Nestled in an intimate gallery space in Battery Park City, amid the soaring structures that comprise Lower Manhattan, the little-known Skyscraper Museum offers insight into the ever-evolving New York cityscape. While the technical information that accompanies its exhibits is geared toward adults, even the littlest urbanites can appreciate the engaging oversize photographs, historic maps, and detailed models of buildings in their world-famous backyard and beyond.
There are also STEM-inspired lessons and workshops for NYC kids as they learn what it takes to create one of those wow-worthy skyscrapers.
One might expect a museum in New York dedicated solely to skyscrapers to be as colossal as its namesake. However, the Skyscraper Museum's entire exhibition space fits on the ground floor of a 38-story condo tower that also houses the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The space is divided into two galleries that total 5,000 square feet. The main one is devoted to objects in the museum's permanent collection, while a smaller one rotates special exhibitions.
Although the museum focuses on the celebrities of the New York skyline, such as the Empire State Building, it also highlights notable A-listers from around the world, like Dubai's dazzling Burj Khalifa. In addition, the museum displays information on the history of high-rise construction in general, including the debate over which city can claim the world's first skyscraper (Chicago or New York?). Here, visitors can peruse a list of buildings worldwide that stand 100 stories or higher, learn how One World Trade Center won the title of "Tallest Building in North America," and view statistics for skyscraper size in terms of floor area ("super jumbos" take up a whopping 4 million square feet). The facts and figures can be dizzying. Yet the museum's cozy size and welcoming staff make a family visit both manageable and fun.
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Children create their own architectural wonder inspired by the museum's exhibits and the real-life towers beyond.
The best time to drop by with little ones is on a Saturday morning when every two weeks the museum offers hands-on family programming based on the principles of urbanism, architecture, and engineering. The day I visited with my 4- and 6-year-old girls, the theme was "Trash Towers," through which we explored the topic of recycling.
After reviewing the importance of recycling and learning that even skyscrapers can be made of recycled materials, the kids were provided with flattened cardboard boxes, empty plastic water bottles, bubble wrap, and the like, all repurposed from the museum's office bins. The children then constructed their own eco-friendly architectural masterpieces with brightly colored tape, Elmer's glue, and structural support from their eagerly hovering grown-ups. Afterward, everyone delighted in spotting familiar buildings in the galleries on their own.
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The family programs begin before the museum opens to the public.
One special aspect of these programs is that participants have the entire space to themselves. The museum opens to the public at noon, but the family program starts at 10:30am. So instead of being cordoned off in a separate room, as is the norm at other museums, the kids are invited to sit at tables erected just for the event, right in the middle of the sleek main SOM-designed gallery, which itself features high, mirrored ceilings and a shimmery silver floor. With no other visitors to disturb, the little ones can engage in happy chatter as they focus on the subject at hand, all the while surrounded by inspiring images of steel-and-concrete wonders. Activities can range from gallery scavenger hunts to bridge-building challenges, to blueprint-style sidewalk art.
Get ready to build your own skyscrapers! Photo by Matthew Pinto for The Skyscraper Museum
Each family program is tailored to a specific age group, which varies with each biweekly offering, so be sure to check online or call in advance of your visit. Tickets for these programs are $5 per child and free for their accompanying grown-ups. Families may stay and enjoy the exhibits afterward. The programs are listed as starting at 10:30am, but a small window of time pads the beginning when kids can color while waiting for the group to assemble.
The Skyscraper Museum is located at 39 Battery Place in Battery Park City and is open Wednesday-Sunday, 12-6pm. General admission is $5, students and seniors are $2.50, and children under 12 are free. The museum also offers gallery tours during the week. While there are no age restrictions for the tours, the material is advanced, so kids may not be engaged in the same way as on a Saturday.
Little New Yorkers often take their ginormous surroundings for granted. A visit to this museum may just remind them to look up and appreciate the urban marvels that scrape our skies. Find more great NYC museums for children in our Museums, Art, and Gallery Guide.
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted