For nine decades, the Museum of the City of New York has honored our city's past and celebrated its future through diverse and transformative exhibits, providing New Yorkers with a catalog of the Big Apple's perpetual evolution. As New York moves toward a more sustainable future, MCNY has not only examined the changes through special exhibits, but the institution has become a part of the changes itself. MCNY's landmarked Colonial Revival building is currently undergoing a $90 million LEED Silver renovation by Ennead Architects to bring the building up to date, helping it to engage visitors for generations to come. The comprehensive modernization and expansion began in 2006 and will be completed in 2015.
The Museum of the City of New York chose to complete the renovation in three phases so that the museum would never have to close entirely to visitors. Finished in 2008, the first phase updated the lobby, restoring the grand staircase and light-filled atrium. The Fifth Avenue terrace was also renovated to improve visitor access and give the museum more space for public programming. For the past three summers, MCNY hosted the popular “Live@1220” music series in the outdoor space. Additionally, the first phase saw the construction of a brand new climate-controlled curatorial center and additional gallery.
Before this renovation began, the museum had been largely unaltered since its opening in 1932. Climate-control is vital to modern museums’ preservation of their artworks, but before 2008, MCNY operated with an inefficient heating system and window air-conditioners. Without proper temperature and humidity controls, the museum was unable to borrow works from other institutions in the city and around the world. MCNY’s system was so old that it actually gave out before the new heating could even be installed.
Phase two, just recently completed, addressed the museum’s outdated physical plant, installing a new climate-control system, new flooring, and high-efficiency windows throughout the museum. For Susan Henshaw Jones, MCNY’s Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum, this is the best part of the renovation, as it lets the museum enhance its exhibits and programming. “I remember when we borrowed our first painting from The Met,” she says. “Everyone was so thrilled!”
The South Wing of the museum was completely modernized during phase two, and new administrative offices were constructed on the fourth and fifth floors. Three high-tech classrooms were created in the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center, the museum shop was redesigned and relocated, and historical elements throughout the building, including parts of the facade, were restored. However, preservation of all of the exterior’s decoration could not be done because of budget constraints. The entrance gate and the bronze statues of Alexander Hamilton and former New York Governor DeWitt Clinton — all elements created specifically for the museum — remain untouched despite their deteriorating states.
But these feature have a chance to be restored, thanks to Partners in Preservation, which selected MCNY as one of 40 historic sites to win a portion of $3 million to put towards preservation. From April 26 to May 21, 2012, the public is able to vote daily for the sites that they think should be rewarded the money. The top four sites will each receive $250,000, and the remaining funds will be split between the other sites.
“We’ve done what we can to stabilize these elements, but this would be so enabling,” says Jones. If MCNY does not win the money, the museum will have to come up with the funds for preservation some other way, which is something Jones does not see happening in the near future. You can help by voting for MCNY here.
The third phase of the modernization includes renovating the North Wing to create three continuous floors of climate-controlled gallery space, a state-of-the-art auditorium, and a new cafe. This final phase will begin this year, and the renovation wil be complete by 2015.
As part of the Partners in Preservation program, MCNY is opening its doors this weekend, May 5-6, for visitors to enjoy family-friendly workshops and docent-lead tours through the hit exhibit The Greatest Grid. The tours take place at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Bonus: free ice cream sandwiches will be distributed, so get there early!
All photos © Jessica Dailey for Inhabitat
This post is sponsored by Partners in Preservation. Inhabitat has partnered with the project as a blog ambassador to help spread the word and raise awareness of select historical sites throughout New York City. All opinions expressed here are strictly the author’s.