Gilder Center: Finding Greenery Within the Caves

By Jordan Medeiros | Week 06 Post 05

Late in 2015, the Chicago-based firm Studio Gang received approval for its six-story, $325 million renovation project proposal of the Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation (New York Times). Furthermore, as of this week, the project received approval from the New York City Landmark Commission despite much controversy and community pushback.

Three of the twenty-five existing museum structures will be demolished to accommodate for the addition of the Gilder Center, a small loss in the grand scheme of the science and education addition (Curbed). Architecturally, the center is prominent amidst the gothic and historic landscape of New York’s Upper West Side with its undulating sheet glass facade and cavernous, rippling reinforced concrete interiors (Curbed). Daring in deviating from the context, Studio Gang also dares to utilize common, familiar materials in an unfamiliar and unconventional way so as to allow the site to fit the context. The curves of the steel-reinforced, sheet glass walls interact with the outside and the casual passerby. Once inside, the undulating concrete creates cave-like vestibules and nooks so as to immerse the visitor into the world of science.

Mediating the conflict of inside and outside, the balance of building and nature, is where the community pushback and the museum meet. Even with the revised plans of mitigating the footprint of the project on the neighboring Jefferson Park from a half-acre to a quarter-acre, valuable urban green space and trees will be lost in the name of “natural history” (New York Times). The museum has stated that nineteen trees will eventually be planted on the site, but what more can be done to mediate this tension in densely populated urban areas with changing climates (New York Times)? Bold architectural statements should not fail to acknowledge the natural environment. Is there a way to unify both?

Current eco-architecture plans provide a possible solution in which green space and vegetation are incorporated into the facade and structure of large-scale buildings, such as the Solaris Tower in Singapore and other works by Ken Yeang. An incorporation by the museum in this fashion would not only give back to the valuable green space in the urban setting but would also further integrate the roots of the museum in natural history, mediating technology and nature.



One comment

  1. berge917

    Brooke Berge Weekly Journal 6

    I agree that people need to think of the environment when building, and that there is a lack of vegetation in urban areas. I believe that there are multiple ways to unify building and the environment; there have been various examples of this in more recent years. You mentioned facades with vegetation on large scale buildings; last week I wrote about LiveWall, which is another example of growing vegetation on buildings like the Solaris Tower did. There are also screens that can be placed on facades that allow plants and vines to grow through it. But why stop with plant facades in just urban settings? They could be used on any building in any setting, both in urban areas and suburban areas as well. Since trees and vegetation are cut down when creating new developments, both commercial and residential, creating vegetation walls is a good way to bring it back. I agree that a vegetation façade on a natural history building would be aesthetically pleasing, but it would also have other benefits such as saving energy consumption (Science Direct). Overall, as we become more conscious of our effect on the environment when building, more innovative solutions will come to surface, and I think they will become the new normal.


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