UMass Amherst’s Olver Design Building Receives Architecture Institute’s Highest Honor

Structure lauded for its innovative wood truss system and use of cross-laminated timber
John Olver Design Building
John Olver Design Building

AMHERST, Mass. – The American Institute of Architecture’s (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE) announced recently that the John W. Olver Design Building on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus is a winner this year of its highest honor, the COTE Top Ten Awards. Projects “illustrate the solutions architects have provided for the health and welfare of our communities and the planet,” the AIA citation says.

The COTE jury wrote of the Olver Building, “The space is made possible by an innovative wood truss system showing us how to reach beyond the cross-laminated timber (CLT) systems to make larger spaces. Its courtyard guarantees views and access to campus to everyone within the building and is well integrated into the larger campus.”

Called the most technologically advanced CLT building in the country, the Design Building opened in 2017 to house the campus’s Department of Architecture, Building and Construction Technology Program (BCT) and Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. The BCT program developed some of the CLT technology used and has since been testing native Massachusetts wood species for CLT suitability.

The building is named for former congressman and UMass Amherst chemistry professor John Olver and was designed by Boston architectural firm Leers Weinzapfel. In 2014, then-congressman Olver attended a talk by associate professor of environmental conservation Peggi Clouston of the BCT program. She noted how CLT construction using lower quality wood was enjoying a comeback. Olver, recognizing an expanded use for regional wood, encouraged campus officials to consider adopting the new technology.

Built of CLT timber and glue-laminated columns, the 87,000-square-foot Design Building saves the equivalent of over 2,300 metric tons of carbon compared to a traditional energy-intense steel and concrete building. It uses 54% less energy than a typical campus building and is one of two in North America to use CLT for wind and seismic resistance.

Its footprint once a parking lot, the building now includes a rooftop garden and rain-garden landscaping. A central courtyard highlights natural light while reducing heat loss. Its open central stairway invites visitors to take the stairs instead of an elevator.

Previously, among other awards, the Olver Design Building was named the Jury’s Choice for Wood Innovation in the WoodWorks 2018 Wood Design national awards for excellence in wood building design. In November 2017, it was honored with an Award of Merit in the Engineering News-Record list of New England’s 2017 Best Projects in the Higher Education / Research category.

Other AIA COTE winners this year come from across the nation and include the Austin Central Library, Texas, Etsy Headquartes in New York and the U.S. Land Port of Entry in Columbus, New Mexico. Awards are typically conferred at the AIA’s annual conference, but it has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.