Strong National Museum of Play
Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, is a museum founded in 1982 that documents the history of play in American culture. Based on the personal collection of Margaret Woodbury Strong, the museum is a Smithsonian affiliate. It is also home to the National Toy Hall of Fame.
The museum was called the Strong Museum until July 14, 2006, when the museum reopened under its new name after renovations that nearly doubled its size. It is now the second largest children’s museum in the United States, and the only one dedicated specifically to the study of play.
The whimsical architecture reflects the museums mission of exploring play to encourage learning, creativity & discovery.
Three additional structures connect, extend from, and complement both the existing and new buildings: The Caterpillar, Field of Play, and Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden.
The Caterpillar: This undulating, 3-story-high, 200-foot-long caterpillar-like structure- the first space frame in the world with this amorphous shape- has the sweeping curved shape of a Frank Gehry-designed structure (Gehry designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain). The Caterpillar connects the existing building to the new wing and is ‘capped’ by a 70-foot-high circular glass wall that drenches the airy space in natural light. The free-form structure is composed of 1,100 anodized aluminum roof panels and 4,500 galvanized steel tube roof members- all hand-made, and no two alike. The exposed aluminum skeleton frame on the roof’s underside makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into the world’s largest Erector Set. A sweeping, central staircase leads museum guests up to the expanded National Toy Hall of Fame and other second-floor exhibits. The Caterpillar was constructed by Triodetic of Canada, a pioneer in space frame and dome design, whose projects include the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Centre in Australia, and Toronto’s Ontario Place, among other projects worldwide.
Field of Play: This visually arresting structure resembles a giant pile of colorful children’s blocks and houses an exhibit on the importance of play. The ‘blocks’ are the result of approximately 40 tons of structural steel, custom cut and bolted together at odd angles to support the building’s unusual geometry, then covered with a ’skin’ of bright red, green, blue, yellow, purple, or orange. The sloping, angular construction suggests movement, as if the blocks could be taken apart; and, since the structure has no visible exterior doors or windows, its scale leaves more to the imagination. The building’s brilliant colors are made from five-foot-square panels of a special ’skin-like,’ resin-based cladding material manufactured in Europe and rarely seen in the U.S. This material acts like a skin that ‘breathes’ and has the ability to take on exceptionally rich, intense colors that form a dramatic contrast to the concrete building adjacent to it.
Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden: This graceful architectural creation gives the appearance of outspread butterfly wings and houses the first and only indoor butterfly garden in Upstate New York. Guests enter a lush rain forest environment where they encounter approximately 800 brilliantly-colored, free-flying tropical and native butterflies, tropical foliage, a cascading waterfall, and another water feature. An adjacent support greenhouse contains plants to help keep nectar sources for the butterflies replenished. The ‘wings’ of the building are 30 feet high at the tips and 50 feet in diameter, and are composed of steel rings welded together to create the appearance of a butterfly in flight. The unusual wing-shaped garden roof is a tension membrane structure designed by Taiyo Birdair Corporation of Amherst, New York. (Similar membrane structures, also designed by Taiyo Birdair, cover the Denver International Airport terminal.) While inside the butterfly garden, guests are surrounded by glass walls that create the illusion of being outdoors. That illusion is due to a one-of-a-kind glass system developed in Europe, which attaches more than 130 glass panels to the structural steel columns, and yet is nearly invisible to the naked eye.
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