Anchorage Museum Expansion and New Exhibits
Story and Pictures by Samantha and John
Something special was certainly in the air at the Anchorage Museum last Saturday. Hundreds of people flocked to help celebrate the opening of several new exhibits. Although I have not spent much time at the museum in the past, I had the privilege of attending this event. I was sure glad that I did because it opened my eyes to some of the amazing art and history that the museum offers. I was simply awestruck. One aspect that I especially enjoyed was the Imaginarium Exhibit. It contained several fascinating demonstrations that proved to dazzle the senses of all ages.
Furthermore, this particular Saturday at the museum's main lobby included special song and dance performances by local groups which left everyone smiling and entertained. It was quite a day. Although I entered the museum with unsure expectations, I left feeling genuinely impressed, and also very proud that my city had a museum of that caliber.
Overhauling the Museum has been quite a lengthy process. Ten years of work and almost $110 million went into the upgrades and expansions. Most notable of the new exhibits are the Thomas Planetarium, a hands-on Imaginarium and a cultural Arctic Studies Center.
The Thomas Planetarium is a 48 seat theater equipped with state of the art projectors and 3-D technology. Films about astronomy, the solar system and Earth's atmosphere, as well as interactive demonstrations will be displayed on the 24 ft wide projection dome.
The Imaginarium has moved from its old location on 5th Ave to now be included in the museum. The Imaginarium includes various hands-on activities for kids that simulate different types of environments and climates in Alaska. Whether it's earthquakes, the Aurora Borealis or Alaskan critters that the young ones are interested in, there is enough excitement to keep the entire family occupied for hours.
The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center has loaned hundreds of pieces of Alaska's history to the museum for at least 7 years. Some of the items on display are a mountain sheep parka lined with wolf and wolverine fur, snow googles made from ivory, and a copper Tlingit mask with a scalp lined with human hair. Ninety percent of the pieces in this exhibit have never before been displayed.
World renowned British architect, Sir David Chipperfield, was given the opportunity to design the structure that would house the museum expansion. David Chipperfield has taught architecture in Europe and the United States, and has lectured extensively on the work of the practice. He was knighted in the 2010 New Year Honours for services to architecture in the UK and Germany.
The expansion created a new entrance and appearance for the museum. The new appearance has a very unique facade and building set up. The building itself is made of approximately 5900 square meters of custom insulated fritted glass. The Frit is silver reflective on one side and metallic on the other. Frit is a ceramic composition that has been fused, quenched, and granulated to form a glass. The glazing type and pattern has never before been used and was especially developed for the project. Because of Anchorage's extreme environmental conditions, the glass units are 24mm thick.
The Anchorage Museum Committee commissioned British artist Antony Gormley to create a sculpture outside the newly revamped museum located in downtown Anchorage. The sculpture is 24 feet tall, weighs 37,000 pounds, cost approximately $560,000 and took two and a half years to complete. Gormley named his creation "Habitat" and it consists of 57 stainless steel boxes stacked to evoke the image of a seated person with its arms crossed over it's knees. Think contemporary Buddha. The artist said the sculpture was inspired by Alaska's large and magnificent scenery.
Gormley had this to say of his creation, "Most of us live in cities. This work Habitat is a man in the form and the size of a house. This body takes the position on the building line and looks to the horizon. The mind inhabits the body, the body inhabits a house, the house inhabits a city and the city inhabits a land. Alaska is one of the last wildernesses. This is a meditation on the human animals' need for a very particular form of habitat."