The Staten Island Children’s Museum is located in Sailors’ Snug Harbor, which once housed a home for aged sailors. It now consists of a collection of architecturally significant 19th-century buildings set on 83 acres along the north shore of Staten Island. The museum’s recent renovation is architecturally significant too, because it’s far from your ordinary green building project. It’s a testament to how sustainability can be fun, thanks to a number of whimsical structures that employ innovative technologies to educate and delight museum visitors. Sandro Marpillero, principal of Marpillero Pollak Architects, takes us through the innovative additions.


Location Staten Island, NY
Size 2,200 square feet (meadow structure)
Completed 2012 (expected)
Program Outdoor educational space, exhibit areas

maritime history/

“Because Snug Harbor is significant to the history maritime culture in New York, we thought the renovation of the children’s museum in this area should tie into maritime history,” Marpillero says. “We thus decided to introduce renewable energy sources that are the main components of maritime life—sun and wind—and show the children those sources are integrated into a building.”

meadow structure/

At the heart of the project is a 2,200-square-foot freestanding tent-like structure built on the museum’s front lawn. To demonstrate the power of sun, the architects built the structure with a translucent photovoltaic roof that collects solar energy to power its own low-voltage lighting. This was made possible with a new product from Birdair, Inc., a flexible solar-panel fabric that can be adapted to the curves of a tent. “Instead of making a conventional circus shape with just one swoop, we made a tensile structure that would maximize the southern exposure on the surfaces,” Marpillero says of the product. “It involved fairly sophisticated engineering.”


Architect Marpillero Pollak Architects
Client Staten Island Children’s Museum
General Contractor Mongiove Associates, Ltd.

wind scoop/

Marpillero and his team also were tasked with renovating the existing museum building. In doing so, it tackled two existing skylights—one above an atrium stairwell, the other above an elevator—devoting both to the illustration of wind energy. The skylight over the stairwell was replaced with a rotating wind scoop, manufactured by Eric Goetz, a boat builder who’s designed for America’s Cup, the sailing competition. The rotation of the scoop ventilates the stairwell, an action that is put on clear display for the education of museum goers through a colorful rotating drum that extends down from the scoop and functions as an interior weathervane, signaling wind direction.


Renovation Adds wind scoop and vertical-axis wind turbine to existing skylights
Solar Flexible photovoltaic fabric produces enough energy to light the tent structure
Wind Scoop Naturally ventilates the building
Vertical-Axis Turbine Powers museum exhibits
Education Computer program teaches visitors how renewable energy can be utilized in homes

wind turbine/

The design team also tackled the skylight over the elevator. This one was replaced with a vertical-axis wind turbine manufactured by Finland-based Oy Windside Production. This type of turbine is lightweight, virtually silent, and safe for birds. But that’s not all—this one also powers an exhibit that demonstrates how wind can be used as a source of energy.

interactive component/

Because these new elements are intended to explain the use of two natural resources, an interactive computer program within the museum illustrates how renewable energy factors into the construction of a 21st-century home. According to Marpillero, this element is vitally important, because the goal of the project is to educate. “Because it’s a public work and a demonstration project, we were able to use some very innovative and sophisticated technologies, products that really aren’t in use anywhere else in this country,” he says. “At the same time, we wanted to emphasize that sustainable technologies in general can actually be used in the construction of a home.”

All energy systems are connected and share data with a display within the museum.