Aerial sketch of the proposed expansion for the S.B. Museum of Natural History.
Courtesy Photo

On July 20, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History went through the latest round of hearings related to its ambitious expansion plan, which will both update and grow the Mission Canyon campus. This time it was before a joint hearing of the Historic Landmarks Commission and Planning Commission, which together welcomed the idea of renovating the museum as a vital, positive improvement for the Santa Barbara community. The potential for a facility with net-zero energy consumption and carbon emissions was particularly exciting to the assembled decision makers.

Aerial shot of the existing S.B. Museum of Natural History layout.
Courtesy Photo

There was some anxiety, however, about elements of the Master Plan. A desired creekside fire access road, which would run along the exterior of the complex, was challenged as an unnecessary development by at least three of the members of the board. They also voiced concern that the new buildings might be too invasive. Instead of serving as humble complements to the surrounding environment, the current design contained buildings that “look like a building on UCSB,” said commissioner William La Voie, supporting at least two other commissioners with similar qualms. Finally, HLC chair Philip Suding reminded all in attendance, “The key to success in this project is going to be to balance it with the neighbors and the neighborhood.”

Although no decisions were made today, the commissions warned that in the future their ideas needed “to be reconciled” with what the project planners had in mind. Despite their questions, the city representatives seemed willing and enthused to help the museum and its guardians revitalize the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History into something unique and meaningful.


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