American Museum of Natural History - Northwest Coast Hall

New York City

2022

Famous for its rugged coastline and lush forests, the Pacific Northwest region has been home to human communities for millennia. The earliest evidence of human settlement dates from around 30,000 years ago. More recently, around 12,000 years ago, a new wave of settlers arrived from Siberia; roots set down by those pioneering people resulted in the profusion of languages and cultures that define the region’s Indigenous identity today.

Units

50

The American Museum of Natural History opened its Northwest Coast Hall in 1899, dedicated to exploring and celebrating the region’s unique character. Now, in 2022, the Hall has been redesigned and revitalized for a new era – a process realized over three years via co-operative curation by AMNH and a group of consulting curators from First Nation communities. Together with designers WHY Architects, they have created a visitor experience that showcases the creativity, scholarship, and history of the living cultures of the Pacific Northwest.

Iconic and culturally significant objects are recontextualized to foreground their stories. The importance of traditions and the persistence required to protect and maintain cultural identity is manifested in a variety of ways; including digital exhibits and a gallery space dedicated to changing displays by a host of contemporary artists.

Authentic voices are now placed at the forefront, connecting the past and present, as well as looking to the future. Fundamental issues such as racism, identity, and environmental protection are all addressed – part of an ongoing narrative that celebrates cultural knowledge and achievements while also facing up to major challenges.

With such a rich, varied cultural landscape to draw from, the new Northwest Hall is unsurprisingly object-rich. A collection of more than 9,000 items is displayed within the 10,200-square-foot gallery, from tiny intricate carvings to towering totem poles and the stunning 63-foot-long Great Canoe, now proudly reinstated in the Northwest Hall after an absence of 70 years.

Goppion was delighted to join the project team in 2018. Around 1,000 artifacts and restored treasures are now displayed within 50 glass display cases constructed by our team. The cases were specifically designed to ensure there are no visible differentials between opening panels, fixed lites and centered display pylons. This was an essential requirement to facilitate the desired 360-degree views of many objects, allowing visitors to get much closer and appreciate the full circumferential beauty, detail and craftsmanship of each item.

Goppion’s display cases are characterized by a sophisticated decorative anodized aluminum framing system integrated into the structure of the doors and cases. The interior of the cases contain integrated display pylons that can receive shelves, hanging rods, specialized mounts and graphic treatments – a flexible design solution that was essential for hosting such a varied collection.

By pre-assembling all of the display cases and providing custom engineered and fabricated equipment for the positioning and handling of the displays (some weighing up to 1,000 kilos), Goppion was able to successfully manage the installation with a small crew during the height of Covid restrictions in New York and Milan.

The Northwest Coast Hall now presents the region’s Indigenous communities as part of a living, vibrant and proud story. Above all, it offers visitors an opportunity to see there is a different way to think about the world around us, and our relationship with it.