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.
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.