Design Building at UMass Amherst Named for Former U.S. Rep. John W. Olver

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, former Congressman John Olver and Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy
Senate President Stan Rosenberg, former Congressman John Olver and Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy

AMHERST, Mass. – The new Design Building at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has been named the John W. Olver Design Building in honor of the retired congressman and former UMass Amherst chemistry professor. A ceremony marking the action was held Oct. 27 at the building on North Pleasant Street where UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy and Massachusetts Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, joined by Congressman Olver, made the announcement.

The UMass Board of Trustees recently approved naming the building for the former congressman and longtime supporter and advocate for the Amherst campus.

“There is no other project on the UMass Amherst campus that better personifies John Olver’s commitment to the environment, his love of science and planning, and his desire to bring people together for the greater good than the Design Building,” Subbaswamy said.

Rosenberg, who served as an aide to Olver before serving in the Massachusetts House and later the Senate, said Olver has always been a champion of UMass Amherst and the environment. “John Olver has always been a relentless advocate for causes he believes in, especially preserving the environment, supporting public higher education and promoting the power of science and intellect to solve difficult problems,” he said. “This building demonstrates all of those things.”

In April, UMass Amherst celebrated the official opening of the Design Building, the largest modern wood building in the northeastern United States and one of the first institutional buildings in the region to employ an engineered timber structure. The building was designed by nationally acclaimed Boston architectural firm Leers Weinzapfel Associates.

Constructed with cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue-laminated columns, the 87,000-square-foot facility is the most advanced CLT building in the U.S. and saves the equivalent of over 2,300 metric tons of carbon when compared to a traditional energy-intensive steel and concrete building. The university’s Building and Construction Technology program developed some of the CLT technology and has been testing native Massachusetts species for CLT suitability with support from a National Science Foundation grant.

In recommending that the trustees honor Olver, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy described how Olver had played a key role in the planning and development of the unique building. He said in the spring of 2014, Olver attended a talk by Peggi L. Clouston, an associate professor of environmental conservation, where she outlined how wood building construction was making a comeback in Europe. Olver was interested in the new technology and familiar with ways it could help boost the local economy from his years promoting economic development when he was a lawmaker. Once he studied designs provided by Clouston, Olver began working to persuade campus officials to adopt the new and innovative building technology for the proposed Design Building.

“Within the span of a week, Olver changed the trajectory of the Design Building from a traditionally-constructed steel frame building to a state-of-the-art building that emphasized the very latest in green building technology,” Subbaswamy said in a letter to UMass President Martin T. Meehan advocating for the naming. He added, “Since the day he joined the UMass Amherst campus over 50 years ago as a professor, to his days in the statehouse and Congress, and through his retirement, John Olver has worked behind the scenes to push the Amherst campus to not only be better, but to be the best.”

“I am pleased that John Olver—my former colleague in Congress, a long-time member of the UMass community and a fierce advocate for the university in all spheres—is being recognized in a way that befits his passion for sustainable development while honoring his collaborative approach to advancing UMass Amherst,” said Meehan.

U.S. Rep James McGovern, also lauded the naming of the building for his former congressional colleague.

“John Olver’s legacy as a powerful champion for western Massachusetts is undisputed,” said McGovern. “This is a fitting tribute to his incredible work to protect our environment and support the sciences. I am proud to have had the privilege to serve alongside John in Congress and I am thrilled to see this new building honor all that he has done for our communities.”

Olver served in the U.S. House from 1991 to 2013 and was a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee when he retired. He also served in the state House of Representatives from 1969-73 and the state Senate from 1973-91. During his more than 44 years as a federal and state lawmaker, Olver was a strong supporter and ally of UMass Amherst. Olver joined the UMass Amherst chemistry faculty in 1962. He was made an honorary alumnus in 1981 and received an honorary doctorate in 2014.