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Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium: 2024 Preservation Award

When the Fairbanks Museum of Natural Science opened in 1891, its purpose was to make  Franklin Fairbanks’ “cabinet of curiosities” available to the community of St. Johnsbury, and to the wider region. More than a century later, The Richardsonian Romanesque building still houses northern New England’s most extensive natural history display.  

Building on Fairbank’s passion, and the modern day mission to “inspire wonder, curiosity and responsibility for the natural world,’ the Fairbanks Museum began working in 2016 on an addition to create more exhibit space, to make the balcony of the historic museum accessible, and to make the building more resilient to climate change. 

Years of planning and fundraising shaped the 6500 square foot Tang Science Annex. Designed by Vermont Integrated Architecture, the vision is that the annex represents an exhibit case capturing the historic museum as its treasured item.

The Science Annex is heated and cooled with a ground source geothermal system.

It is the first mass timber building in Vermont and it is the first building in the world to use eastern hemlock cross laminated timbers.

A three-stop elevator makes the basement and balcony of the historic building accessible for the first time in the building’s history.

The addition is of its own time and place, but has elements such as its slate cladding that unify it with the historic building. 

Deliberately designed to not overshadow the historic building, the addition is not visible from Main Street thus the iconic look of the front of the Museum remains unchanged.

The project also restored the historic building with the goal of hardening it to the increased precipitation that our region will experience with climate change. This included the excavation of the entire below-ground foundation and the installation of a multi-layer water management system; repointing most of the above-ground masonry; the installation of flashing in vulnerable areas to prevent ice jamming; and the reinforcement of the interior brick and stonework of the large north spire. 

Today, the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium proudly offers more accessible space for arts and culture programming, hands-on STEM-based exhibits, and space leased to the Community College of Vermont for pre-kindergarten to post-secondary educational activities. Successfully incorporating the concept of a “cabinet of curiosities,” the Fairbanks’ $8 million project ensures expanded community and visitor use, for at least the next 100 years.


Preservation Award to:

Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium

Vermont Integrated Architecture 

Bread Loaf Corporation 

United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development 

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