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Natural History Museum Addition An 'Architectural Spectacle'

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The Museum of Natural History has unveiled the design that, with the pending approval of city agencies, will be used for its $325 million, 218,000-square-foot expansion. From the get-go, the project's detractors have been concerned about the building's encroachment on its surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Park. But the expansion plan, unveiled late yesterday evening, has been heralded as rather respectful of that concern; it consumes just one-quarter of an acre of the park and gets most of its space by reclaiming some of the museum's footprint. The new addition would also make 30 new connections between the museum's 25 on-site structures which adjoin each other less like an airport and more like a labyrinth.

To this end, Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman compares the addition to "a kind of good new son-in-law, handsome yet accommodating." As architecture critics do, Kimmelman voiced his opinion of the proposed structure in a new Times piece where he focuses less on the building's design and more on the lived experience of the structure and how it might be in the future.

"For years, my wife and I found a haven in the museum's dark, carpeted, shopworn galleries for gems and minerals," Kimmelman writes, "We took our newborns every week. I still escape crowds with our 8-year-old in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples." The new addition, he notes, will "force the renovation of those old galleries," changing something that is intimate, but illogical in its layout. The theme here, though, is that change, like growing older, is not necessarily a bad thing. The new Gilder Center will lead to the renovation of the old, familiar galleries and its undulating facade will serve to straighten out the site's "messy agglomeration of brick pavilions." The addition's impact on the park also presents room for change; Kimmelman suggests opening up an acre of greenspace along 77th Street near Columbus Avenue that's closed off to visitors. Now, that area serves as a "latent desire line" between grass-trampling museum goers and the museum's de facto cafeteria, Columbus Avenue's Shake Shack.

Of course Kimmelman isn't without opinion of the addition's aesthetic. In his words, it's "part Dr. Seuss, part Jurassic Park, part parametric extravaganza, adding a kind of naturalism to abstract, airborne forms associated with contemporary architecture at its most theatrical." The new Whitney is so last minute. "It bids," he writes, "to be the city's next architectural spectacle."
· Natural History Museum's Expansion: Part Dr. Seuss, Part Jurassic Park [NYT]
· Natural History Museum's $325M Expansion Plan, Revealed [Curbed]
· All American Museum of Natural History coverage [Curbed]