Located within the engineering quadrant of UMass, Amherst, the North Chiller Plant is a new campus landmark, combining the university’s commitment to sustainability with an emphasis on increased student engagement. The new North Chiller Plant and associated new campus distribution piping will increase chilled water capacity and support future expansion of the chilled water distribution system to serve additional campus buildings with an efficient loop system. A district energy network is a major contributor to campus sustainability goals since it combines the energy needs of many buildings, thus allowing an economy of scale that facilitates an investment in energy technologies that would not be feasible on an individual building basis. The North Chiller Plant building itself is currently tracking LEED Silver (USA, Sustainability rating.)
The new North Chiller Plant replaces a smaller chilled water plant and enhances the Campus Master Plan by moving the energy plant out of a view corridor that extends from the center of campus out towards the Berkshire hills. Reconceiving the typical rectangular orientation of the chillers as an “angled parking” layout suggested the parallelogram footprint that makes maximum use of the narrow site beside the view corridor while continuing the campus grid layout. The geometry of the building further frames continuous pedestrian flows and views from the Engineering Lab building to the surrounding landscape. The parallelogram plan allows for optimum use of the space with vehicular access through 14-foot high bi-fold airplane hangar doors throughout the length of the building.
The geometrical language of the building plan is also translated into the elevation. A continuous dynamic wrapper is constructed of energy-efficient insulated metal panels at the upper level that elegantly disguise the roof-mounted cooling towers. Punctuated at the upper level with channel glass strips that illuminate the upper equipment platform, the silvery panels with their syncopated rhythm of joints float above a transparent base of curtain wall. The glazed base is highest on the north to allow vehicle access; the glazing head slopes along the east, south and west for reduced solar gain on those orientations. The transparent ground floor promotes the idea of “technology on display” by exhibiting the color-coded piping and equipment, thus transforming the building into an engaging visual learning element for the engineering community at UMass, Amherst.
Leers Weinzapfel Associates is a practice recognized for its exceptional quality of design for the public realm in urban and campus contexts. The group’s special strength is a “mission impossible” ability to meet extraordinarily difficult building challenges with uncommon design clarity, elegance, and refinement. We are committed to providing meaningful spaces for human interaction and to promoting social well-being. Our work is diverse, including technically demanding infrastructure installations, advanced learning and living environments for educational institutions, to civic buildings and community recreation centers. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects honored us with the Firm Award, the highest distinction the AIA bestows on an architecture practice, the first and only woman-owned firm to be so honored. ARCHITECT Magazine has included the firm on its list of Top 50 architecture firms in the country, for the past five years in a row.