A national design collaboration led by Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates and including Arkansas-based Modus Studio, St. Louis–based Mackey Mitchell Architects, and Philadelphia-based OLIN has created America’s first large-scale, mass timber interactive learning project, already under construction at the University of Arkansas. Working off of a “cabin the woods” concept, 708-bed Stadium Drive Residence Halls feature fully exposed, locally harvested wood structural elements. The residence halls are a pair of snaking buildings joined in a central plaza, and include classrooms, dining facilities, maker-spaces, performance spaces, administrative offices, and faculty housing. The five-story buildings, totaling 202,027 square feet, are clad in a zinc-colored paneling, while copper-toned panels are scattered along each floor that appear to float above the heavily planted backdrop. Inside, wooden columns, beams and cross-bracing are all displayed to present a sense of warmth, and to connect students with Arkansas’s local ecology. The halls terminate with large study rooms at the end of each floor, which light up at night and act as beacons for the rest of the campus. The panels were constructed from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), while the structural columns and beams are made of glulam, where layers of wood all facing the same direction are laminated together under pressure. Each arched building curves around a courtyard or common park area and students enter the complex through a covered “front porch” at the northern building’s main entrance. The central gathering room that connects the hall’s two wings has been dubbed the “cabin,” and despite being relatively small, packs in a hearth, community kitchen, lounge spaces, and a planted green roof. Each hall also features a double-height ground floor lobby with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape. “The interwoven building and landscaped courtyards, terraces, and lawns; the beauty of timber structure and spaces; and the excitement of performing arts and workshop facilities will make this newest campus residential community a destination and a magnet,” said Andrea P. Leers, principal of Leers Weinzapfel Associates. Leers Weinzapfel is no stranger to working with timber, as its multidisciplinary design building for UMass Amherst wrapped up construction late last year. The project is expected to finish in 2019, and will anchor a new master plan for the University of Arkansas campus.
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Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates recently completed construction of the new Design Building at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the first academic building in the U.S. to use a Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) as its primary structure. (See images of the building under construction here.) Targeted for LEED Gold, the building includes other sustainable architectural features like bio-swales for water runoff filtration, a green-roof which doubles as an outdoor classroom, and the largest installation of wood concrete composites in North America. The building is described by Principal Architect Andrea Leers as “a teaching tool for the design disciplines.” Leers made the case that educational environments, especially those for design school, can serve a pedagogical function in the training of young architects. Leer stated further that:
From my own teaching experience there’s nothing more potent than being able to talk with students about the space around you—in this case, the building’s collaborative configuration, innovative structure, considered material and detailing choices, environmentally-driven site, and synergistic landscape concepts that define the project.The building is organized around an interior atrium lit during the day by several skylights. This daylighting strategy reduces energy consumption and provides the school with a bright central space for exhibitions, design critiques, lectures, informal gatherings, and other events. The studios and classrooms are arranged around the atrium, visually connected to the commons through window apertures that allow visitors to glimpse the work being done by the students and faculty. The design of the building’s commons also emphasizes the unification of the university’s departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, and the Building and Construction Technology program into one singular facility. In addition to its extensive use of wood products, the architects chose to clad the building with copper-finished aluminum panels that protect the highly-efficient envelope. Though the building fills much of the site, the landscape design by Stephen Stimpson Associates strategically uses native plants and local paving materials to connect the building to the larger campus. In the end, the building cost $52 million to construct, a price tag that was partially funded by Massachusetts State Legislature, and adds 87,500-square-feet of additional interior space to the university. Suffolk was the construction manager.
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst, about 100 miles west of Boston, will get a new multidisciplinary addition this fall. Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates designed the UMass Design Building, set to open November 2016 in time for winter classes. It will unite the architecture, landscape architecture, regional planning, and building technology departments into one facility. The building is currently under construction. See our slideshow above and images below for exclusive construction photos (we've included a few renderings, too). When the project opens, it will be one of the largest mass timber structures in the United States. The building's interior will feature Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), an engineered wood known for its durability and lightness. Projects can use CLT to replace materials with higher embodied energy such as steel, concrete, and masonry. While it has been popular in Europe and Canada for some time, CLT is gaining traction in the United States, mostly on the west coast (one notable project is the Bullitt Center in Seattle). The 87,000 square foot Design Building will also rely on a glue-laminated wood frame, a wood composite floor, and a copper anodized aluminum building envelope. The facility will bring together over 500 students and 50 faculty across the four departments into a space that is transparent, open, and light-filled. The design features a lowered atrium with a zipper truss, an upper courtyard, and offices and classrooms rising in a coil, explained Andrea Leers, principal and co-founder of Leers Weinzapfel Associates. A major goal of the design was to help facilitate greater interaction between student and faculty. The firm put studios and offices on each floor, said Tom Chung, principal at Leers Weinzapfel. Yet there is also an element of independence, as studios on each level are at one end, while offices are at the other. The studios will be medium-sized, able to fit up to 5 sections. “UMass did not want a lecture hall,” Leers said. Instead, the ground floor—which has no predefined programming—includes stairs that double as seating for presentations and a flat floor for absorbing activities and other events. Also planned is a cafe, exhibit space, and libraries. The Design Building site is a sloped area on the southern part of the UMass campus between Stockbridge Way and Kevin Roche’s 1975 Haigis Mall. “It is a challenging site,” said Leers. The building will rise to four stories on one end and three stories on the uphill. The landscape design by Stephen Stimson Associates relies on a bioswale for water filtration. Leers Weinzapfel stressed the close connections between the exterior and interior, with the concept of building-as-landscape and landscape-as-building. In separate conversations with both Leers Weinzapfel architects and UMass building technology specialists, both emphasized the educational component of the Design Building—how the building itself would serve as a living instructional example. “We wanted this building from the early stages to be a teaching tool for advanced timber construction,” said Peggi Clouston, associate professor of building and construction technology at UMass Amherst. “The project uses CNC milled wood,” said Alex Schreyer, building construction and technology program director at UMass Amherst. “There are extremely tight tolerances. It’s innovative with these spans of 25, 26 feet.” But there are challenges to building in timber in the U.S. “The forests are in a state of decline. They are not properly managed, and weed species [smaller species] are choking out larger ones," said Clouston. These weed species are easy fuel for forest fires. The use of mass timber reflects the university’s roots in agriculture—the university was founded under the President Abraham Lincoln-signed 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act. The university was first called the Massachusetts Agricultural College. “It was a public process,” said Josiah Stevenson, principal at Leers Weinzapfel of the design. The total cost of the project is $52 million, with $36 million going toward construction. When it came to obtaining funding, the UMass's efforts were partially an “activist intervention,” Leers explained. UMass faculty went to the state legislature for funding, and spoke with former Massachusetts Congressman John Olver. He was taken with timber, said Clouston. Currently down the hill from the Design Building site is Wood on the Plaza, a white ash timber bridge shell installation at the Fine Arts Center Plaza. The architecture department will be moving out of its home in a Brutalist Kevin Roche building. The university will reuse the current architecture and building technology spaces, while razing the landscape department building, originally built as a dorm. You can find more Design Building information, construction photos and time-lapse videos online. The construction manager for the project is Suffolk Construction.