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The new front entrance to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum will be a sunny yellow beacon attracting families to the corner of St. Marks and Brooklyn avenues in Crown Heights when it is completed in 2006. The new entrance and expansion plans were unveiled by architect Rafael Vinoly on Wednesday morning at his design firm on Vandam Street in Manhattan.

"This whole effort to re-energize the building puts the building in a new context," said Vinoly. "We are giving it an image and presence in the community and having the building thought of as a playground for the neighborhood. The shape is like a gigantic toy, because there is nothing better than transforming it into a tool - not just something to contemplate."

The award-winning architect, wearing three pairs of eyeglasses (on his head, his face and around his neck) enthusiastically described how the current building at 145 Brooklyn Ave. will be annexed by his new, boomerang-shaped addition.

The current entrance, flanked by wrought-iron fences on each side, is at the top of a flight of concrete steps and is akin to a subway entrance leading down into the subterranean museum.

The new 4,000-square-foot entrance designed by Vinoly, in the same location, will be at street level and will be flanked by yellow wings that run along St. Marks and Brooklyn avenues, wrapping around the current building on two sides.

The two-story expansion will bring the museum above ground. The top level of the V will be covered with bright yellow tiles "perforated" with porthole windows set at irregular intervals of the walls to give even small children a view of the outside. The bottom half of the structure will be glass. The cantilevered upper floor will shelter the lower floor from direct sunlight while still allowing people inside to see the surrounding neighborhood and Brower Park.

Vinoly has also won design commissions for the renovation and enlargement of the historic Snug Harbor Cultural Center in the Staten Island Performing Arts Complex, which will be completed next year, and the Bronx Criminal Court Complex, scheduled for 2007. He is also a member of Think, a multidisciplinary international team of architects and engineers that is one of the six teams chosen to develop plans for the World Trade Center site.

His $39 million renovation will double the size of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Children’s Museum President Carol Enseki pointed out that the additional 51,000 square feet of space will be used for display and storage of the museum’s collection of 27,000 cultural and natural history objects, for science and cultural exhibitions and extended program areas for toddlers. The addition will also include revenue generators like the Kids Shop and Kids Cafe (including access to the rooftop terrace and a birthday party room), as well as a "sun-filled" library and a new 200-seat theater.

The expansion will also provide new workshop space and headquarters for the Museum Team, an education and leadership program run by the museum, which is a free, after-school, weekend and summer program for 800 kids ages 7 to 18.

The new 102,000-square-foot museum will be able to serve as many as 400,000 visitors annually - up from its current capacity of 250,000, said Enseki.

"Five years ago, our Monster Mash Halloween program brought in 1,500 visitors," said Enseki. "This past event brought in 2,500. We sincerely do need a much larger building."

In addition to the innovative artistic statement the museum’s addition will be making in the borough, it is also a national leader in ecologically friendly design.

The museum is slated to be the nation’s first "green" children’s museum, certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program of the U.S. Green Building Council. The systems and materials incorporated into the expansion will allow the museum to take advantage of solar energy and even well water among other cost-saving, eco-friendly ideas. For example, the geothermal heating and air-conditioning system will use water from 300-foot-deep wells, reducing energy use and eliminating noise and emissions of onsite cooling towers.

Enseki also said that sensors will monitor the exhibition spaces for the presence of visitors and will adjust the lighting and ventilation accordingly. These features are expected to save the city, which owns the building, an estimated $103,000 in energy costs, said Enseki.

The museum will also create exhibits that teach the children about its "green" features. Exhibits in the planning stages include an "Energy Garden," to demonstrate how the museum harvests its solar power, and "Energy Exploration areas," where children can learn how the museum uses water to heat and cool the building. Visitors will learn about renewable resources, such as bamboo, which was chosen for the flooring because it is one of the world’s fastest-growing plants.

"Some people say it’s not easy being green," said Enseki, "but it’s well worth the effort."

Vinoly gave a digital presentation demonstrating how the 103-year-old museum has changed over the years, moving from the Adams Mansion and Smith House in what is now Brower Park in Crown Heights to the museum’s current building, designed by Hardy Holzman and Pfeiffer, and built in 1977.

Construction on Vinoly’s addition, to be overseen by the city’s Department of Design and Construction, is scheduled to begin in the fall and is to be completed in 2006. Funds for the museum expansion came from the city ($25.17 million) and the state ($1.5 million). Although the museum has already raised $5.4 million from private donors, it hopes to raise $7 million more.

The museum will continue programs and services in the existing building during the construction.

"My boss [Mayor Mike Bloomberg] says good design isn’t more expensive, it’s just better," said Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin at the unveiling. "The Brooklyn Children’s Museum has created something truly special for the city."

For more information about the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, visit their Web site at or call (718) 735-4400.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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