U.S. Building of the Week

The Statue of Liberty Museum

17. June 2019
Photo: David Sundberg/ESTO
Project: The Statue of Liberty Museum, 2019
Location: Liberty Island, New York, NY, USA
Client: Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation
Design Architect & Architect of Record: FXCollaborative
Experience and Exhibition Design: ESI Design
Project Manager: SBI Consultants, Inc. 
Structural Engineer: DeSimone Consulting Engineers 
MEP/FP Engineer: Kohler Ronan Consulting Engineers 
Landscape Architect: Quennell Rothschild & Partners 
Lighting Designer: George Sexton Associates
Contractor: Phelps Construction Group 
Civil Engineer: Langan Engineering
Acoustics: Longman Lindsey
Security/IT: TM Tech Partners
Sustainability/LEED: Atelier Ten
Historic Preservation: Li/Saltzman Architects 
Code & Accessibility Consulting: Jensen Hughes
Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen & Associates
Site Area: 75,000 sf 
Building Area: 26,000 sf 
Photo: David Sundberg/ESTO
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

Many architectural firms, all based in Manhattan, were invited to submit qualifications for the project to the Staute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLIEF), who initiated the project on behalf of the National Park Service. A shortlist of four firms were invited to interview and share initial ideas about the project. FXCollaborative was selected based on its main ideas: to create a new place that added to the visitors’ experience of the island, and that blurred the boundary between the building and its surroundings that all could enjoy.

Photo: David Sundberg/ESTO
Please provide an overview of the project.

Opened to the public on May 16, 2019, the new 26,000-square-foot Statue of Liberty Museum was designed by architecture firm FXCollaborative, with exhibits created by experience design firm ESI Design. The structure was built by Phelps Construction Group. SBI Consultants served as the owner’s representative, coordinating activities among all stakeholders.   

The Statue of Liberty, "Liberty Enlightening the World," is known the world over. Its torch is as much a universal symbol of enlightenment, freedom, and democracy as it is a welcoming beacon to all. The Statue of Liberty Museum was conceived as a garden pavilion that adds to the experience of all visitors to Liberty Island, regardless of age or nationality. On the opposite end of Liberty Island from Lady Liberty herself, the new museum accommodates the island's 4.5 million annual visitors to spread the story of her creation and significance. Access to the Museum is free with purchase of a ferry ticket to visit Liberty Island and Ellis Island.  

Photo: David Sundberg/ESTO
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?

The main idea was for the building to serve as an extension and addition to the park, such that it provides a joyous new experience for all visitors to the island. The building merges with the landscape, and provides a new, daylit setting for the statue’s original torch. The building's materials and design link the past and future, the sea and land, the city and wildlife. The Statue of Liberty Museum was designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.

Photo: David Sundberg/ESTO
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?

The museum anchors the island's formal pedestrian mall, which extends up to and on top of the structure by way of monumental granite steps, culminating in sweeping, panoramic views of the Lady Liberty, Lower Manhattan, and all of New York Harbor. Merging landscape and building, the museum's roof is planted with native meadow grasses that create a natural habitat for local and migrating birds. The roof acts as a lifted extension of the park, while below, the Statue’s original torch is showcased behind 22-foot-high, bird-safe glass walls. The building's materials echo the same granite, bronze, and copper employed by Richard Morris Hunt for the Statue's pedestal more than 130 years ago.  

The vertical patterning of the precast concrete walls was inspired by the Palisades cliffs along the Hudson River. The Palisades were called "Weehawken" by the Lenni Lenape Native Americans, meaning "rocks that look like rows of trees."

Site Plan (Drawing: FXCollaborative)
How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?

The main changes were that it became a little smaller and a little simpler due to rising overall costs. The project design began with much more glass, which was reduced to accommodate exhibit design requirements for light-sensitive exhibits and better visibility of electronic screens. Post Hurricane Sandy, the building was raised an additional four feet above the 500-year flood level, and drainage slots were designed into its base to insure future resiliency against storm surges.

Landscape Diagram (Drawing: FXCollaborative)
Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?

The museum addresses a number of current trends such as construction efficiency, energy efficiency and urban habitat creation. The current trend of off-site prefabrication was used to great effect. The island setting of the museum required tight coordination, and a main solution was the museum's precast concrete panel wall system. Prefabrication enabled control quality in a factory setting, reduced the time of construction, and simplified job site logistics.  

Energy efficiency is a crucial current topic. The enclosure of the museum utilizes a low window to wall ratio, highly insulated walls, extensive thermal bridge mitigation, and internal thermal mass to moderate energy use for heating and cooling.  

The museum also exemplifies a current trend to create urban habitat. A large green roof, rain garden, native vegetation, and other landscape features will enhance local natural systems and wildlife. Migrating birds attracted to the site will be safe from collisions through the use of bird-friendly glass.

Section through steps (Sketch by Cameron Ringness, courtesy of FXCollaborative)
What products or materials have contributed to the success of the completed building?

The Stony Creek granite used on the museum is the same granite used at the Statue's pedestal. The Museum incorporated bronze and copper into its design, echoing the bronze and copper used in Statue's original pedestal. The Statue's original torch is showcased behind 22-foot-high, bird-safe glass walls.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Floor Plan (Drawing: FXCollaborative)
View from Statue (Sketch by Cameron Ringness, courtesy of FXCollaborative)

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