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American Museum of Natural History finally breaks ground on long-planned expansion

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The museum’s 230,000-square-foot Gilder Center is expected to be completed in three years

A rendering of the entrance to the Gilder Center from Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Neoscape and Studio Gang, 2019

Following a years-long battle, including a lawsuit from a local group, the American Museum of Natural History finally broke ground on its new educational center.

Elected officials, including Mayor (and presidential candidate) Bill de Blasio, community members, and leaders of the museum celebrated the groundbreaking of its $383 million Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at a Wednesday morning event.

The 230,000-square-foot structure, designed by Studio Gang, will include several new exhibition galleries; a “Collections Core” with four million specimens that visitors can peek into; an insectarium (the first museum gallery in 50 years to be dedicated to insects, according to a statement); and a “Butterfly Vivarium” living butterfly exhibit. Additionally, Theodore Roosevelt Park will get a new landscape design by Reed Hilderbrand, which will enlarge the entrance to the park from Columbus Avenue, and add seating areas and more trees.

“The design will invite visitors to explore the wonders of the museum with its openness and smooth, flowing geometry,” Studio Gang’s Jeanne Gang said in a statement.
MIR and Studio Gang, 2019
MIR and Studio Gang, 2019

In his remarks, de Blasio referred to the challenges that the project faced. “Not everybody understood immediately why it was so important to foster STEM education, why it was so important to create this center,” he said. “But perseverance is a virtue and we’re all here today because we believed together that this was important for our future.”

“How wonderful is it to be together on what can now officially be called a construction site,” Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president said. “I hope you have an enormous sense of pride and purpose as we officially begin construction for what quite simply will be a spectacular and vitally important resource for science and education.”

The museum’s plans for the Gilder Center, first revealed in 2015, sparked opposition from community members stemming from its potential impact on the environment, including the loss of seven trees and space in Theodore Roosevelt Park. A group called the Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park filed a lawsuit in 2018, which resulted in a temporary restraining order on the project. That was lifted in February, allowing the project to move forward.

The Community United group argued that the museum should be required to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to receive permits for the project and said that the Parks Department misinterpreted the law when it approved the plans to build the center. Most recently, in April, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division dismissed the group’s appeal to dismiss the court ruling, capping the legal battle on the museum’s expansion, which is now expected to be completed in three years.