UMass Amherst’s Design Building, A Model of Sustainable Architecture

Filed in Efficiency, Featured, Innovation by on December 15, 2015

Image by Leers Weinzapfel Associates ArchitectsImage by Leers Weinzapfel Associates Architects

UMass Amherst is constructing a four-story, 87,500-square-foot building that will open in 2017. This building will house three academic programs from three separate colleges, Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Department of Architecture from the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and the Building and Construction Technology program from the College of Natural Sciences.

The building will essentially be a learning laboratory that will provide students with hands-on experience. Combining the Architecture programs with Building and Construction Technology will encourage students and faculty to work collaboratively and show them the impact and importance they will have on each other in their careers. The Design Building will be comprised of common areas, studios, classrooms, fabrication and materials-testing shops, offices, and a cafe. It will provide a unique learning opportunity for students and faculty on campus, as well as for designers and builders in the region.

The most distinctive aspects of this building are its cutting-edge features and technology as well as its sustainable architecture and landscape design. The facility is being built with innovative wood construction technologies where the structural system includes heavy engineered timber and cross-laminated shear walls. These panels are several inches thick and made from alternating layers of wood making them extremely strong and durable yet light weight. Using wood also dramatically lessens the building’s carbon footprint.

The floors are built with similar cross-laminated decking, except they also have a layer of insulation for noise absorption and are topped with 4-inch thick polished concrete slabs. Thin embedded steel connectors hold these three layers together. The two-story commons area ceiling will feature open zipper trusses and large skylights. Some of the sustainable features in this state-of-the-art building include dynamic glazing that automatically darkens when needed to reduce solar heat gain and glare, low-flow water fixtures, lights that automatically turn off when sensors indicate a room is vacant, and a variety of exposed heating and ventilation systems that will be highly energy-efficient. In addition to the current features, an area on the roof will be left available for solar panels in the future.

Another highlight of this building is the outdoor courtyard and garden, which is on the third floor. The students can use this space to simply enjoy the garden, but it will also be used to study the benefits of “green roofs”. A “green roof” is a roof that is covered with vegetation planted over a waterproof material. This helps reduce storm-water runoff by absorbing the rainwater and maintaining moisture to act as insulation, which will keep the building cooler and reduce the need for air-conditioning.

The students will also study the building’s rainwater management system, which will collect water from the roof and channel it to bioswales. Bioswales are heavily-vegetated ditch-like storm-water runoff conveyance systems designed to manage the runoff from impervious areas. These bioswales naturally filter out sediment, pesticides and other harmful chemicals from the runoff.

With all of these environmentally friendly and sustainable features, the DB project is on track for LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold or possibly Platinum certification. This state-of-the-art teaching facility will be another great step towards sustainability and environmental innovation for the University.

The designers of the project are Leers Weinzapfel Associates Architects of Boston, Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects, BVH Integrated Service for Mechanical and Electrical engineering, and Equilibrium Consulting from Vancouver B.C. Canada as the structural designers with SGH as local engineers of record.  The project is financed through the University of Massachusetts Building Authority.  Construction began in March of 2015, and the building will be occupied in the spring of 2017.

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