Ancient Collection Out of the Shadows

Earth Sciences Building & Natural History Museum, Amherst College


Once housed in a dark, dusty, old gymnasium accessible to few, the museum’s vast natural history collections now reside in an outstanding contemporary facility open to all. The combined complex consisting of four-level classroom and laboratory building and three-level museum building was designed as a teaching tool. It enhances the integration of the many rare specimens with the learning centers to create innovative interconnections between the collection and curriculum. Students in these disciplines move easily between state-of-the-art teaching laboratories and the museum, accessing their own specialized research spaces, map rooms, library, and multidisciplinary GIS laboratory.

Located on a site overlooking a valley running through the campus, the new facility is a beacon for the now popular natural history collections. At night, mammoth, Irish elk, and mastodon skeletons are visible through large glass openings. On the exterior, masonry detailing and use of materials complement the campus’ architectural context, while horizontal baffles across the windows protect the interior displays from direct sunlight. On the interior, three-story high spaces and an elaborate light track system provide dramatic display effects. Having come out of the shadows, the more than 200,000 items available for research, whether on display or in specialized secured cases lining the halls, are engaging students and the community, and building enthusiasm about earth sciences and natural history.


Payette Associates

Size / Cost

60,000 SF / $20 million


Boston Society of Architects, Higher Education Award, Citation for Design Boston Society of Architects, Honor Award AIA/New England, Honor Award


Civil, electrical, fire protection, mechanical, plumbing