Staten Island Museum at Snug Harbor
1000 Richmond Terrace, Snug Harbor Campus, Building A Staten Island
Gluckman Tang Architects
The recently reopened Staten Island Museum at Snug Harbor, housed in a former dormitory for aged and decrepit sailors, has a renewed vitality in a historic setting. “When restoring historic buildings, make interventions as quietly as you can,” Richard Gluckman told Archtober enthusiasts gathered at the museum today.
The neoclassical building, originally designed by Richard Smyth in 1879 and landmarked in 1965, is part of a complex of historic buildings occupying the bucolic 83-acre Snug Harbor area of Staten Island. Gluckman Tang Architects was responsible for breathing new life into the building to better showcase the museum’s diverse collection spanning the arts, natural history, and local history objects.
Over the past ten years, Gluckman Tang has been responsible for undoing previous—and precarious—restorations of the building, redoing the shell, restoring original elements, including the staircase and windows, and adding contemporary interventions to bring the building up to American Museum Association and LEED standards.
The museum building serves as an important link between the local history and the museum’s mission. Gluckman Tang introduced geothermal well fields, paying tribute to the Staten Island Museum’s conservationist history. The auditorium and education space has linoleum floors, a functional choice by the architects, but also a reference to Staten Island’s Linoleumville, the location of first linoleum factory in the United States.
Gluckman and his colleague James Young-Sik Lim discussed the “congenial relationship” between the historic and the contemporary that they nurtured during the renovation process. Visitors feel elements of the historic structure underfoot—the wood floors were repurposed from the building’s original pine beams. Gluckman also emphasized the importance of maintaining a sense of the historical usage of the building. He pointed to a compass rose inlaid in the wood floors—a contemporary interpretation of a historic detail that serves as a nod to the nautical history of the space, and as a centralized orientation point for visitors.
Upstairs in the Treasure Box Gallery, the museum’s eclectic collection is displayed in a room flooded with natural light. The architects focused on flexibility within the exhibition spaces, a crucial aspect of the redesign, given the museum’s mission as a general interest cultural institution covering art, science, and history. The tour ended in the Mastodon Room, housing a life-sized replica of the now-extinct mammal. The mastodon (for which the museum is currently in the process of naming) serves as an elegant metaphor for the museum’s mission and Gluckman Tang’s renovation—history comes alive here, whether in the form of a giant-tusked creature or a beautifully restored cast-iron neoclassical staircase.
Next up, Archtober-ites will venture to the Goethe-Institute.
Alex Tell is the Committee’s Coordinator for the AIANY | Center for Architecture.