Morbid Anatomy Museum
- Project: Morbid Anatomy Museum
- Design: Robert Kirkbride and Anthony Cohn
- Assistant: Andrew Broddle
- Location: Gowanus, Brooklyn, NY
- Date: 2014
- Contractor: J.A. Jennings
- Photography: Robert Kirkbride
Some projects evolve conceptually over many years, enabling their physical execution to be comparably swift. In the Morbid Anatomy Museum, designed with collaborator Anthony Cohn, our objective was to create a building-as-cabinet for a collection of anatomical curiosities, where knowledge that typically “slips through the cracks” is produced and exhibited. The commission for this adaptive reuse of a 4200 square foot 3-story industrial building in Gowanus was prompted by the Museum Board’s familiarity with my multimedia online book, Architecture and Memory, which reconstructs the educational and rhetorical uses of two Renaissance memory chambers.
The Morbid Anatomy Museum project offered an opportunity to exhibit the anatomical innards of a building that are typically hidden, and to plumb an intellectual history of creating, collecting and categorizing knowledge that has fascinated me for years. Twenty-four years earlier, I designed The Curiosity Shop as an exploration of collaborative knowledge fabrication and display for my Masters Thesis in Architecture. That theoretical project led to a full-scale installation at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and fueled my subsequent Ph.D. research. Immersion in medieval reliquaries, renaissance wunderkammern, and anatomical and memory theatres sharpened to a focus on the studioli of Federico da Montefeltro, leading to an opportunity to publish Architecture and Memory in an interactive digital format with Columbia University Press with support from the American Historical Association’s Gutenberg-e Prize.
A quarter of a century later, The Curiosity Shop met its ideal clients in the Morbid Anatomy Museum and its director, Joanna Ebenstein. In uncanny resemblance to the earlier project, the program includes a research library and permanent collection of anatomical curiosities, an exhibition gallery, a lecture space and workshop, and a café with retail. The Museum, which was completed in five months start to finish, has been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times, the London Financial Times, the Washington Post, and The Architect’s Newspaper, and was recently ranked by The Awl as one of New York City’s top museums.