Nat’s natural advocacy op

Proposed rear addition to Museum of Natural History. (NYT)

Proposed rear addition to Museum of Natural History. (NYT)

The American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, has announced plans to build an addition that would fill up the lovely garden space known as Theodore Roosevelt Park, where Billy, Victoria and I sojourned for half an hour after visiting last spring.

Interior of proposed addition. (NYT)

Interior of proposed addition. (NYT)

The New York Times’s Robin Pogrebin reports in “Museum of Natural History Reveals Design for Expansion” that the proposal is “both cautious and audacious.” She says it introduces “a contemporary aesthetic that evokes Frank Gehry’s museum in Bilbao, Spain, in its undulating exterior and Turkey’s underground city of Cappadocia in its cavelike interior.”

Not sure which of these is the cautious and which the audacious. A Gehryesque swooping of glass and steel might seem audacious but audacious today is really clichéd, de rigueur and hence perhaps intended to be interpreted as somewhat cautious. The more the public hates it the higher the “quality” of design. But my guess is that the underground Turkish city is cautious – after all, it would be inside.

The proposal, designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, still must be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and other bodies. The neighborhood has already expressed its concern. Advocacy still being part of the mission of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, whose national headquarters is in Midtown, perhaps the nation’s leading voice for traditional design should speak up on behalf of the neighborhood.

The cave-like indoor exhibition space sounds intriguing, but its poopy-doopy container would not only plop ugliness where park space now graces the intersection of Columbus Avenue and West 79th Street, it would rob us all of a good swath of the rear of the museum.

Like doctors, architects’ motto should be “First, do no harm.” This addition violates that edict and should be opposed, not least by the ICAA.

Rear of Museum of Natural History, facing Columbus Avenue. (Photo by David Brussat)

Rear of Museum of Natural History, facing Columbus Avenue. (Photo by David Brussat)

Theodore Roosevelt Park behind the museum. (Photo by David Brussat)

Theodore Roosevelt Park behind the museum. (Photo by David Brussat)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architects, Architecture, Architecture Education, Architecture History, Art and design, Development, Preservation, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Nat’s natural advocacy op

  1. Don’t squeeze the Charmin? !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s