After nearly a decade of planning, designing and building, the massive new wing at the American Museum of Natural History will soon welcome visitors. The architecturally stunning, 230,000-square-foot Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation will open on May 4.
Scientific wonders—including a butterfly vivarium, an insectarium and a 360-degree immersive experience—fill every inch of the space. We got a sneak peek at the Gilder Center today; here's more of what to expect from this landmark new space on the Upper West Side.
A visually stunning design
The Gilder Center inspires awe with its cavernous, almost Gaudi-like architecture. Architects from Studio Gang studied canyons and caves to influence their work, then used a material called shotcrete to create their own seamless cavern inside the museum. (Fun fact: An AMNH curator actually invented shotcrete more than a century ago, so the sprayed concrete technique has come full circle.)
From the atrium, which is bathed with natural light thanks to several large skylights, visitors can see glimpses of what's on the floors above them—sparking intrigue and curiosity.
The expansion comprises seven new floors, four of which are open to the public. The design eliminated the awkward dead-ends visitors often faced in the museum, instead creating 33 connections among the museum's 10 buildings, some of which date back 150 years.
It really is a building that invites you in.
The Gilder Center also establishes a new entrance for the museum, which is located on Columbus Avenue at 79th Street. In front of the new entrance, a park featuring native plantings and benches is expected to be complete by late June.
"It really is a building that invites you in," said Jeanne Gang, founder of Studio Gang design practice, adding that the project was a "decade-long labor of love."
While the team created a modern imagining of a museum, they also included nods to the past, such as using similar horizontal lines in the new structure as are seen in the older buildings on campus. For the exterior walls, builders used Milford pink granite, the same material used on the Central Park West side of the building.
After passing through the atrium, visitors can choose their own adventure, heading to a variety of scientific spaces. Throughout the center, around 3,000 specimens in floor-to-ceiling cases are on view, ranging from corals and fossils to gemstones and ancient Mayan bricks. All are part of the Gilder Center's total collection of more than four million specimens.
Signage helps visitors understand why scientists collect things and what they can learn through displays like these.
A focus on intriguing insects
With an insectarium and a butterfly vivarium, bugs get center stage at the Gilder Center. Why? Insects are the most diverse group of animals on the planet—and they play a critically important role in our world.
The insectarium features 18 species of live critters, including a fascinating display of leafcutter ants who scurry along a skybridge carrying bits of leaves on their backs. Also, don't miss the slightly terrifying Hercules beetle display, as well as specimens of tall stick insects and iridescent beetles.
An interactive exhibit in the insectarium encourages visitors to compose their own insect chorus by pushing buttons to play sounds of critters found in Central Park. The sounds of crickets, katydids, cicadas and beetles combine to form a symphony of sorts.
Overhead, football-sized models of honeybees perch in the air, next to an 8,000-pound resin model of a beehive. Another interactive display allows visitors to "be a bee" and experience life in a beehive.
Upstairs in the butterfly vivarium, humid air fills the space, making a tropical climate just right for several hundred butterflies who flit about, perch on plants and even land on museum-goers. Eighty species of butterflies in beautiful orange, yellow and green hues live in the vivarium. Signs explain more about these creatures and their lifecycles.
Both exhibits offer a chance to get up close with creepy, crawly critters—who perhaps won't feel so "creepy" after you get a chance to learn about them.
An immersive experience
Immersive experiences are all the rage right now, but the Gilder Center's Invisible Worlds experience takes the trend to the next level. With a 12-minute video, this 360-degree immersive experience showcases the way all life is connected through ecosystems, DNA and more. Staggering imagery of jellyfish, dolphins and the human brain cover every inch of the space, and visitors can even move around at times to see the video respond to their motion.
Even more educational opportunities
A library features books, periodicals and precious historic artifacts like some of Darwin's notebooks, making it one of the most important natural history libraries in the world.
In addition, the center includes 18 new or renovated classrooms where students and educators can enhance their skills.
An important mission
Ellen V. Futter, president emerita of AMNH who led the project, calls the building "a modern expression of a natural history museum."
The Gilder Center was always envisioned as a space for cutting-edge scientific research, 21st century science education and exhibitions that foster greater scientific understanding especially on the most important challenges of our time. But that mission became even more urgent, Futter said, "during the pandemic and with the growing emergence of a post-truth world, particularly about scientific matters."
There is a heightened need for enhanced understanding of science.
"As we prepare to open this monument to and pillar of science, nature and human cultures," she said, "there is a heightened need for enhanced understanding of science among the general public for improved science education and preparation of science teachers, all as an antidote to misinformation and science denial."
And finally, a timeline of construction
After nine years of work, it's remarkable to see the new $465 million Gilder Center come to life, so we wanted to leave you with some photos of the progress over the years.