Leers Weinzapfel Associates - University of Massachusetts Amherst, John W. Olver Design Building
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University of Massachusetts Amherst, John W. Olver Design Building

Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Education  /  Completed
Leers Weinzapfel Associates

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, 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.

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.

A coiling and rising band of studios, faculty offices and classrooms surrounds a sky-lit Commons area for gathering and presentations. 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. A zipper truss accommodates the skylights and rooftop garden and reinforces the overall building column grid.

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. Glazing and skylights provide maximum daylight to the building's interior, and 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, eventually back to the Connecticut River. The design is targeted for LEED Platinum Certification.

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 its 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.


 University of Massachusetts
 Leers Weinzapfel Associates
 Andrea Leers, Josiah Stevenson, Tom Chung, Jeffrey Fishbein, Taehoon Lee, Juliet Chun, Zhanina Boyadzhieva
 Suffolk Construction
 Structural Design Engineer - Equilibrium; Structural Engineer of Record - SGH; MEP - BVH Integrated Services; Civil Engineer - Nitsch Engineering; Lighting Designer -Atelier Ten; Sustainability Consultant - Atelier Ten; Landscape Architect -Stephen Stimson Associates
 Nordic Structures -Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) & Glulam; Dri-Design - Aluminum Rainscreen; Kawneer- Aluminum Curtainwall
 Albert Vecerka / Esto


Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates is a practice recognized for its exceptional quality of design for the public realm in complex urban and campus contexts. The group's special strength is a "mission impossible" ability to meet extraordinarily difficult building challenges with design clarity, elegance, and refinement. We are committed to providing meaningful spaces for human interaction and to promoting social well-being. Work of the firm encompasses a diversity of project types, from technically demanding infrastructure and advanced learning and living environments for educational institutions, to prominent civic buildings and economical community recreation centers. Underlying each design concept is a clear commitment to the wise use of resources and a sustainable future. 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.


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