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Amazing Journey: American Museum of Natural History Previews Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation

American museum of natural history, the gilder center for science education and innovation
The Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation melds unique organic architecture with the classic facades of The American Museum of Natural History. (Images © 2023 Peter M. Parrella)

Come on the Amazing Journey….

I know quoting a song by The Who is pretty cliché for me, but I could not think of a better description of my experience at the newest wing of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. The Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation will open its doors to the world at large on May 4th, 2023, but reporters were gathered on April 26th for an advance look.

The Center (located on Columbus Avenue at 79th Street) is melded into the museum’s classic facade in the most organic and mellifluous manner. Its ocean wave curves and soft browed windows offer a hint to the natural wonders to be considered inside. But, even this unique exterior can’t fully prepare visitors for the spectacular expanse of the complex’s Kenneth C. Griffin Exploration Atrium

Entering the space I felt as if I’d been transported into the cover of Yes’s Relayer album. The custardy curves and arches of textured concrete draw your eyes up five stories to the oblong skylights.  The bone-toned walls are the perfect canvas for shadow play as the movement of exterior daylight transforms them.

AMNH Gilder Center Preview Day: (Top L-R) Architect Jeanne Gang addresses the press in the Griffin Atrium, AMNH President Sean Decatur gives an interview, Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok welcomes the media. (Bottom L-R) Museum dignitaries celebrate a successful launch, President Emerita Ellen Futter details the Gilder Center project. (Images: © 2023 Peter M. Parrella)

It was in this space that representatives from local and international media outlets were greeted by AMNH President Sean M. Decatur.  Along with AMNH Board of Trustees Chair Scott L. Bok, President Emerita Ellen V. Futter, and Architect/Designer Jeanne Gang, Decatur outlined the scope of the Gilder Center as a cross-disciplinary resource “inspiring our visitors to appreciate and learn about how all life on Earth is connected.”

The Center features several thousand objects across all scientific disciplines. The artifacts are displayed behind floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the working Louis V. Gerstner Jr. Collection Core, the Macaulay Family Foundation Collection Galleries, and the new Lepidoptera Facility. This offers visitors a view of the vast scope of the collections and a behind-the-scenes understanding of the continuing research that informs the exhibits.

The Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium lets visitors explore a year-round tropical habitat that is home to over 1000 live butterflies. (Images: © 2023 Peter M. Parrella)

In addition to the collections, museumgoers will be treated to a wholly unique experience in the Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium. What once was a seasonal exhibit in a barebones setting, has been transformed into a permanent tropical environment filled with over 1000 live butterflies happily flitting from leaf to branch in your midst. 

…and learn all you should know.

Although the exhibitions are world-class, the goals of The Gilder Center reach beyond cursory perusal. The space has been designed to be a resource for learning. Its 18 classrooms will host programs aimed at aiding New York City middle school, high school, and college students in acquiring the skills necessary to fill positions in the NYC workforce. The initiative will focus on life sciences, data analytics, museum, and hospitality industries, and participants will benefit from the AMNH’s partnerships with leaders in those fields to find job placements. 

For example, after participating in The Center’s Invisible World, an immersive and interactive experience visually transports viewers from Earth’s microcosms to macrocosms, students are invited behind the scenes to investigate the data resources and technologies that are the digital backbone of presentation.

The Invisible World places visitors in an interactive cyclorama depicting how all the Earth’s ecosystems, no mater how big or small, are connected. (Images: © 2023 Peter M. Parrella)

The Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation is a worthy addition to the already world-renowned American Museum of Natural History. To say this space is a must-visit for both tourists and native New Yorkers is obvious while its tacit value lies in the resources and inspiration it will offer to our future scientists and researchers.

SkeletonPete Says…

The American Museum of Natural History looms large in my personal legend. Recognizing a valuable educational resource, my parents took me there often in my pre-school years. They also took great glee in recounting how I had to be dragged from the premises – crying inconsolably – because I could not leave with a real prehistoric fossil to legitimize my Louis Marx plastic dinosaur collection.

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