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Out of This World
A sketch in an elemental book on astronomy becomes the moon and stars on the terrace at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.
By Allen Freeman

The Rose Center for Earth and Space is an immense glass cube; the Arthur Ross Terrace next to it is a ground plane articulated by an idea that its designer, Kathryn Gustafson, found in a French children’s book on astronomy. The cube and the ground plane have held a friendly dialogue for three years at the north end of the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Rod Mickens copyright AMNH

The Rose Center, which contains a new planetarium, opened in February 2000, replacing the 1935 Hayden Planetarium. When the Ross Terrace was dedicated 11 months later, it became a vantage point for the planetarium sphere fixed within the cube. Defined on the east by the planetarium, to the south and west by other component buildings of the museum, and to the north by a parapet wall, the terrace’s elevated stony surface contrasts with the verdant parkland that surrounds the museum. As a museum amenity, the Arthur Ross Terrace suggests comparisons with Philip Johnson’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art. But unlike MoMA’s outdoor setting for works as diverse as Picasso’s friendly She-Goat and Rodin’s imperious Balzac, the Arthur Ross Terrace is home to a single artwork: a depiction in the granite terrace floor of the lunar umbra—the moon’s conical shadow cast by the sun as the moon passes between sun and earth during lunar eclipse—superimposed over an open star cluster.

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