The jewel in Crown Heights
The world's oldest gallery for children is now its newest.
Sun Aug 24 2008
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
The facade of the revamped Brooklyn Children’s Museum—two stories of appealing crayon-yellow dotted with porthole windows—has been piquing the interest of Crown Heights kids since September 2007, when the institution closed for the final stage of a $46 million expansion. At last, the neighborhood’s curiosity is about to be satisfied: On September 20, BCM finally reopens its doors.
Architect Rafael Viñoly’s L-shaped design doubles the original building’s size and is ultra-green, with renewable-bamboo floors, a groundwater heating and cooling system, and glazed windows. The museum’s creative team has exploited every square inch of the space: The star exhibit, “World Brooklyn,” consists of a maze of kid-sized shops, each containing an activity. The boutiques—a Chinese stationery store, a Mexican bakery and a West African import store, to name a few—are modeled after real Brooklyn businesses managed by local families. “We’ve looked to these people as our storytellers,” says Sharon Klotz, director of exhibitions. The miniaturized community also houses an international grocery store equipped with conveyor belt–propelled wares that tykes can use to restock the shelves, and a theater where children can watch recorded performances by Brooklyn dance troupes and then step onstage to try to replicate the choreography.
After soaking up the street scenes, young visitors can wander over to “Neighborhood Nature,” a sprawling exhibition that spotlights the borough’s diverse ecosystems. Here, kids can glimpse images of red-winged blackbirds through a special viewing blind, regard a pond from the perspective of its resident fish, and at every station, observe live reptiles, fish, birds, amphibians and assorted small critters in terrariums and a tide-pool touch tank. At a mixing board, children can create soundscapes by blending natural noises with man-made ones.