Leers Weinzapfel Associates - Middlesex Community College Donahue Family Academic Arts Center
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Middlesex Community College Donahue Family Academic Arts Center

Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Renovation  /  Completed
Leers Weinzapfel Associates
The design for a new performing arts center reimagines the historic Boston & Maine Railroad Depot at Towers Corner. The 1876 exterior of the building is preserved and the interior of the building has been completely reconstructed to make room for three major teaching spaces; a new proscenium theater classroom, music recital hall, and a dance studio black box theater.

The largest of the spaces, a 177-seat theater, steps down from the ground floor lobby to a basement level affording excellent sight lines and fully accessible space for students, performers and patrons alike. At the second floor, the recital hall and dance studio take advantage of the high roof, exposed timber trusses and borrowed light through a west facing gallery passageway. Along the sidewalk, a linear gallery and theater lobby display student activity and invite the public in through a main entry at the base of the landmark clock tower.

The site of the new performing arts center, within the Lowell National Historic Park, is part of the renewed urban core of Lowell, Massachusetts. Expansion of the designated historic structure is constrained by an existing building that fills the site atop shallow bedrock within a nationally important historic district. Given these limitations, the design called for the excavation and construction of a new basement built on the bedrock and a mechanical additionon a sliver of land adjacent to the building. These additions nearly double the area available within the building for the College’s vibrant and growing music, theater and dance departments. The departments are dedicated to teaching the art and craft of the performing arts. Each major teaching space combines a professional level technological environment with the intimate scale appropriate for student performance.

The extensive renovation of an underused existing historic building in a pedestrian friendly urban center near to public transportation is at the core of the project’s approach to sustainability. This building serves as a catalyst for future urban development and it cements the College’s commitment to an urban campus. In addition, the project incorporates a high-performance building envelope, high-efficiency equipment, and automated controls to reduce energy use and improve the indoor environment. Water use is reduced through the use of low-flow fixtures, existing building materials reused, and new building materials used were recycled or rapidly renewable and daylight is be introduced into all three major spaces.

Beyond the performance spaces, the building is a canvas. The lobby incorporates networked LED signage panels capable of acting as informational kiosks or displaying student generated content. The maple clad “egg” and building towers are lighted by color changing wall-washing light running scenes that change based on the time of day or events within the building. While easily managed by the building manager, each lighting system, audio system and video system is open to student study and experimentation.


 Lowell, MA
 United States
 Middlesex Community College
 1858 mq
 Josiah Stevenson, Andrea Leers, Kevin Bell
 Robert Benson


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.


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