How Do You Turn a Century-Old Church into a Child-Friendly Museum? An Architect Explains and Shows New Renderings

Cross-sectional view of interior of CMOM’s future home. © FXCollaborative, 2020.

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is building a new home in an unlikely spot — the landmark First Church of Christ, Scientist on Central Park West and 96th Street. It’s quite a task, and the design took a while to pass muster with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It’s arguably the most ambitious architectural project in the neighborhood in decades.

The museum, now located at 212 West 83rd Street, is moving so it can have more space. The 86,000 square foot new museum (68,000 will be occupiable) will nearly triple its exhibition space.

The main auditorium of the church, with its 60-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling, will be split into two floors. And floors will be added elsewhere in the church too. There will even be special exhibition space in the attic area, and a new outdoor terrace that people access by traveling on a glass elevator within the steeple.

Rendering of CMOM’s future home at 361 Central Park West, restored and revitalized by FXCollaborative. Image © Darcstudio, 2020.

Now the architect, who says she’s been fascinated by this building for years, is explaining how she conceived of the challenge. Sylvia Smith, a senior partner at architecture firm FXCollaborative. wrote a statement about how she conceptualized the design. The design “maintains the building’s strong relationship between its light-filled interior spaces and stately exterior presence. It renews the hopefulness and optimism of the original Beaux-Arts structure as the building once again becomes a place of exploration, gathering, and celebration open to all,” she wrote.

The whole statement is here.

FX has sent out more renderings above and below. A design company called Local Projects will help create the exhibition space. The museum has said the building is expected to open in 2023.

Elevation of Eastern façade of CMOM’s future home. Image © FXCollaborative, 2020.

Sketch of interior central vault of CMOM’s future home. © FXCollaborative, 2020.

    1. Lizzie says:

      So glad this is really happening. The renderings look wonderful. A unique space, a great organization…I think I’ll have to borrow child for a visit when it opens.

    2. Barbara Garson says:

      Too bad the church auditorium can’t be preserved in tact. It has amazing acoustics. My husband and I once sneaked in and were shocked to be able to speak quietly from the front and hear with brilliance from the back. I mentioned the vacant church to a couple of theater groups. But they couldn’t afford it then and certainly not now. Maybe the Children’s Museum can install temporary dividers that can be removed to use the incredible auditorium for children’s plays and musicals. Barbara Garson

    3. Michelle says:

      So grateful that the beautiful building will be used for the community. The location is great for families as the subway & park is right there. My kids are grown but I think we will still pay it a visit once it is open.

    4. rteplow says:

      I’m an architect and know Sylvia Smith. She is terrific and this project is in good hands.