John W. Olver, 1936-2023

The John W. Olver Design Building – BCT’s home on the Amherst campus – is not just another campus building. The beauty and warmth of the timber structure, and its environmental footprint that treads lightly, represents a visionary approach to contemporary building design in that it integrally respects the responsibility we have towards the earth we live on.

None of this would have been possible without the support and environmental consciousness of Congressman John Olver, who was the prime reason that the Olver Design Building was built with Mass Timber, the only naturally renewable building material.

John attended a presentation by Peggi Clouston in 2014 about Mass Timber which led to several more meetings and ultimately a meeting of the minds where our technical background combined with John’s long term efforts to support forest health, sustainable construction, and rural economies.

Our conversations ultimately led to the idea of creating a timber demonstration structure which would support the UMass Amherst climate action plan and showcase new timber technologies. We also discussed the potential of this new university building to reinvigorate local forestry industries. Despite being in retirement, John went immediately to work and pulled many levers to secure funding and to switch from the initial default of a steel frame design to a timber frame design.

At a time when only about 30 mass timber structures existed in the US, UMass became home to the most technologically advanced mass timber academic building in the country. The Olver Design Building is today an 18 time award-winning, world-renowned building that has since become an inspiration for many others like it, fulfilling another wish of John’s that it not become a “one-and-done”.

We are truly grateful to have met John, both professionally and personally. Through many breakfast meetings and forest hikes, we came to know him well as a compassionate man who cared deeply about his state and the people in it. We will miss his kindness, his distinguished presence, and his resounding laugh. Rest in peace John.

Peggi Clouston, Alex Schreyer, and the entire BCT faculty

You can read John’s obituary and share your own memories here.