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Museum of Science gallery to overlook Charles

Boston’s Museum of Science aims to create a more vibrant entry that will take better advantage of the site’s waterfront porch.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Boston’s Museum of Science aims to create a more vibrant entry that will take better advantage of the site’s waterfront porch.

For a waterfront building, the Museum of Science has never really taken advantage of its location on the Charles River: Its exhibits hardly mention the river or the marvels of science and engineering that surround it.

That is about to change in a big way with construction of a $21 million gallery overlooking the river that will feature interactive displays on its ecosystem and history, live plant and animal exhibits, and an outdoor garden along the water.

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The three-story gallery, funded with a $10 million gift from the Yawkey Foundations, will be the new centerpiece of the 183-year-old science museum, which is in the midst of a broader $250 million campaign to transform nearly half of its exhibit space in coming years.

“These renovations will totally upgrade our image and make the gallery space more state-of-the-art and exciting,” said Ioannis Miaoulis, the museum’s president. “We want to re-orient the museum gradually so visitors understand the natural world, and the human-made world, as well as how they are connected and interdependent.”

The new exhibit space, to be called the Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River, will create a more vibrant entry to the museum that will take better advantage of the museum’s waterfront porch. For example, the project will include massive new, electronically tinted windows that will provide a more dramatic view of the Charles and Boston’s skyline. The gallery will also have digital maps and other visual displays.

The gallery’s construction is one of a series of upgrades scheduled to unfold over the next five years.

The museum is already building a 10,000-square-foot Hall of Human Life, which will open in November with exhibits on human biology. It will follow in 2015 with construction of the Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River. And finally it will build another gallery focused on the evolution of technology in human life.

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The master plan for the upgrades was crafted by the architecture firm Cambridge Seven Associates Inc. The planned outdoor garden will allow visitors to browse exhibits on the area’s plant life.

Currently, there is space to walk outside along the Charles, but little programming to keep children and other visitors interested.

Museum executives said the Yawkey Foundations’ gift, one of many they have made over the last three decades, will help ensure that construction of the Gallery on the Charles River proceeds on schedule. The foundations have been a donor for more than 30 years, mostly funding programs to help inner-city students visit the museum.

The $10 million donation is its largest in several years.

“This will bring people into the natural world of the Charles River basin,” said Jim Healey, president of the Yawkey Foundations.

“It will talk about how the area was formed, how man has made it better or worse, and how science and engineering have played into its evolution,” he said.

Its exhibits will cover thousands of years of history, ranging from Native American fishing techniques to construction of the dam on which the museum stands. It will also feature information on climate change and the river’s changing water levels.

Miaoulis, the museum president, said the Charles River Gallery project and other upgrades will modernize the museum’s technology, and make it more appealing to the hundreds of thousands of children who visit every year.

“There will be a whole range of technologies with hands-on activities and components,” he said. “These renovations will advance our vision of creating a unique experience worldwide.”

The Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River

MASTER PLAN: The Yawkey Gallery and lobby upgrades are part of a $250 million master plan that will remake half the museum’s exhibit space over the next five years.

$21 million: Cost of the project, which is being built with a $10 million donation from the Yawkey Foundations. It includes construction of a new lobby and exhibit space overlooking the Charles River and Boston skyline.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits on the ecosystem of the Charles River and its interaction with the world around it. Exhibits will include plants and live animals.

ANNUAL MUSEUM VISITORS: 1.5 million

SOURCE: Museum of Science

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

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