among other things, tell the history of science through holdings such as the Museum’s Rare Book Collection, which includes unique, historically significant volumes that document emerging scientific knowledge.
  • The Gilder Center will house close to 4 million scientific specimens, approximately 12 percent of the Museum’s collection, mostly contained in the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core, located on one floor below grade and four floors above, with the first and second floors supported by the Macaulay Family Foundation. On the first, second, and third levels, an exhibition of floor-to-ceiling arrays will present multiple examples representing every area of the Museum’s collections in vertebrate and invertebrate biology, geology, anthropology, and archaeology: from trilobites, corals, and antlers to pottery. Annotations and interactive panels will prompt visitors to consider the information that can be discovered from scientific collections. A series of vertical media columns with stories about collections will amplify the experience, and glass panels will provide views of working collections areas.
  • Featuring live, pinned, graphic, and digital displays, the Susan and Peter J.Solomon Family Insectarium will feature many of the 30 orders of insects, with an emphasis on helping visitors explore the vital roles that insects play in different ecosystems. Oversize models of honeybees mounted overhead will draw visitors through the gallery toward a monumental hive at the west end. Along the way, people will pass under a transparent skybridge, built as a route for live leafcutter ants to visit a fungal garden embedded in the wall for one of the world’s largest displays of leafcutter ants. Touch screens will provide displays of insects of the boroughs of New York City, and a sound gallery will surround visitors with the music of Central Park’s insects and offer the ability to feel the corresponding vibrations.
  • Because of their interaction with plants and other animals, butterflies play an important role in the web of life. The Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium will surround visitors with live free-flying butterflies at all times of the year, offering opportunities to observe butterflies and their behaviors in various micro-environments ringing a meandering route. Visitors will be able to identify the butterflies they see by referring to an ID board featuring an illustrated card for each species in flight, updated daily. With the assistance of staff, visitors will also be able to view butterflies through a digital microscope and learn about their critical role as indicators of environmental health.
  • Designed by the Berlin-based Tamschick Media+Space and the Seville-based Boris Micka Associates, who worked closely with Museum scientists and data visualization specialists, the Invisible Worlds Theater is a unique and technically complex venue that will comprise an introductory gallery designed by the Museum’s Exhibition Department that flows into a wide circular space known as the Clearing. As large as a hockey rink, with walls 23 feet high, the Clearing will surround visitors with projections of nature at all scales, with a mirrored ceiling suggesting infinity. A looping 12-minute immersive experience will reveal surprising connections across all life: from the building blocks of DNA to ecological interdependencies in forests, oceans, and cities to communication made possible by trillions of connections within the human brain. At key moments, visitors will become part of the story as their own movements affect the behavior of the living beings depicted all around.
  • Encapsulating the Museum’s most comprehensive addition and modernization of educational space in decades, the Gilder Center includes purpose-built and converted classrooms designed to meet the specific needs of formal education, as well as the needs of families and adult learners. These state-of-the-art spaces are contained within the Josh and Judy Weston Middle School Learning Zone, the High School Learning Zone, and the College and Career Readiness Zone, with adjacent renovated spaces in the existing Museum complex creating the Michael Vlock Family Learning Zone and a Teacher Learning Zone. These classrooms will allow the Museum to serve students and teachers in new ways that align with national educational standards and offer high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning relevant to today’s students and tomorrow’s workforce.

Exhibition design for the Insectarium, Collections Core, and Butterfly Vivarium is by Ralph Appelbaum Associates in collaboration with the Museum’s award-winning Exhibition Department led by Lauri Halderman, vice president for exhibition.

Architectural Design

Studio Gang’s design for the Gilder Center connects new and existing galleries in ways that highlight intellectual links among different scientific disciplines and create adjacencies and visibility across classrooms, collections, and library resources, placing educational experiences in the context of current scientific practice. Realized in collaboration with Executive Architect Davis Brody Bond, the Gilder Center creates approximately 30 connections among 10 existing buildings, including to the newly opened Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals, greatly enhancing visitor circulation and eliminating dead ends on a campus where annual attendance has grown to five million over the past several decades, and which is expected to play an important role in New York City’s recovery from the pandemic as tourism continues to return.

The Gilder Center’s Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium opens onto Theodore Roosevelt Park and extends through the Museum to create a connection from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue, inviting visitors to explore all that the Museum has to offer. Once inside the Gilder Center, visitors find themselves inside the Griffin Exploration Atrium, a continuous, canyon-like space with bridges and openings that offer visual connections to the wide range of new activities within, imparting a sense of discovery to the building. This space, like much of the Gilder Center, is formed by spraying structural concrete directly onto rebar without formwork to create fluid walls, bridges, and openings. This application, known as “shotcrete,” was invented by Museum naturalist and taxidermy artist Carl Akeley and eliminates the traditional waste of formwork. Instead, it is finished by hand, demonstrating the fluid quality of the material and underscoring the idea of flow.

The verticality of the Griffin Exploration Atrium also acts as a key sustainability feature, providing natural light and air circulation to the heart of the building’s interior. Large skylights introduce natural light deep into the campus, while the height allows for conditioned air to be introduced at ground level, reducing cooling demands.

The front façade will be clad in Milford pink granite—the same stone used for the Museum’s entrance on Central Park West—which has been culled from a quarry located close to the original one, further linking the two sides of the Museum’s campus. The stone is organized into pieces of varying widths and courses over the undulating façade, creating a pattern that evokes both geological layering and the richly textured and coursing surface of the stone masonry on the 77th Street side of the Museum.

The high-performance building is enveloped with stone cladding, which, along with deep-set windows and tree-shading, will help keep the building naturally cool in summer. Water-efficient landscaping of the park deploys adaptive vegetation and re-uses storm water collected from the roof and retained on site.

The rear (east-facing) elevation is informed by the connecting Museum buildings and features a central window that provides additional light to the Griffin Exploration Atrium. It is finished in textured plaster with elements of copper cladding.

The Museum is targeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification—a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement—by deploying a range of strategies to reduce waste and conserve energy.

Theodore Roosevelt Park

The Gilder Center project includes improvements to the adjacent portion of Theodore Roosevelt Park, with a new landscape design by Reed Hilderbrand that adds seating and gathering areas, expands circulation, revitalizes planting, and enhances park infrastructure.

Key features of the landscape design include:

  • a generous and welcoming park entrance that provides visitors with a more gradual transition from Columbus Avenue into Theodore Roosevelt Park
  • an enlarged Margaret Mead Green with enhanced public access
  • new and expanded park gathering spaces, including paved terraces and seating adjacent to the Margaret Mead Green and Nobel Monument
  • improved pedestrian circulation that seamlessly connects to adjacent spaces, relieves congestion, and provides additional space for gathering off the path network
  • new planted islands that highlight the Museum surroundings and preserve notable canopy trees
  • new plantings across the site, including canopy and understory trees, shrubs, and groundcovers that provide continuity and create a rich tapestry with seasonal interest
  • infrastructure improvements including upgraded drainage and irrigation
  • and an overall increase in the number of trees, benches, and publicly accessible open space

Support for the Gilder Center

The American Museum of Natural History gratefully acknowledges Richard Gilder and the Gilder Foundation, Inc., whose leadership support has made possible the construction of the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.  

Critical founding support has been provided by David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman; Kenneth C. Griffin; the Davis Family; the Bezos Family Foundation; Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.; the Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family; Judy and Josh Weston; the Macaulay Family Foundation; Katheryn C. Patterson and Thomas L. Kempner, Jr.; New York Life Foundation; the Seedlings Foundation in honor of Michael Vlock; the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Foundation; Valerie and Jeffrey Peltier; Morgan Stanley; The Marc Haas Foundation in honor of Robert H. Haines; the Hearst Foundations; David Yurman; the Charina Endowment Fund; Nancy B. and Hart Fessenden; Keryn and Ted Mathas; the Estate of Margaret D. Bishop; the Henry Peterson Foundation; and an anonymous donor.

The Museum has received generous public support from the City and the State of New York. The Museum expresses its appreciation to former New York City Mayors Bill de Blasio and Michael R. Bloomberg; former New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer; former Speakers of the City Council Corey Johnson and Melissa Mark-Viverito; former Council Finance Chairs Daniel Dromm and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland; former Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo; former Council Cultural Affairs Chair Jimmy Van Bramer; former Council Member Helen Rosenthal, and the City Council’s Manhattan Delegation; former Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation; the New York City Economic Development Corporation; the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; the New York City Public Design Commission; New York State Governor’s Regional Economic Development Council and former Governor David Paterson; New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal; Assembly Member Dan Quart; New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, and former Majority Leader John J. Flanagan; New York State Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Chairman Jose M. Serrano and former Senate Chairman Senator Richard Funke; the Empire State Development Corporation; the New York State Historic Preservation Office; and the New York State Dormitory Authority. 

Project Team

In addition to Studio Gang, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, and Reed Hilderbrand, the core project team for the Gilder Center project includes Arup, Atelier Ten, BMA Boris Micka Associates, BuroHappold Engineering, Davis Brody Bond, Langan Engineering, Renfro Design Group, Tamschick Media+Space, AECOM Tishman, Venable LLP, and Zubatkin Owner Representation.

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