November 2017
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On the American Museum of Natural History Expansion


Several museums across New York City have recently put forward plans to grow their campuses and add new square footage for exhibitions, public programming, and archival space. While the success of these beloved institutions should be celebrated, many of these expansion plans come with potential impacts on our skyline, historic landmarks, cherished public spaces, and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is the most recent institution to announce plans to expand. AMNH serves millions of visitors a years, a number that continues to grow rapidly. The proposed Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation would provide the Museum with more space for visitors and room to house its growing educational programs.

Although detailed designs have not been released, the expansion will potentially encroach on green space in the adjacent Theodore Roosevelt Park. Though small, this park is a vital community asset. Any proposal that requires the loss of park space—even to allow beloved institutions to respond to growing user demand—must be rigorously evaluated.

Throughout the city, cultural and academic institutions are faced with the challenge of accommodating more patrons and providing the caliber of experience contemporary users expect. But institutions do not operate in a vacuum: decisions they take have a direct impact on the built environment and residents that surround them. A project of this importance requires close scrutiny and MAS will be involved in the discourse as the proposal works its way through the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Parks Department, and Community Board review processes.

We urge decision-makers at AMNH to:

  • Demonstrate the rationale for expansion: The Museum has presented a programmatic need for an expansion. But will the project produce any additional benefits to the community? Are the benefits worth the potential diminishment of other public amenities, including reduced green space and tree cover?
  • Explore alternative proposals: Has the Museum explored alternatives to the current expansion? This might include creative ways of using the existing museum space, or a possible satellite location. An outer borough location would have the added benefit of acting as a social and economic neighborhood catalyst. Are there potential institutional partnerships that would provide AMNH with the added capacity it requires?  
  • Ensure an open community process: The Museum should continue to be forthcoming and open about the details of the process going forward. They should actively engage with stakeholders from the nearby neighborhood to solicit their input on ways to meet the needs of both the Museum and the local community.

A thoughtful, imaginative design process could meet the Museum’s expanded requirements and potentially enhance the adjacent park and green areas. The challenge to AMNH is to build upon its decades of goodwill and thoughtful stewardship, and find a way to invest in future capacity that also benefits the neighborhood in which it has flourished thus far.

Parks and museums are a vital part of New York’s vibrancy. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice one civic asset to build, or expand, another.