If you don’t know exactly where miSci is, there’s a good chance you’ll drive right by it.
The former Schenectady Museum is hidden on top of a hill above Nott Terrace, and the entrance is tough to spot, despite a large sign.
But that could change.
A group of about 60 second-year architecture students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute spent their fall semester coming up with design schemes that could transform the dated, brick, hard-to-see building into something that would stop traffic. The designs were put on exhibit at RPI for the leadership of miSci in early December.
“They had lots of different approaches — everything from things that looked like something organic or from outer space to something that looked more traditional,” said miSci’s executive director, William “Mac” Sudduth. “They were all really exciting, and they all had their strong points.”
When creating their designs, students considered the property’s challenges: lack of visibility, steep topography and limited exhibition space.
The architects-to-be were charged with designing a new entrance that would allow visitors to enter from Nott Terrace. Evan Douglis, dean of RPI’s school of architecture, said functionality was a consideration in the designs, as well as visual impact.
Some of the additions were designed to look like they grew from the side of the hill that slopes down to Nott Terrace. Others look like they were made to fly.
“There were buildings that cantilevered up in the air, that lifted as though they were moving toward the sky, which is great because if you think about where the museum is located, in terms of the topography, if you get up high enough, you can see the downtown of Schenectady,” he said.
A building that looks like it’s been transported from another dimension would stick out like a sore thumb amid
Schenectady’s historic architecture, but that could be a good thing, Douglis said.
He cited the success of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, a museum of modern and contemporary art in Bilbao, Spain.
“Because of its innovative design, being extremely contemporary, it created this massive contrast between the old city of Bilbao and this new contemporary building,” he said. “That difference was exploited in a very productive way to attract millions of people every year to a city that did not have that kind of population of visitors, and it generated millions of dollars for the city of Bilbao.”
Sudduth said the RPI students created both traditional designs and “statement” designs that could work for miSci, some of which he “could fall in love with.”
His design choice will be one that will get people talking, he said.
“I want the museum to be dramatic on the outside — for people to sense the great things that are going on inside before they even get to it,” he explained.
The next step in the process will be an exhibit of the students’ design plans. Dates haven’t been set, but Sudduth said the exhibit will appear at miSci and at sites throughout the community.
“We’d like people to see these ideas and start thinking about this with us,” he commented.
A book containing all of the students’ designs is also in the works.
A ground-breaking ceremony won’t take place anytime soon at miSci. There’s a lot to do before that can happen, Sudduth said.
“The thing that we’re really working on before we actually get into the design of an expansion is making this place so full of people and stuff that everybody says, ‘You have to expand,’ ” he said.
Financing an expansion isn’t something that concerns him.
“Once we’re bursting at the seams and people are beating a path to our door, the finances will take care of themselves,” he explained.
In the meantime, museum staff members are trying to come up with their own creative tactics to get people to notice the museum.
“We’re going to find some ways to make people look up the hill a little bit,” Sudduth said. “I’m not sure what those are going to be yet, but trust me, we’ll come up with something spectacular.”