Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (1) Posted 08.16.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Mark Lamster

Renovations at the Museum




New York Magazine's great Intel interview column always concludes with the same question: "What makes a person a New Yorker." (Pharrell Williams: "The will to make it.") For me, the mark of a true native is the ability to navigate the Museum of Natural History without a map. If you can make it to the Hall of Minerals from the Hall of African Mammals without a plan or a wrong turn, you're a real New Yorker.

The place is famously labyrinthine—what other museum has three primary entrances?—and there are parts of it that seem both lost and frozen in time, which is part of its appeal. It's been this way for generations. Here's Holden Caulfield, in Salinger's 1951 classic: “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket."

You can make a pretty compelling argument for keeping a small museum exactly as its creator left it (see the debate about the Barnes Museum, or this recent conversation about the restoration of the Glass House), but a massive museum dedicated to natural history—science—is another thing altogether. Maintaining heritage at the AMNH is tricky business. A couple of weeks ago, walking through the place with my daughter, we noticed that the extraordinary dioramas—painted under the direction of James Perry Wilson—in the Hall of North American Mammals were closed up for renovation. Fear not, though: it is a restoration project. The displays, which are dusty and a bit moth-eaten, should be even more of a revelation once this work is done. 

But what should be done with the mural of Mecca and the Kaaba, which is tucked into a small gallery in the Hall of Asian Peoples? Educating the public about Islam seems like a more important (and politically loaded) business than ever, but the mural is an antiquated timepiece. Today's Mecca is being transformed by massive construction projects. So what's it to be?  

In many of its new displays and exhibitions, the museum takes advantage of whiz-bang technology, sometimes to a fault. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, or romanticizing my youth, but I miss the old Hayden Planetarium, and its giant Zeiss Mark VI projector. These days, when every kid has a home theater with a 3D screen (or at least every theater is 3D equipped), there's something to be said for the magic to be found in an old mechanical wonder. You get that tactile sense from the museum's Butterfly Conservatory, a jewel of functional architecture designed by Nick Leahy, of Perkins Eastman, who is a friend. Last week, we travelled together with our families to the New York Hall of Science, in Queens, where Charles and Ray Eames's Mathematica exhibit, originally created for IBM in the 1960s, is on permanent display. It's a masterpiece of lo-fi installation design, not a screen to be found, just clear, hands-on exhibits that illustrate concepts with creativity and without pandering. 

The day after our visit, my daughter wanted to return.
 

|
Share This Story

Comments (1)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT COMMENT >>

Interesting the frozen differences between the AMNH displays, stuffed carcasses from a time of abundance and open possibility that hardly exists anymore, and the Hall of Science's Mathematica, still vital examples of still relevant physical phenomenae that, sadly, seem to be floating further beyond our collective American comprehensions or concerns. Who needs a hyperbolic paraboloid to work at Walmart or blog about diapers?

But before i rant too much about the kids on my lawn, I'll note a glimpse of happiness in Space-X's development of orbital rocketry at a fraction of government prices - an entrepeneurship that's gonna damn well need those paraboloids; time to get the kids back to Queens!
Mr. Downer
08.17.11 at 10:56


Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture. A contributing editor to Architectural Review, he is currently at work on his third book, a biography of the late architect Philip Johnson. Follow: @marklamster.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS