The Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) in New York City is moving to a new home – a former NYC church – which will triple its existing space.
The new project has been designed by architects FXCollaborative and marks the CMOM’s first expansion in 40 years.
The abandoned First Church of Christ Scientist, situated at 361 Central Park West, is 117 years old. The main auditorium has a 60-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling and will be split into two floors. As a result, exhibition space will extend up into the attic.
Here visitors will be able to experience the relationship between the inner and outer architecture of the building with an ‘attic walk’ and a child-scaled ‘attic nook’, dappled with light from skylights. A ‘magical’ glass elevator will also be created within the steeple, bringing visitors out to an outdoor terrace around the base of the steeple.
Sylvia Smith, Senior Partner at FXCollaborative is leading the design on the project. “Our design for CMOM is a conversation between the historical and the contemporary,” she says. “Our cohesive and sustainable approach unites old and new, just as it maintains the building’s strong relationship between its light-filled interior space and stately exterior presence.”
Design company Local Projects will be involved in creating the exhibition space. The museum is expected to open in 2023.
Preserving the heart of the building
Smith says the project aims to preserve the heart and “soul” of the historic building while transforming it into a richly curated museum. The design is flexible enough to provide the space needed for a range of installations, however it also aims to intrigue and delight children, as a place of “mystery and surprise”.
The church is landmarked and was originally designed by Carrère and Hastings. The CMOM and FXCollaborative re-submitted plans to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in June 2020 and received unanimous approval for the renovation and revitalisation of the historic building.
The church has a wealth of stained glass. All windows will be restored with new bronze frames, mullions and muntins. The centres of the windows contain religious images. These will be removed and replaced with clear glass. This will therefore help promote the flow of natural light into the building.
Accessibility and environmental responsibility
New entryways from the street have been designed to make access easier for the mobility impaired. These use salvaged stone from other parts of the building. Sustainable building technologies will also be employed, and solar panels will be installed to improve energy performance.
“Like the diverse and complex city of New York, CMOM will have a distinct and palpable identity,” says Smith. “Whether in its grand volumes or nooks and crannies – from auditorium to attic, ground to sky – the museum will be a lattice of perspectives and environments, both spatial and material.”
Stewarding early childhood
CMOM was founded in 1973 as a grassroots organisation. Its mission is ‘to be the stewards of early childhood and to help all our youngest citizens grow and develop into their best selves.’ It provides workshops, classes and performances alongside exhibitions.
The museum is currently based at the Tisch Building on West 83rd Street. Once established in its new home, it will join the American Museum of Natural History, and the New York Historical Society in the ‘museum mile’ stretching along Manhattan’s West Side.
FXCollaborative are renowned for their imaginative adaptive reuse of historic buildings in New York. Former projects include revisioning the art deco AT&T Long Distance building and preserving landmarked Victorian masterpiece, the Powers Building. The studio was also responsible for the Statue of Liberty Museum garden pavilion.