A screenshot of plans for a conference center inside the Museum of Natural History’s new building.

The Museum of Natural History plans to begin construction on a new center dedicated to science education next year, and has been sharing some of its plans with local leaders. The new building, which would occupy a section of the park on the west side of the museum adjacent to Columbus Avenue, is expected to be about 180,000 square feet, and the museum also expects to renovate about 30,000 square feet inside its current buildings, according to museum president Ellen Futter, who presented the plans last week at the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District’s annual meeting.

Other than the basic outline, however, the building’s exact dimensions and design have not yet been determined. “We are not imagining a tall building,” Futter said, in response to a question. The museum has chosen architect Jeanne Gang to design the building. The approximate location of the building is shown in the photo below, and outlined in red in the image below that:



The new building is set to house hands-on educational spaces for small children and middle schoolers, as well as an adult education center and a large theater and conference space.

futter“We are imagining a new center for science, education and innovation, which will be named for Richard Gilder,” said Futter (pictured at right). “Our vision for the project is to create a new kind of science facility, where learners of all ages — even the dinosaurs but also the baby dinosaurs — can discover the natural world, discover themselves, discover their futures, and to make some of those futures possible.”

The museum has grown as a research and educational institution, beyond its role in hosting exhibitions and displaying artifacts, Futter explained. It employs 200 research scientists, hosts online courses, and grants degrees to aspiring scientists — AMNH is the only museum in the Western hemisphere to offer a PhD in comparative biology. The museum got permission from the state this year to offer a masters degree in teaching earth science.

One Columbus Avenue business owner urged the museum to create a more prominent entrance on Columbus — most visitors now enter on Central Park West or 77th street.

“We think this will become a major entrance for the community on Columbus Avenue,” Futter said.

The museum is also looking to “minimize the loss of parkland,” Futter added.

The images above and below are not final plans for what the interior of the museum will look like, Futter cautioned. They’re mostly sketches meant to convey the museum’s goals for the space (we had hoped to get the full presentation from the museum so the images we show here wouldn’t be off-center and a little blurry, but they wouldn’t release it). The museum hopes to present the plans to city boards and the community this year, before starting construction next year in the hopes that it will be complete by 2019, the museum’s 150th anniversary.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 41 comments | permalink
    1. Jeff says:

      Ugh. The museum is already absolutely enormous. Its money would be better spent (in my humble opinion) on refurbishing or replacing the abundance of old and boring exhibits. Hope this doesn’t really happen.

    2. Doug says:

      Agree with Jeff that some of the old exhibits need upgrading (the hall of minerals especially — many of the rocks there are labeled as coming from the “USSR”!).

      However, it doesn’t bother me that the museum is “absolutely enormous”; it bothers me that it’s often overcrowded. Expansion of exhibit space seems like a better way to reduce crowds than raising ticket prices. Which is why I’d prefer that the new space house stuff that you can see with a general-admission ticket, rather than teaching facilities and other ancillary things mentioned in the article.

    3. Wiseduck says:

      I think this WILL aid overcrowding. By adding a prominent entrance on the Columbus side, fewer visitors will go through the the jammed entrances on CPW and 81st and will go through different exhibits. Hopefully will bring more business to the colum shops too. (Sigh, the 7 year old me will always love rocks and gems. All those carpeted platforms!)

    4. Spence Halperin says:

      Taking park land for a museum building? That’s chutzpah.

      • michael says:

        The museum actually owns ALL the land. What is currently “park” is only managed by the CPC. Technically, they are only making use of what was already deeded to them in the 1800’s.

    5. Bruce Steinbern says:

      Needs a low-income housing wing.

    6. JonJones says:

      This is SO upsetting! I hope this really does not happen. Has a campaign been created to block the project? If so, I would fully support it. I grew up on the UWS and spent the better part of my life quietly enjoying the solitude and beauty of the Margret Mead Green where the supposed building will be erected. I am in my 30’s and hoped to one day bring my own children to play in this area – which is something my parents did with me and many many UWS families do on a daily basis. To think that this is a museum dedicated to the preservation Natural History and yet they have no qualms about cutting down several massive beautiful trees in this space- which have been there for over a hundred years. What a travesty. Shame on the AMNH and shame on Mrs. Futter.

      • 92nd street says:

        Good News Everybody!

        There is another slightly larger park nearby, it’s called Central Park and it’s one block away.

        No more whining please!

        • DMH says:

          Amazing news! There are many other museums nearby. I don’t think anyone would say the AMNH is using all its current interior space efficiently. No need to encroach parkland.

        • pjrod says:

          THANK YOU 92nd St! You took the words out of my mouth. Bemoaning the loss of pseudo-park space right next to CP is nuts. I could see being upset if they were going to build a modern condo or something on the spot (couldn’t bring myself to say bank/pharmacy) but expanding an UWS treasure seems like a wonderful thing.

      • Screamingparrot says:

        I agree. I think they should rehab the old building and use the park as a learning lab. And I’m in if you want to start something to build awareness of the importance of the old growth trees and the other animals that live in that park…it’s one if the only real greenspace left there….

    7. Amanda G says:

      I agree about much needed updates… especially the dioramas of the forests. I wonder what international tourists think when they see the layers of dust, and the peeling letters on some the exhibits. So outdated, very embarrassing.

      I like the trees, they shade the walkway over there and give a nice place to eat your shake shack. Boo to the new building.

    8. Pedestria says:

      So sad that the UWS will lose another charming part of its past and an amenity for average folks.

    9. Peter Buch says:

      Time to stop the loss of precious parkspace. Utilize your already enormous footprint. How about expanding into your garage?

    10. Joe Rappaport says:

      Surprising, or maybe not, that a museum devoted to the natural environment is taking away some nature. Yes, there’s a park a block away, but it’s a long block and for some people who have mobility problems, that’s just too far away. The museum should take a new look at its plan. Is this expansion really necessary? Are there ways of using current space more wisely, including the parking garage, as Peter Buch suggests? Parkland is too valuable in New York City to lose even a small amount.

      • anon says:

        Are you serious?! lol. If you have so many issues that you cannot manage to move yourself from Columbus Ave to CPW then you cannot be enjoying any sort of quality of life in this city where movement of that distance is necessary for just about everything that occurs outside of one’s apartment.

        These are the sort of complaints that make the UWS look ridiculous and petty.

        • UWSEd says:

          Are YOU serious? The 2 parks cannot be compared. Navigating one’s way to a bench in CP nearly requires the help of traffic police. And, there are no dog runs in CP. Don’t get me wrong, as I love CP. I live 1/2 block from it, and the AMNH park is further away. The 2 parks are different, and I find it hard to believe that taking one for a 200,000 square foot building, placing an entrance on Columbus Ave, turning it into the same mess that is the museum’s entrance on CPW, is the best option.

    11. Zulu says:

      This is great news! Anything the AMNH can do to promote science literacy is well received. Loosing some of the green space may be a small price to pay when it comes to housing a science center, particularly in a time when some of the basic knowledge in science eludes so many of us. Teaching our future generations will be our best legacy.

    12. Robert Levit says:

      Well, it is for science education, but it does take away Park space. The latter should probably have priority. We are losing Park space quickly. Current space could be modified for the education mission.

    13. michael says:

      Regarding loosing “park”
      -The museum was deeded all the land between 77th & 81st back in the 1800’s. What is currently “park” is only managed by the CPC, it does not belong to the city. Technically, the museum is proposing making use of space that it already owns.

      Regarding the increase in size
      – This is reportedly for academic space not exhibit space. The money has already been allocated (donated) for such. Training scientists and inspiring youth to go this route is what this country needs to be doing. In a city where too many have grotesque values and absurd aspirations, I’ll choose to develop more scientists than hedge-funders.

    14. DMH says:

      If you’ve ever walked around the dusty dioramas, or waited in line to cram onto the slow elevators up to the planetarium, it’s clear that the museum’s interior flow could use some refreshing.

      This looks like they’re seeking to increase their revenue by offering expensive degree programs and learning sessions for – I’ll go ahead and say it – rich kids. Wonder how much debt would get added to their balance sheet for expensive new expansion.

      • Zulu says:

        It’s their property and the cause is more than just.

        It’s ironic how you erroneously criticize Michael for using a strawman argument and you come back with a perfect example.

        • DMH says:

          I didn’t mean to present a strawman. What strawman do you think I presented?

          I’m an MIT grad, and grew up with a parent who was very, very enthusiastic about science, engineering, math, and nature. We watched video recordings of The Mechanical Universe (CalTech’s freshman lectures on physics, with cute animations) for fun when I was a kid. Isaac Asimov’s three volumes of Understanding Physics are out of print but still among my favorite books. So please don’t think I’m anti-science.

          When I studied at MIT, I loved taking lectures at the refreshed, lightly modernized classrooms within the historic, graceful, decades-old campus. The newer buildings don’t have the same charm and sense of history that’s so important to scientific study and progress.

          Green space in Manhattan – especially at a museum focused on the natural world – is precious. It’s at a premium. It ought to be conserved.

          • Zulu says:


            I believe you stayed on point until you presented a straw man in your second paragraph when you mentioned revenue, rich kids and debt in their balance sheets. These where not part of the original argument about better use of existing space and internal flow of visitors.

            As far as charm is concerned, you’re absolutely right. There is no substitution for historical sites and the way they make us feel. However, the population is growing and the need for additional spaces (be it for dwellings or academic) is in demand. So in short something has got to give. Perhaps the AMNH can improve their existing infrastructure to better serve their patrons but I doubt they can reshuffle enough to make enough room for all the amenities they want to add to their estate.

      • BSC says:

        The degree programs are only expensive to the museum. All students in the PhD and Masters program receive full tuition and stipends while they attend the programs.

        And while the high school exploratory classes and after school programs do come with price tags the majority of hs students attending come from low income areas across the city and qualify grants that let them attend for free.

        Do some research.

        • DMH says:

          Source please?

          It’s not my job to do this research, but I appreciate you helping the neighborhood out with better info. Thanks!!

    15. Jeff Berger says:

      If earth science is “settled” shouldn’t we just shut the whole place down and send the “scientists” home?

      • Zulu says:

        Thank you for clearly illustrating why this expansion is so badly needed.

        • Jeff Berger says:

          Sorry to ruin your image, but I earned an A in Earth Science (Al Gore earned a D), as well as an A in AP Biology. I love science. I hate people who have politicized science.

          • Zulu says:

            I agree with you about people politicizing science. And you don’t have to feel sorry about ruining my image, I don’t have one. I’m not a public persona.

    16. Endolyn says:

      The landscaping inside the fence along Columbus – on private land – did not always exist. It is there because one neighbor saw the need to change a truly grubby area that was mostly used as a dog run into a pleasant place for quiet, leafy recreation – again, on private land. The dog owners complained. A small area will be used for the building. While a Columbus Ave. entrance is sorely needed; certainly the pedestrian traffic will change the dynamic.

      The museum has become so overcrowded that for me, who practically grew up there in awe and wonder a long time ago, it’s become unpleasant to visit and way too expensive.

      I didn’t know that they had become a research facility offering a Ph.D. and employing 200 research scientists. Mostly we see the surface features of a museum, not the depth of scholarly work going on behind the scenes. And why would you assume that only the children of the wealthy would learn at the new facility?

      Old and boring exhibits? Perhaps. Especially if you’ve seen them for 30-40-50 years. Or if you want a high-tech look (that will seem outdated in 10-15 years). But if seen with fresh eyes and a sense of wonder, they’re not necessarily boring at all.

      • DMH says:

        I never went there as a kid; only as an adult. So my knowledge of the institution is a little incomplete. I’m guessing they cater mostly to wealthy kids because I look at their offerings for this summer, and $550 for a week at what sounds like a great camp sounds like a huge reach for a city where the median family income is $58,000. It’d be great to know how many need-based scholarships they’re awarding. I hope that no interested child gets shut out of these programs.

        I’m not too familiar with the AMNH as an institution, but here’s Ellen Futter’s wiki page. She doesn’t come from a scientific background. I imagine she may be a fine institutional leader, I’m not out to attack her at all, but the background is slightly ironic in light of commenters complaining about too many financiers, not enough scientists here.

    17. Cato says:

      This is a great conversation, typical of the Rag, and I don’t mean to take away from anything that has been said on either side, either pro-park or pro-Museum.

      But there’s a point that hasn’t been addressed that strikes me as an important factor, and perhaps the most important of the considerations at play here.

      “We are imagining a new center for science, education and innovation, which will be named for Richard Gilder,” said President Futter. Richard Gilder is — can you guess?? — a financier, who undoubtedly promised a pot of some of his money in return for (can you guess??) a[nother] monument to himself.

      You can argue all you want about park or renovating dusty Museum dioramas. But, as always happens, the Rich get their way, and Mr. Gilder apparently wants another monument. So that’s what will happen.

      • dajosee says:

        He’s so greedy, giving so much of his money for educational purpose. What a bastard!

    18. JonJones says:

      Here’s a thought…expand UP, not OUT. That’s what we did with the Planetarium when I worked there. There is no reason not to use air space already owned by the museum.

      Also, anyone who has stepped foot in this green space off Columbus knows that there is already a perfectly nice (albeit under-used) entrance to the museum.

    19. Albert B. says:

      Here’s a modest proposal – let the Museum decamp to Queens or the Bronx and let the City develop the four square blocks into high-rise, low-income housing, maybe throw in a drug treatment center and housing for recently released inmates. There’s likely enough room to cover all of New York’s housing needs right in that space.

    20. We are shocked and appalled that the American “Natural” History Museum would consider destroying one of the most beautiful and tranquil green spaces in Manhattan in the name of scientific education. What scientific principle will we be teaching our children through this egregious act? Marnie Mueller