Along Columbus Avenue near the American Museum of Natural History, a few porthole-like windows in the construction barricade offer a glimpse of the work taking place there. But we have to go beyond the barriers for a tour of the helmet inside the building of the museum’s new 230,000 square foot Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation – and we take you with you.
Scheduled to open Feb. 17, 2023, the Gilder Center will feature 4 million scientific specimens, an insectarium with all manner of critters including New York bugs, a vivarium with real butterflies, state-of-the-art classrooms and an extensive library . A new immersive experience called “Invisible Worlds” will explore everything from the depths of the oceans to the inner workings of the human brain. The Gilder Center will establish a connection with the original museum, not only connecting to the space, but mitigating the building’s awkward dead ends.
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The museum will debut “at a time when the need for scientific knowledge has never been more urgent,” said AMNH President Ellen Futter. Here’s a look at what’s inside the new space:
A cavernous atrium
Studio Gang architects studied caves and canyons for inspiration, and their research paid off in a four-story atrium with dramatic curves and recesses. The entrance is sleek and modern and invites visitors to crane their necks to the skylights above.
Millions of scientific specimens
Collections are at the heart of any natural history museum, so it’s only fitting that they are organized into the five-story Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core. Floor-to-ceiling exhibits will depict subjects such as paleontology, geology, anthropology, archeology, and vertebrate and invertebrate biology. The Gilder Center will present nearly 4 million scientific specimens. If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that it’s only 12% of the museum’s total collection.
Museum curators want you to get up close to creepy crawling creatures, from ants to bees, in the 5,000-square-foot Susan and Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium. The exhibit will even feature the bugs of New York, including a Central Park bug soundtrack.
By observing live insects, seeing artistic renderings, looking at insects through microscopes and exploring dioramas, staff want to highlight the importance of insects, said AMNH’s vice president for the exhibit. , Lauri Halderman.
“We wanted people to see insects differently,” Halderman said.
People tend to fear what they don’t know, so it’s important to see these creatures in a new light, said David Grimaldi, curator of the museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology.
“Insects are incredibly complex and beautiful when seen up close,” he said.
Football-sized bees mounted overhead will lead to a monumental hive at the end of the space. To get there, you will pass under a transparent walkway built to serve as a passage for live leafcutter ants.
Interactions with butterflies
Speaking of insects, up to 80 species of butterflies will fly through the 3,000-square-foot Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium year-round—one might even land on you.
In the gallery, you can watch butterflies fly through space and learn how these beautiful winged insects are one of nature’s vital environmental barometers.
Education is fundamental to the space, and there are opportunities for people of all ages to learn something new. Students can follow programs in 18 newly built, renovated or refurbished classrooms. Classrooms provide flexible, fully wired spaces so students can explore more deeply what they see on the exhibit floor.
A public library on the fourth floor will house a reading room, exhibit alcove, group study room, and programming. The museum’s rare book collection will also be located in this space, officially called The David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Research Library and Learning Center. It will be the largest free-standing natural history library in the Western Hemisphere, Futter said.
A new immersive scientific and artistic experience
Inside Invisible Worlds, AMNH offers its take on the immersive exhibit trend, but takes the experience to the next level with interactivity. Projections, featuring everything from the deep sea to the human brain, will fill 23-foot-tall walls, making the invisible visible. With interactivity on the ground, visitors can metaphorically fire neurons into the brain and splash water.