By Meg A. Parsont
An 8,000-pound resin replica of a beehive. An army of live leafcutter ants industriously transporting their leafy loads. 360-degree images that take us inside the human brain and beneath the earth’s surface. A nighttime orchestra of crickets. Over 1,000 live butterflies flitting through lush, plant-filled micro-environments. Not to mention a magnificent five-story atrium filled with natural light surrounded by undulating concrete-lined walls reminiscent of canyons of the Southwest. These are just some of the countless wonders awaiting visitors to the new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation which opens to the public on Thursday, May 4.
Encompassing six floors above ground—four of which are open to the public—and one floor below, this new facility of the American Museum of Natural History is truly a “landscape of discovery,” as President Emerita of the American Museum of Natural History Ellen Futter noted during a recent press preview. The need for this facility is all the more urgent in this “post-truth world,” she explained; “an antidote to misinformation and science denial.”
Jeanne Gang, who leads Studio Gang, the international architecture and urban design practice that designed the innovative 230,000-square-foot structure, understood “how important it was to inspire stewardship of our living plant.” With its state-of-the-art multimedia features, beautifully designed exhibits, engaging signage, and collections spanning vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, paleontology, geology, anthropology, and archaeology housed in a remarkable space, the Gilder Center is that rare cultural experience that offers an equally satisfying experience for visitors of all ages, educating as it entertains.
A sign on the wall quotes American conservationist Rachel Carson: “In nature nothing exists alone.” Connection is a theme through the entire Gilder Center. The exhibits reveal how all life on Earth is interconnected while the building itself is “designed to be a connective space, to encourage visitors to explore,” according to Gang. It creates 33 pathways among ten Museum buildings to link the entire four-block campus.
In the Peter J. Solomon Family Insectarium on the first floor, a mix of living insects, pinned specimens, models, and digital features removes the ‘ick factor” and highlights the pivotal role of insects on our planet. The 5,000-square foot Insectarium also includes a feature that allows visitors to conduct an insect orchestra by clicking on buttons for insects ranging from a Southern green stink bug to a lyric cicada. Not only can the selected bug’s music be heard, but the console also allows for the vibrations to be felt.
DID YOU KNOW?
There are over 4,500 extant species of cockroaches worldwide but only 30 are associated with human habitats and considered pests!
Upon entering the Davis Family Butterfly Vivarium on the second floor, visitors are greeted by a blast of humid air and the sight of 1,000 flying butterflies. From the showy common morpho with its iridescent blue wings to the malachite butterfly named for its resemblance to the green mineral, 80 species of butterflies are housed in the Vivarium. Visitors can watch butterflies up close as they soak up the juices of fresh fruit and learn about the life cycle of the butterfly by observing chrysalises. There’s also a good chance a butterfly might land on you! A vestibule at the entrance and exit ensures that no hitchhiking butterflies escape.
DID YOU KNOW?
The blue wings of the common morpho don’t actually contain blue pigment. The color comes from the scales on its wings that reflect blue light.
On the third floor, Invisible Worlds is an eye-opening, mind-blowing 360-degree immersive experience that demonstrates how all life on Earth is connected. Screens lining a large oval room surround visitors with projections on all surfaces of the space to reveal networks of life at all scales in a display that is as beautiful as it is thought-provoking. The 12-minute loop transports viewers to a Brazilian rainforest, the Pacific Ocean, and New York City complete with images and sounds of migrating birds, a blue whale (a nice nod to the iconic blue whale model hanging in the Hall of Ocean Life), and much more. Another moment in the loop focuses on a network of roots directing the flow of water underground. By walking around during this portion, viewers have a direct impact on the moving images on the floor, which created visually stunning patterns.
In addition to its exhibits, The Gilder Center also includes 18 new or repurposed classrooms and will offer programs for elementary, middle school and high school students and teachers. There will also be a full-service restaurant on the second floor with a view overlooking the Griffin Atrium. The Restaurant at Gilder will feature contemporary American cuisine with regional and global influences and beverages from local breweries and vineyards.
Visit https://www.amnh.org/about/gilder-center for more information.