Museum of Natural History Announces Expansion Plan

The addition should be ready by the museum's 150th birthday in 2019.

The American Museum of Natural History, New York, in 2013. Photo by Ingfbruno, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) has unveiled preliminary plans for a major expansion dedicated to the institution’s growing scientific research and education initiatives. As reported by the New York Times, the museum intends to build a six-story addition with a $325 million price-tag.

Called the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation, the new wing has yet to be designed, but has a projected completion date of 2019, just in time for the museum’s 150th anniversary, should all go according to plan. Architect and MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang will be responsible for creating a building on the open lot behind the current complex, near Columbus and West 79th Street.

The museum has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years thanks in part to the popular Ben Stiller-starring Night at the Museum film series. The third installment, subtitled Secret of the Tomb, comes out December 19. Annual attendance has surged from 3 million a year in the 1990s to 5 million a year today. A series of family sleepover events were introduced in 2006, and the first-ever adult edition sold out in only three hours this summer (see “Cramped Cots Mar Natural History Museum’s Adult Sleepover“). Additional dates have since been announced.

Subject to a Great Deal of Scrutiny

Despite the proximity of the museum grounds to Central Park (it’s located in Teddy Roosevelt Park, which spans West 77th to West 81st Streets and Central Park West to Columbus Avenue), just across the street, any building proposal that develops open space is in general subject to a great deal of scrutiny. “We still have to deal with retrograde thinking that views parks as dumping grounds and places to put ‘stuff,'”wrote Cultural Landscape Foundation founder and president Charles A. Birnbaum in a recent HuffPo article.

Upper West Side residents, in particular, are known for contesting major building projects, such as the AMNH’s Rose Center for Earth and Space. Should the new wing be approved, it would be the biggest change to the institution’s grounds since that project was completed 14 years ago.

As a city-owned landmark located on parkland, there are several hurdles that the museum would have to clear before getting the green light for the addition: the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Cultural Affairs Department, and the parks department would all have to sign off. That the city has already allotted $15 million in its capital budget for the project bodes well for its approval.

The new project, which would add 180,000 square feet, will house scientific exhibitions designed by AMNH veteran Ralph Appelbaum, science labs, and theaters for scientific presentations.

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