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2024

MCHAP

Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at AMNH

Studio Gang

New York, New York, United States

May 2023

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Josh Ellman (Marketing Principal)

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

Davis Brody Bond (Executive Architect), Ralph Appelbaum Associates (Exhibition Design), Reed Hilderbrand (Landscape Architect), Arup (Structural Engineer, Acoustical and Audio-Visual Consultants), Buro Happold (MEP/FP/Façade Consultant

CLIENT

American Museum of Natural History

PHOTOGRAPHER

Iwan Baan; Alvaro Keding/AMNH (contact info is same as client's above)

OBJECTIVE

Conceived from the inside-out, the Gilder Center vastly improves functionality and visitor experience for the entire Museum campus. Establishing a universally accessible entrance at Columbus Avenue and a strong east-west axis, the project creates more than thirty connections among ten different buildings, replacing former dead ends with continuous loops. Providing new exhibition, education, collections, and research spaces, the Gilder Center also brings essential yet previously back-of-house functions into public view for the first time, giving visitors new insight into the full breadth of the Museum’s diverse collections and active scientific research.

Natural form-making processes informed the architecture. Akin to a porous geologic formation shaped by the flow of wind and water, the building’s central, five-story atrium greets arriving visitors like an intriguing landscape, ready to be explored. Visitors can easily find and flow into the surrounding program spaces—traversing bridges, moving along sculpted edges, and passing through vaulted openings. Opening the building to natural daylight, the atrium’s structural walls and arches carry the building’s gravity loads. It is constructed using shotcrete, a technique primarily used for infrastructure, which sprays structural concrete directly onto rebar cages that were digitally modeled and custom-bent. Eliminating the waste of formwork, the technique achieves a seamless, visually and spatially continuous interior, whose form extends outward to greet the park and neighborhood beyond.

CONTEXT

The Museum’s four-block campus comprises more than twenty buildings that have accumulated over nearly 150 years. By establishing a new entrance at the west, and creating dozens of new links between existing buildings, the Gilder Center improves visitor flow and overall functionality for the entire Museum campus. These critical alignments—both in section and in plan—ground the building in its context, maximizing the utility of the space while minimizing negative impact on the historic surroundings. Its undulating façade is clad in Milford pink granite, the same stone used for the Museum’s historic main entrance on Central Park West.

The Gilder Center’s setting within Theodore Roosevelt Park placed the project under the jurisdiction of multiple City and State regulatory agencies. The project successfully secured unanimous approval from New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission—an unprecedented achievement for a project of this scale, complexity, and prominence. A robust engagement strategy allowed the design team to collect input from a variety of community stakeholders, including community organizations, elected officials, Community Board 7, and government agencies. The result of this collaborative process are significant improvements to adjacent portions of the park, benefiting museum visitors, pedestrians, and the local ecosystem, and includes a revitalized and enlarged 13,500-square-foot lawn; twenty-three new canopy and understory trees, in addition to the notable canopy trees that were preserved; and new shrubs, groundcovers, and planted islands, creating a rich regional tapestry with seasonal interest.

PERFORMANCE

The Gilder Center amplifies the Museum’s mission of science and education to its roughly 5 million annual visitors—from sparking curiosity and wonder through new exhibits in strikingly designed spaces to new research and educational facilities that reinforce the central role of natural history collections in scientific discovery.

In the words of Ellen Futter, President Emerita of the AMNH, the Gilder Center “fulfills a critical need at a critical time: to help visitors to understand the natural world more deeply, to appreciate that all life is interdependent, to trust science, and to be inspired to protect our precious planet and its myriad life forms. This opening represents a milestone moment for the Museum in its ongoing efforts to improve science literacy while highlighting for our visitors everything the Museum has to offer.” Research by Colleen Dilenschneider also suggests that the opening of the Gilder Center increased attendance at other natural history museums around the country, a further boon to science literacy.

Achieving LEED Gold certification, large skylights introduce daylight deep into the Gilder Center, while the verticality of the Griffin Atrium acts as a key sustainability feature, bringing air circulation deep into its interior. A high-performance façade, along with deep-set windows (made of bird-safe fritted glass) and tree shading will help keep the building naturally cool in summer. The park’s landscape integrates native and adaptive vegetation that requires less water and utilizes a highly water-efficient irrigation system. The exterior lighting design minimizes impact on the night sky.

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