Leers Weinzapfel Associates - University of Massachusetts Design Building
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University of Massachusetts Design Building

Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Education  /  Completed
Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Site Description:
The site for the building is at the juncture of Haigis Mall created by Kevin Roche in 1975 containing the Fine Arts Center and the informal and intimate space of the late century historic campus- Stockbridge Way- home to the Studio Arts programs. The building serves as a pathway down the Mall from the historic to the modern campus.

The goal of the Design Building was to create an environment of collaborative research and teaching, to integrate the building with its landscape and campus open space system, and to celebrate a shared commitment to sustainability. The creation of a common center where students and faculty gather for organized and informal activity and can look between studios and shops is key to the university’s collaborative goals.

Design Challenge and Response:
Bringing together the previously dispersed departments of Landscape Architecture, Architecture and Building Construction Technology programs, the new Design Building occupies a pivotal site on a campus in rural western Massachusetts. It is a dynamic space of exchange, collaboration, and experiment, celebrating a shared commitment to sustainability.

To create a center space of collaboration, a coiling and rising band of studios, faculty offices and classrooms surrounds a sky-lit Commons area for gathering and presentations. Functioning as the building’s physical and spiritual heart, the Commons acts as a three-sided courtyard that spills out through the café and entryway, down into the main campus, and invites the campus in. The design of the day-lit Commons preceded almost every other aspect of the design, as it was important to give the three departments a place to come together as one. Above the Commons, the building encloses a roof terrace and garden, a contemplative space shared by the studios and faculty, demonstrating green roof technologies for the landscape department.

The architects designed a zipper truss to accommodate the skylights and an inhabitable rooftop garden above the irregularly shaped green-roofed commons. The zipper truss reinforces the overall building column grid, allows for various span lengths while keeping the same form, and highlights the cost effective custom digital fabrication process.

Sustainable Design:
The Design Building is a highly visible demonstration of sustainable design practice. It’s the largest cross laminated timber (CLT) academic building in the US. The envelope is highly-efficient, with dedicated mechanical equipments zoned for maximum efficiency, with radiant flooring and chilled beams for energy savings. Calculated expanse of glazing and skylights provide maximum daylight to the building’s interior to significantly reduce artificial lighting energy. Storm water management concept directs roof runoff via sculptural scupper to a “spring source” at the top of the site and filters the water via series of successive bio-swales and timber dams to the lower end of the site and eventually back to the Connecticut River. The design is targeted for LEED Gold Certification.

Universal Design:
The building incorporates principles of Universal Design. All are encouraged to enter the building from a common accessible approach, and building entry locations with respect to existing grades are designed to minimize ramps and allow for a more generous walkway approach with gracious entry plazas.

Once inside the building, a centrally located ramp allows for all to navigate the two levels at the ground floor. Locating and shaping the building and negotiating the existing ten foot elevation difference between east and west sides of the building was a key component of the project. A generous east west walkway along the north side of the building provides accessible cross-campus pedestrian circulation. A slightly raised west entry allows for a gently sloped walkway sidewalks from both north and south approaches which provides a buffer between the pedestrian and the vehicles on busy North Pleasant Street.

Materials Used:
The material strategy of the building envelope and primary structure are informed by the rural origins of the university and its current mass timber research. A durable envelope of copper anodized aluminum panels and vertical windows suggest the color and patterns of forest and trees as well as vernacular tobacco barns of the region.

The use of exposed cross-laminated timber structure, the first of it’s kind in a university building in the northeast United States, was supported by the Massachusetts State Legislature as a demonstration project and was the first project to meet alternative code requirements for advanced timber construction.

Above a concrete foundation, the primary structure is advanced engineered timber. The column and beam system is composed of glu-laminated wood members, and the floor system is of cross laminated timber (CLT) structural panels, which also functions as the finished ceiling. A topping of 4” of concrete over insulation together with the CLT panels, joined with metal connections, creates a composite deck and provides the finished walking surface. Shear walls for core services such as egress stairs, elevator and mechanical shafts are made of CLT panels anchored to concrete foundations. A zipper truss, composed of glu-laminated wood beams and diagonal compression members, steel tension rods, and CLT panels spans the 55’ wide Commons area.


 University of Massachusetts
 Leers Weinzapfel Associates
 Andrea Leers, Josiah Stevenson, Tom Chung, Jeffrey Fishbein, Taehoon Lee, Juliet Chun
 Suffolk Construction
 Albert Vecerka / Esto


Leers Weinzapfel Associates is a Boston based firm with national design distinction. Our work lies at the intersection of architecture, urban design, and infrastructure. Recognized for our inventiveness in dramatically complex commissions, we meet these challenges with uncommon design clarity, elegance, and refinement.
Widely recognized with over 90 national and regional awards, our work has been published worldwide and exhibited nationwide. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects honored us with the Firm Award, the highest distinction the AIA bestows on an architecture practice.

Our firm is led by a close knit group of individuals whose vision, skills, and dedication shape its core values. Founding Principals Andrea Leers and Jane Weinzapfel together with Principals Josiah Stevenson and Tom Chung share overall guidance of the firm.


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