It is somewhat rare that an institution as respected and beloved as the American Museum of Natural History in New York City undergoes a major, multi-year expansion that leaves critics and the public happy.

In a way, that’s what one of the world’s leading architects, Jane Gang, of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, has managed to achieve in the museum’s new Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation with her architecture and urban design firm, Studio Gang.

The $465 million center, which opened in May, added six floors and 230,000 square feet of new galleries, classrooms, a library, a theater, an insect lab and a conservatory where 1,000 butterflies fly freely. With a dramatic, canyon-like atrium that spirals upward and looks as if it were carved from ancient river rock, the New York Times declared the center a “stunning” example of “poetic” public architecture that was “destined to be an instant heartbeat and an enormous appeal.”

Gang Fellow Gary Hilderbrand, the Peter Louis Hornbeck Professor of the Practice of Landscape Architecture and head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the School of Design, and his firm Reed Hilderbrand, simultaneously designed major improvements to the adjacent Theodore Roosevelt Park areas.

The Journal spoke with Jang, a professor of the practice of architecture at the School of Design, about the project and how climate change is impacting her practice. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

“We wanted to make people very excited about exploration and discovery,” Jane Gang said of the Gilder Center project. “I started thinking about landscapes that make you feel that way and looked at different types of natural formations in geology and looked into how they are formed.”

Photography by Marc-Olivier Le Blanc

Official Gazette: What were the museum’s primary goals for this project and what were the philosophies or ideas behind some of the key design choices you and your team made to achieve these goals?

Gang: The American Museum of Natural History has always been an educational institution, not only for schoolchildren but also for adults and teachers. They have a Ph.D. The program too. It’s almost like a university, but suitable for everyone of all ages. The museum wanted to support and highlight their educational mission as well as the breadth of their expertise.

Most of the exhibits and collections on display focus on a particular branch of natural history, such as dinosaurs, gems and minerals, or Earth and space. This is the first time they have built something that shows the extent of their collections, including collections they couldn’t display before, such as insects, and how they are used for scientific research. They really wanted to do something that would bring the different aspects of their mission together, especially since science education in the United States ranks lower than you might expect.

In addition to new collections and exhibition spaces, the Gilder Center includes multiple classrooms, teaching laboratories, an expanded research library, and an immersive theater experience.

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