DS+R: Building a Metabolism

American Museum of Natural History

Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Building Metabolism:

Part of the ethos of the American Museum of Natural History is to expand the knowledge base of our relationship to the natural world. The architecture of the new addition should participate in this discourse and demonstrate an understanding of building system strategies that strive to positively contribute to both local and global ecosystems.

The design strategy captures the museum's mission of discovery by revealing to visitors and staff that a building and a city – like an organism – has a metabolism. The SEIC addition will be a place where building systems are brought into focus and serve as a kind of metabolism for the architecture. It will be a place where staff and visitors can develop an awareness of the built environment’s relationship with the natural world while learning about Earth’s metabolism; it's status, changes, and problems as well as local and global initiatives - like PlaNYC and the 2000 Watt Society - to adapt and find a better balance.

As a member of the local community and part of the New York urban metabolism, the following guidelines were formulated for the new addition:

• Connect to the neighborhood
• Add value to the AMNH campus without depleting resources
• Improve the city’s air quality and climate
• Reduce waste
• Educate the public
• Maximize the thermal, visual and acoustical comfort of staff and visitors

The concept approach was developed in 3 steps; load reduction, efficiency improvement and renewable substitution.

Load reduction begins with an understanding of the site and local climate, unique program requirements and project identity. The design defines spatial groupings driven by program adjacencies that feed off one another to provide the energy flows of daylight, fresh air, temperature and acoustics. The theater becomes a center for energy production as well as a surface to store and distribute heat and air exchanges throughout the building. The system components of cool thermal storage, ventilation chimney, light pipes, and algae landscape create the skin of the theater shell and demonstrate the building’s metabolic shifts.

The next step after reducing building load is to identify areas of efficiency improvements in both the existing and proposed flow of energy and materials. The design strategy focuses on utilizing the potential of steam condensate, exhaust air, and biomass waste streams as well as a geothermal heat exchange to bridge the remaining energy demand and provide comfort to indoor and outdoor environments. In combination with this resource mixture, distribution is refocused toward conditioning people rather than large uninhabited air volumes. Radiant systems are used to provide comfort locally allowing for air stratifications that draw waste heat through the building to locations where it can be absorbed and reused.

The NYC power supply is not sufficient to meet the city’s current demand and this instability in the grid with temporary pollution-intensive solutions at peak hours is one of the largest threats to urban sustainability. The new addition not only takes the initiative to introduce renewable substitutes to the campus energy mixture, but also critically considers what type of energy production is most appropriate as an extension of Central Park. Today, the green space of Central Park not only provides recreational space but also serves as the lung of the city providing oxygen and absorbing carbon. The design strategy integrates into the roof membrane and canopy system an algae production landscape that is more efficient at providing oxygen and absorbing carbon than solar and green roof alternatives combined.

It is a rethinking of the “Green Roof” which allows for the more familiar local species of plants and trees but is sheltered by the energy harvesting algae system affording the opportunity for both event based and casual roof occupation throughout the year. The algae feed on the building waste streams of carbon dioxide, steam condensate, and blackwater collection and in return produce heat, biomass and oil which can be converted to fuel, products and oxygen. The installation contributes to the energy system of the building but more importantly draws tangible connections between building and natural systems while demonstrating that there is growing movement through forward-thinking technology that re-imagines how the built environment can become a more productive part of the global ecosystem.