The following questions and answers are based on currently available information and will be updated as the Gilder Center project continues to evolve.
Click on a question to see the answer. (Updated January 2017.)
Neighborhood and Park
Timeline & Construction
Next Steps and Approvals
Why is a new building needed to fulfill the Museum’s mission?
Since its founding in 1869, the Museum has had a dual mission of science and education. Today, this mission is more important than ever. An understanding of science is essential to understanding and making informed decisions about issues that affect us personally and as a nation—the environment, climate change, loss of biodiversity, the frontiers of human health, the spread of infectious diseases, among other issues. At the same time, we are facing critical challenges in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education with the need to equip a new generation with the knowledge and skills to participate effectively in society and the 21st-century workforce.
The Gilder Center will allow the Museum to extend and deepen its already strong work in STEM education and exhibition, in a partnership between scientists and educators. In the new building, learners of all levels and ages will find engagement and inspiration through their immersion in the authentic process of scientific research and discovery using the Museum’s exhibitions, collections, and research.
In new kinds of exhibition spaces, visitors will be able to explore new areas of scientific study and to engage with cutting-edge tools used by Museum scientists —for example, tools used for gene mapping, 3D imaging, and big data visualization—for a deeper understanding of nature’s complexity and the practices of science. The Museum’s research, collections, and library spaces will be revitalized and expanded, and previously behind-the-scenes functions will be made visible and accessible to the public. In addition, the new facility will enhance the overall visitor experience by improving circulation and alleviating congestion for a visitorship that has grown from approximately 3 million to approximately 5 million in the past two decades.
What will be in the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation?
The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation will invite visitors to experience the Museum not only as a place of public exhibitions but as an active scientific and educational institution, showcasing its collections as the evidence for our understanding of the history—and future—of life on Earth; opening and making accessible previously hidden labs and library spaces for learning experiences, providing educational spaces that support interdisciplinary thinking and personalized learning. To support these activities, spaces for Museum staff will be integrated within education and science program areas as needed.
The Gilder Center will include:
- The Collections Core, a vertical feature spanning several floors that will showcase a working section of the Museum’s world-class collections and the activities of researchers who come to study its invaluable specimens and artifacts, which together form an irreplaceable record of life on Earth.
- The Invisible Worlds Theater, an immersive theater that will reveal new frontiers of scientific research made accessible with new imaging technology, from the intricate architecture of the human brain to our microbial ecosystem, and from the shadowy depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of the atmosphere.
- The Museum Library—one of the largest and most important natural history libraries in the world, which will now be revealed and made more accessible to visitors as a Learning Library, with space for reading and contemplation surrounded by spectacular views of the Central Exhibition Hall and Theodore Roosevelt Park.
- A 5,000 square-foot Insectarium, which will showcase the variety of one of Earth’s most diverse and abundant groups with specimens from the Museum’s insect collection, one of the world’s largest, and live insects.
- A 3,400-square-foot Butterfly Vivarium, a breathtaking, year-round living exhibit that will replace the seasonal Butterfly Conservatory. This exhibit will offer a variety of opportunities to observe butterflies and their behaviors in different “environments,” provide space for small-group gatherings, and offer opportunities to interact with teachers, guides, and butterfly experts.
- An interpretive wall, located at the center of the Museum’s building complex, which will orient visitors, facilitate way-finding, and spark further exploration by showcasing current science, illuminating important concepts such as geologic time scales and evolutionary relationships, and issuing real-time updates on the pulse of our planet in a mosaic of video, data imagery, and interactive exhibits. The interpretive wall will not only anchor the onsite visit but will also become a crucial part of a seamless visitor journey that integrates onsite experiences with visitors’ digital interactions with the Museum.
- Learning Zones and classrooms, which will directly address the need to enhance STEM teaching and learning and enable teachers and students to access the Museum’s extensive scientific resources. New facilities in the Gilder Center will allow students to carry out research projects in data visualization and assembly that mirror those conducted by Museum scientists and better prepare them for secondary education and the workforce. Learning spaces will provide students with access to advanced scientific tools and methods of 21st-century disciplines such as computational science and genomics as well as specimens and artifacts from the Museum collections. Dedicated spaces will offer innovative, customized opportunities for teaching science to early childhood, family, middle school, high school and adult learners.
How will the project improve the experience or educational opportunities of school children?
Science teaching and learning is most powerful when science is demonstrated and experienced. Over the past two decades the Museum has partnered with the City, State, and Federal departments of education, private and foundation supporters, and other science institutions to help develop and implement model programs to improve the teaching and learning of science, support student achievement, and enhance family science learning. These programs include partnerships with schools, teacher professional development programs, and out-of-school programs for students that offer authentic research experiences, introduce digital tools of science, and explore college and career opportunities. The new Gilder Center will significantly enhance the Museum’s capacity to build on this work with new, flexible learning spaces that are integrated with exhibitions, collections, and science labs, have cutting-edge technologies and tools of science, and can provide new powerful immersive learning experiences.
Examples include Urban Advantage, a program spearheaded by the Museum in partnership with seven other cultural institutions, the New York City Department of Education, and the Council of the City of New York, which this year will serve more than 800 teachers and approximately 80,000 students in about 45 percent of the City’s middle schools across all five boroughs; professional development for roughly 4,500 teachers; and out-of-school programs for about 2,500 pre-K through high school students.
Who will use the building? What is the projected increase in attendance?
The Gilder Center will be an integral part of the Museum, a mission-driven building dedicated to multiple functions. The new and improved facilities and programs will be used by the Museum's scientific staff and by the same diverse audiences who currently visit the Museum. Annual attendance at the Museum has grown to approximately 5 million, including about 500,000 visitors who come in school and camp groups, more than 4,000 teachers, thousands of youth, families who participate in Museum education programs, students in the Museum's graduate programs, and visitors from New York City, across the country, and around the world. The Gilder Center is expected to result in an incremental increase of approximately 745,000 annual visitors.
Are any changes planned to the existing buildings?
Over the past 20 years, substantial investments have been made to the Museum’s facilities to renovate, reorganize, and revitalize existing space. These include the addition of the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Arthur Ross Terrace, as well as renovations of more than 15 permanent halls, restorations to the 77th Street and Central Park West entrances, upgrades to the Lefrak Theater, and new and upgraded science laboratories.
The Gilder Center project will add visual and physical connections among buildings and program elements, improving circulation and reinforcing the intellectual links among the Museum’s programmatic, exhibition, and collections areas, creating approximately 30 links across 10 existing buildings. The project includes upgrades to these connecting spaces as well as renovations to adjacent spaces.
Who is the architect?
The Museum has selected Studio Gang Architects, led by Jeanne Gang, to design the Gilder Center. Gang is internationally recognized for her work in architecture, urbanism, and for her innovative use of materials and environmentally sensitive approach to design. Ralph Appelbaum of Ralph Appelbaum Associates is designing the exhibition experiences. The landscape architect is Reed Hilderbrand.
What is the goal for the design of the building?
The architecture of the Gilder Center is intended to inspire a sense of discovery, through openings and natural light that echo the types of spaces in nature that are fluid, connective, and enticing to navigate. In developing the architectural concept for the new Gilder Center, Architect Jeanne Gang worked from the inside out, seeing an opportunity to reclaim the physical heart of the Museum complex at its center and to complete connections between and among existing Museum halls and new space. Visitors will see and be invited to experience the Museum’s capacity to provide an irreplaceable record of life and human culture.
The design and location of the Gilder Center is consistent with longstanding but previously unrealized aspects of the Museum’s 1872 master plan while reflecting a contemporary architectural approach that is responsive to the Museum’s mission and to the current uses and character of the surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Park and neighborhood.
How does the new building fit into the existing campus?
Approximately 80 percent of the proposed 245,000-square-foot project will be located within the area currently occupied by the Museum. The design will improve the Museum’s overall circulation and flow for the growing number of visitors by creating new, well-organized, and easily accessible north-south and east-west connections among buildings, eliminating dead-end pathways, and designing entries and spaces that are accessible to children, strollers, and the mobility-impaired. The design also maintains the current heights of the Museum building complex on its western side, placing the Columbus Avenue façade at the same height as the buildings on either side of the new entrance. On the south side, the façade is aligned with the adjacent building and steps back to meet the bordering building to the north.
What materials will be used?
The exterior of the building is expected to be clad in glass and stone, with a high- performance building envelope and fritted glass for shading and bird safety. Further underscoring the idea of flow, the Gilder Center’s interior will be constructed of sprayed structural concrete, demonstrating the fluid quality of the material in its construction. The west façade of the Gilder Center will be clad in Milford pink granite, the same stone used for the Museum’s entrance on Central Park West, and will be culled from the same quarry, subject to availability .
Has the Museum addressed the issue of accessibility?
Accessibility is a core value for the Museum. The current plan for the reconfigured park space is designed to allow mobility-impaired visitors to enter and enjoy the park without stairs, narrow gates, or other physical barriers. Entry into the new building will be at grade, and all elements of the building will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
How is the Museum addressing sustainability issues?
As an institution dedicated to the understanding and preservation of the natural world, the Museum has a deep commitment to reducing its energy usage and carbon footprint. Since 2003, with funding from New York City (by way of PlaNYC) and other sources, the Museum reduced energy consumption by 26 percent.
For the Gilder Center, the Museum will seek LEED Gold certification. Strategies include water efficient landscaping with adaptive vegetation and retention of storm water on site; a high-performance building envelope; and ample natural daylight within, coupled with fritted glass for shading and bird safety; lighting designs that consider impact on the night sky; and water conservation strategies including collecting water from the roof and from HVAC systems and various possible reuses of gray water.
Where will the building be located?
Will the new building have a public entrance?
Why can’t the building or some program elements be located off-site?
The Gilder Center will significantly enhance the Museum’s work in education and science in ways that are not possible in an off-site facility. An off-site building would not offer access to the bulk of the Museum’s collections, library materials, exhibition spaces, and other onsite scientific resources for students, teachers, families, and other visitors. This is completely contrary to the project objective of creating adjacencies among classrooms, exhibits, collections, and library resources. Further, it would not address existing overcrowding and circulation deficiencies within the Museum. Importantly, an off-site location would not necessarily minimize environmental impacts but would instead relocate them to another neighborhood.
Why can’t the Museum “go virtual”?
The virtual, or digital, experience is an essential element of the Museum and the Gilder Center project. Over the past decade, the Museum has enriched its website and media channels to offer multiple online educational experiences and access to parts of its collection. For example, a partnership with Coursera, a leader in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has led to Earth, physical, and life science courses for K-12 teachers worldwide, and to the general public as well. It has also developed mobile apps, such as Explorer, a mobile guide to the Museum visit, and broadened its digital reach with a strong, active presence across social media. Increasingly, the Museum strives to integrate its onsite and digital aspects into a seamless visitor experience and the new Gilder Center will help move the Museum further along that continuum. However, while technology is foundational to what we do, it is only one part. There is no substitute for “the real thing,” and the full power of the Museum experience lies in the opportunity to engage with physical exhibits, tools, and collections. The Gilder Center will offer unparalleled opportunities for active engagement with the Museum’s collections and the authentic tools of science.
How big is Theodore Roosevelt Park, and how much is already occupied by the Museum footprint?
What will be the impact on the park?
Approximately 80 percent of the 245,000-square-foot project will be located within the area currently occupied by the Museum, creating vital connections throughout the complex. Three existing buildings within the Museum complex will be removed to minimize the impact on land that is now open space in Theodore Roosevelt Park to about 11,600 square feet (approximately a quarter acre).
The character of the park along Columbus Avenue will be similar to the existing meandering paths and planted beds, designed for walking and quiet enjoyment. Paths and landscaping in an approximately 75,000-square-foot portion of the park adjacent to the Gilder Center would be renovated to provide more public access and seating, as well as gathering spaces off the path network and away from the Museum entry. Additional seating will add 15 new benches, bringing the total to 38 within the project area. The Margaret Mead Green would also be enlarged, with a new accessible hardscape portion for neighborhood use. The area in front of the new entrance will, as it currently does, provide an entrance point to the Museum, and will be at times populated and active with Museum visitors. The paths and entrance are designed to be accessible to children, strollers, and the mobility-impaired.
How many trees will be affected in the Park?
As part of the initial design effort, the Museum reduced the building footprint with the goal of minimizing the number of trees and the amount of public open space that would be impacted. Subsequent refinements have reduced the size of the proposed below-grade service area and modified the design of the service drive with the goal of preserving two mature trees, a Pin oak and an English elm. It is currently expected that the proposed project would directly affect seven canopy trees in Theodore Roosevelt Park that would be removed and one understory tree that would be relocated. Construction would be performed in compliance with an approved tree protection plan and NYC Parks tree protection protocols. Any trees that are removed and not transplanted would be replaced, consistent with NYC Parks rules and regulations, which would include six new canopy trees and thirteen new understory trees that would be planted post-construction as part of the landscape plan for the western portion of the Park.
What has the Museum done to minimize the footprint in current park areas?
Prior to making the decision that a new building was needed, the Museum undertook a comprehensive space planning initiative, which included a series of evaluations of its existing spaces, identification of its highest priority needs, and consideration of alternatives for achieving some or all of those needs. The Museum undertook a significant capital improvement program to renovate, reorganize, and revitalize existing space. However, there is neither adequate space nor the type of space in our existing buildings to accommodate the complex and innovative programs and uses that will be located in the Gilder Center.
After extensive analysis of the original concept, the design team was able to reduce the footprint in Theodore Roosevelt Park. In the revised design, approximately 80 percent of the 245,000-gross-square-foot project will be located within the area currently occupied by the Museum, creating vital connections throughout the complex. Three existing buildings within the Museum complex will be removed to minimize the impact on land that is now open space in Theodore Roosevelt Park to about 11,600 square feet (approximately a quarter acre).
How crowded will the path be in front of the entrance? What about school buses?
The area in front of the Gilder Center will (as it currently does through the Weston Pavilion) provide an entrance point to the Museum. Given the projected increases in attendance, the area will be more heavily utilized by Museum visitors. The proposed project’s landscaping modifications and improvements in Theodore Roosevelt Park are intended to address the increased number of Museum visitors and ensure Park users would continue to have access to areas for gathering, play, and respite, as well as pathways for Museum entry and traversing the Park. The paths leading to the Museum entrance will be wider than the currently existing paths, to accommodate increased usage by Museum visitors. We do not expect that the new entrance will be used for school bus drop-offs.
Will the dog run—or any paths to the dog run—be altered?
Will lighting be added in the park either through lighting the park, or lighting on the building?
The lighting plan for the Park and the new building would be in keeping with the surrounding area and consistent with other sides of the Museum complex. After hours, dimmable light sources would allow the Museum to selectively light interior features. The after-hour lighting would be modest while providing sufficient lighting for walking in the surrounding open space.
What will happen to the Calatrava Times Capsule?
The Museum is in discussions with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation regarding a new location for The New York Times capsule, which will require the approval of the New York City Public Design Commission.
What is the Museum doing about rats in Theodore Roosevelt Park?
The parkland surrounding the Museum is maintained by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation (NYC Parks), with additional cooperative support provided by the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Park and the Museum. We have heard the concerns of the community regarding the presence of rodents in the park and are actively working with NYC Parks to support their efforts to address the issue in compliance with their recommended eradication procedures and policies. The Museum has also financially contributed to the purchase and installation of 21 big belly trash receptacles and 2 big bellies for recyclables that have been installed throughout the interior and perimeter of Theodore Roosevelt Park. There are no longer any open trash receptacles within the Park. The big belly trash cans have encapsulated the rodent population’s food source thus leading to a dramatic decrease in the rodent population.
When will construction begin? What’s going on with the project?
When will the project be completed?
Who is funding this project?
Funding will come from a range of sources, including City funding through the City Department of Cultural Affairs, and State funding administered by Empire State Development, as well as individual donors. The Gilder Center is named for Museum Trustee Richard Gilder, in recognition of his lifetime of extraordinarily generous giving to the Museum. The projected budget is $340 million, of which $277 million has been raised.
What will be the impact on the community during the construction phase of the project?
The Museum will be making a significant effort to contain noise and traffic and other common construction site-related inconveniences within close proximity to the site location on 79th Street and Columbus Avenue. Nevertheless, construction of the proposed project—as is the case with most large construction projects—would result in temporary noise and other impacts that are described in the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Although the sidewalk in front of the project site is expected to close, a pedestrian pathway and bike lane will be provided. We will be working closely with local community organizations and residents to keep them informed of construction progress.
How will traffic be affected? Will the Museum address community concerns about the existing traffic and lack of bus layover space?
As part of the project’s environmental review, a study of the project’s potential transportation-related impacts was undertaken. This study accounted for the projected growth in attendance and the new entrance along Columbus Avenue and evaluated their effects on the area’s roadways, pedestrian facilities, and transit services. Given the very small incremental increases in traffic from the proposed project, the identified impacts could all be fully mitigated by standard traffic measures (a 1-second adjustment in signal timing). The Museum does not expect the project to increase school group attendance or to affect operational issues created by school bus traffic.
However, the Museum recognizes that our neighbors are concerned about existing congestion in the blocks around the Museum. In 1999, in collaboration with Community Board 7, the W. 81st Street Block Association, and the NYPD 20th Precinct, the Museum developed a Transportation Management Plan in anticipation of the opening of the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The Plan has evolved and will continue to evolve over time in response to the Museum’s visitation patterns, as well as to conditions in the surrounding neighborhood.
In February 2016, the Museum formed the Transportation Working Group, co-chaired by Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer and New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, with community group representatives, local elected officials, and representatives from the New York City Department of Transportation, Community Board 7, NYC Parks, and New York Police Department-20th precinct, invited to participate.
What is the next step in the design process?
The Museum has completed the schematic design for the project, and is proceeding with design development, a detailed development of plans for the exterior and interior by the architect and landscape architect in collaboration with engineers and other consultants.
What kind of government approvals are required for the project?
In October 2016, Manhattan Community Board 7 and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission each voted to approve the proposed design of the Gilder Center and modifications to the existing Museum complex and the adjacent park. When the Museum was founded, the State Legislature authorized the Museum’s lease and use of additional areas of Theodore Roosevelt Park without further legislation. However, implementation of the Gilder Center project will require the approval of NYC Parks, as well as City and State funding approvals. NYC Parks is conducting an environmental review of the project. As part of that review, a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) was prepared and issued on May 18, 2017, for public review and comment (see below). Manhattan Community Board 7 will participate in that process. The State Office of Historic Preservation will also review the project. The new location of the Times Capsule will require the approval of the City Public Design Commission.
Will the public have an opportunity to review and comment on project plans?
Yes. The Museum has held informational meetings and continues to engage with community organizations as the project progresses. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation (NYC Parks) held a public scoping meeting to accept comments on the proposed Draft Scope of Work for an environmental impact statement (EIS) on April 6, 2016, and provided responses to those comments along with a Final Scope of Work. NYC Parks has now issued a Draft EIS and held a public hearing to receive comments on the draft EIS on June 15, 2017, at 6 pm at the American Museum of Natural History, in the LeFrak Theater. A final EIS, including a response to public comments on the draft EIS, is expected to be issued in fall 2017.
We encourage interested members of the public to join our mailing list to stay informed about the start of the public review process.
Who can I contact for more information?
If you have additional questions, please contact us at the following:
General Inquiries: 212-769-5246 or GilderCenter@amnh.org
Press Inquiries: 212-769-5800 or email@example.com