Bristol Aggie Natural History Museum: Progressing Through
Home to an extensive collection of native New England species, Bristol Aggie’s new Natural History Museum guides the user through its exhibits in a space designed to function as a corridor.
Designed with highly visible building systems and exposed structural elements, Bristol Aggie’s new Center for Science and the Environment functions as a teaching tool and fosters hands-on, experiential learning. Within the CSE is a state-of-the-art museum space, which fully embraces Bristol Aggie’s hands-on learning approach by allowing students to curate the exhibits on display.
For the past 25 years, Bristol Aggie’s Natural History Museum has been an important piece of the campus and curriculum. However, previously siloed in an 18th century barn, the museum was cut off from the heart of campus and separate from the greenhouse where Natural Resource Management students worked intensively with the collections. This left NRM students without essential resources needed to perform their lab work. It was important that the design of the new museum not only address these concerns but create an exciting environment on par with the caliber of the collections it showcases.
Having our new museum right here, with all of our facilities in one location will allow for easier logistics, for maintaining all of this, and for having the museum available to all of the students every day, because this is also a hallway... Whatever our students do in a particular day is visible to the entire school community.
The design of the new museum addresses aspects such as ease of use, visibility on campus, and user experience. Located on the first floor of the CSE’s southern wing, the museum occupies a corridor; the linear architecture of the space guides students through the collection in a natural progression, making the museum easily accessible and understandable. Treating the space as a hallway gallery also encourages students who are not involved in the NRM program to regularly engage with the exhibits as they travel through the CSE. A neutral color palette and warm wood tones reflect the identity of a school rooted in nature and agriculture and allow the exhibits to be the focal point of the space.
Working closely with Brian Bastarache, the Bristol Aggie Natural Resource Management program chair and experienced museum curator, the team coordinated the progression through the linear space with Brian’s knowledge of the museum’s native species. The exhibits are arranged to create a progression that brings the user ‘upstream’. Beginning at sea level with oceanic displays and an introductory, custom wall graphic, users progress sequentially through the space. From marine and coastal tanks, to salt marshes, freshwater streams and upland lakes, ponds and forests, each display is curated to showcase local New England species, habitats and ecosystems.
Adjacent to the exhibits are adaptable labs for students to engage in project work and curate exhibits. The proximity and flexibility of the lab spaces are a much-needed upgrade from the singular isolated lab students were previously working in. The design of the museum puts academics on display, using glass walls to create uninterrupted views into the lab spaces and showcase the exciting, hands-on project work happening inside.