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'Stunning' Natural History Museum Expansion OK'd by Landmarks Commission

By Emily Frost | October 11, 2016 5:46pm
 The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the Gilder Center proposal. 
Gilder Center Approved
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Leaders of the Landmarks Preservation Commission lauded a proposal by the American Museum of Natural History to create a new science center and renovate its surrounding park, giving their full support to the controversial plan during a hearing Tuesday. 

The Commission's chairwoman, Meenakshi Srinivasan, called the proposed Gilder Center a "stunning piece of architecture" and an "absolutely wonderful addition."

The commissioners were tasked with evaluating the appropriateness of the six-story, $325 million project, as well as changes to the adjacent Theodore Roosevelt Park, as the museum is an individual landmark and sits within a historic district. 

The LPC's vote marks a significant step in the approvals process, which will continue this spring when the Parks Department makes a determination regarding the environmental impact of the Gilder Center. 

"It’s quiet, but it’s elusive, but it’s attractive and it draws you in," Srinivasan said of the plan.

Her colleagues agreed, heaping praise on project designer Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang.

"Very seldom do you see a design that’s soaring, that’s inspiring. I’m delighted by the design," LPC Commissioner Wellington Chen said. 

Museum president Ellen Futter has said the new center will allow the public to participate in the process of scientific research while creating important connections to other parts of the museum. 

Creating a corridor from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue is "thrilling" and "really will be a completely new way to experience this museum," Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron said Tuesday. 

Along with praising the proposed building's architecture and the way paths and respite spaces have been modified in the park, the commissioners also complimented the museum for working with the community. 

For more than a year, since the expansion was first revealed, residents have fought against the removal of parkland and trees the museum argued was required in the expansion. 

"You bent over backwards in reaching out," Chen said. 

Still, members of the community testified against the loss of seven trees and a quarter-acre of parkland at the hearing.

The advocacy group LANDMARK WEST! also pushed back against the lack of a master plan, but the LPC commissioners brushed aside both concerns.

"A quarter-acre somewhere else on this campus would perhaps be unthinkable… What we’re adding in terms of additional trees and much improved landscape to me is certainly worth that quarter of an acre," Commissioner Frederick Bland said.

Instead, the commission took a broader view of the project.

"The thrust of this project is in fact a furtherance of this institution in remaining premiere," Srinivasan added.