Rose Center Planetarium
of the
American Museum of Natural History
Photo Essay by Robert A. Baron

Looking Up at the Great Sphere

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NEW: 12/2000: Wide-angle images on Image Page Four

Image Page One | Image Page Two | Image Page Three | Image Page Four

The Rose Center Planetarium, opened in the year 2000, has been hailed in the New York press as one of the finest works of architecture built in New York City in decades. It is a stunning building and quite photogenic. At its core, the Rose Center is a simple structure, composed of a huge metal sphere seemingly suspended in air and filling most of the space within a box built of large square crystal-clear panes of glass [image] [image] [image] [image]. In fact, this sphere, containing two theaters, is not suspended at all, but is held aloft by three sets of compound trusses [image] [image] [image] [image].

The sphere has a pedigree in the annals of ideal architecture, and recalls Étienne-Louis Boullée's 1784 project for a memorial to Isaac Newton (Janson, 5th ed., p.669) [image]. As a sphere within its glass box, it also serves as a metaphor for all planetary objects fixed in the man-made matrix of space. The glass panels, themselves, seem to defy gravity as they float suspended in space, held only by a truss-work of nearly invisible wires. In this way the glass evokes an air of arbitrary metrics, like lines of latitude and longitude on a map or a projection of three-dimensional spacial coordinates. [image] [image] [image]

As these photographs show, from within the box, the surrounding Manhattan architecture appears to be charted and measured against the visible interstices of crystal-clear panes. [image] New York, therefore, serves as the "constellation" in which this planetarium resides. In addition, when viewed during daytime from without, New York's architecture is reflected from the glass box. [image] As surely as the subject matter of this building is the Cosmos, it is also a monument to New York City and its place in the world of learning and discovery. The planar reflectivity of the New York Planetarium should be compared to the symmetrically distorted image that reflects off the Paris Geode Omnimax Theater [image]* where a huge mirrored geodesic dome reflects everything within view.

On the inside, first a gallery [image] [image], and then a spiral ramp [image] [image] [image] is imprinted with the history of the universe, laid out in linear precision -- from the "big bang" until today -- orbits the central sphere [image] [image], and provides pathways from the two theatres within [image] [image], eventually depositing viewers into the lower-level educational spaces [image] [image] [image] [image].

The broadly arched entrance-way of the planetarium faces the northern boundary of the American Museum of Natural History block [image] [image], recapitulating the broadly-arched south-facing museum entrance of a century earlier [image]. This stellar bookend to the museum block, embraces the present, looks out toward the future while holding firm to its roots in the architectural and cosmic past.

For plans and descriptions of the Rose Center Planetarium see and The Architect is Polshek & Partners.

This photo essay surveys the architecture of the new Rose Center Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History . The essay consists of 91 images, each 640 x 480pixels, being one quarter of the original size of 1280 x 960 pixels. The images were taken digitally with a Nikon CoolPix 900. On these pages the original 1280 x 960 pixel images are reduced to 640 x 480 and the images are compressed to Photoshop's "Low" quality.

Four pages of thumbnail images follow -- three (5/2000) with twenty images, and a fourth (12/2000) with 31 images taken with a wide-angle lens. Clicking on a thumbnail will place the 640x460 pixel images in a second browser window.

Image Page One | Image Page Two | Image Page Three | Image Page Four

License: Educators and individuals are welcome to take copies of these images and to use them for personal, educational, nonprofit purposes in the same way that educators would ordinarily use copy photography for classroom use. They may not be transferred to others to use, nor may they be used in for-profit endeavors, including distance education that has no face-to-face component. In addition, I ask that the images be attributed to me as the photographer in cataloging records. Do not link to these images. They may be taken off-line shortly. I will keep the thumbnail pages on-line however. Credit line: (c) 2000 Robert Baron (

The file names on the website give the date and time (yr/mo/day/hr/min/sec) that the photo was taken. "T" after a filename indicates that it is a thumbnail. "L" before a filename means the image is highly compressed.

Also available are the full-sized Rose Center images (1280x960) To help pay for the costs of the web-site, those who want copies of the high-resolution images are asked to send $10 (by check) plus a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a 100 meg zip disk. Write to Robert A. Baron () for a mailing address. The sixty full-sized pictures average about 1/2 megabyte each, in all, about 30 megabytes. They are jpeg, slightly compressed, 24 bit color.

These high resolution digital images may be used successfully on web-pages or projected in small classrooms, but in my opinion they are not of sufficient quality to be used as large scale images in professional publications or to be projected in large lecture halls, although they will serve well in smaller formats. Permission is also granted for use in student papers, dissertations and small-run scholarly papers. No for-profit uses are allowed without first obtaining permission or license. For academics and individuals who intend not to distribute them or place them on the web, they are free for the taking.

The planetarium is situated on the north side of the American Museum of Natural History block, the last two images of the set are from the south end of the block. They show the oldest entrance to the AMNH dating, I imagine, around the turn of the 19th century. I include these last two images to show that the entrance built at the end of the 20th century imitates the one build around the end of the 19th century.

Resources: (AMNH Page showing construction Photographs.) (Great Buildings Database.)
*Photo of Paris Omnimax Theater, courtesy of
John Nestor, edited by R.Baron.

Hope you enjoy. Feedback welcome.

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Last edited: 12/5/2002.