John W. Olver Design Building, University of Massachusetts | The Plan
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John W. Olver Design Building, University of Massachusetts

Timber: A Tradition ReVIved

Leers Weinzapfel Associates

The campus of UMass, as the University of Massachusetts is affectionately called, is dotted around the small town of Amherst - where this public seat of learning was founded in 1863 - as well as in other locations in the Massachusetts hills, and in the city of Boston. To European eyes, Amherst appears almost “empty”, devoid of a nucleus resembling our old town centers. The old town is rather a crossroads bordered by a few historic buildings, a configuration that speaks of its rural past, so well described in the memorable verses of the poet Emily Dickinson who lived out her whole life in Amherst. UMass was founded to give the citizens of Massachusetts formal training in agriculture, mechanics and the military arts. The first two still feature largely in the range of subjects, and the university has played a major role in doubling the town’s population, who today lives comfortably alongside the now 30,000 plus students. This is Massachusetts, the American State where the British heritage also in architecture and urban planning was perhaps most deeply rooted, but where the revolt began that sparked the American Revolution. This heritage is still visible today in the Amherst campus, which boasts several historic buildings recalling late 19th Century English architecture and others - like the Murray D. Lincoln Campus Center by Marcel Breuer (1970) and the Fine Arts Center by Kevin Roche (1975) - that hark back to certain “brutalist” features of 20th Century London. The new John W. Olver Design Building clearly signals UMass’s intention to embrace a return to an intelligent past but employing modern methods to deliver technological and environmental sustainability. The Design Building brings under one roof academic programs that have to do with planning and construction, once scattered around the campus: the Departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Regional Planning, and the Building Construction Technology (BCT)...

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