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.