Building Stories: Science Center at Amherst College

By: | Issue: January/February, 2019
January 28, 2019
CONNECTION AND DIVERSITY—In addition to featuring interior glass walls that unite the science departments, the Science Center at Amherst College has an exterior glass curtain wall that overlooks the campus, so students always feel connected to nature. Additionally, 35 percent of courses taught at the center this semester have extended beyond the sciences to include the humanities and the arts, such as “Rethinking Pocahontas” and “Atomic Bomb Literature.”CONNECTION AND DIVERSITY—In addition to featuring interior glass walls that unite the science departments, the Science Center at Amherst College has an exterior glass curtain wall that overlooks the campus, so students always feel connected to nature. Additionally, 35 percent of courses taught at the center this semester have extended beyond the sciences to include the humanities and the arts, such as “Rethinking Pocahontas” and “Atomic Bomb Literature.”

 

A Massachusetts college has transformed an energy-consuming science building that once isolated academic departments into a sustainable facility that now unites the entire campus—not just the sciences.

CHALLENGE: Amherst College officials engaged the board of trustees to rebuild or renovate Merrill, a 1960s science facility that generated over a third of Amherst’s energy costs—despite comprising only 10 percent of the campus blueprint. Merrill’s mazelike structure and lack of windows also discouraged collaboration between departments because employees felt isolated.

The board eventually decided to relocate the 155,000-square-foot building. “However, finding another location was challenging because we have a densely populated campus,” says Jim Brassord, chief of campus operations.

SOLUTION: Architects demolished some outdated dormitories elsewhere on campus to make way for the 250,000-square-foot Science Center and sculpted the area’s grounds into a parklike landscape where new dorms also sit.

The Science Center features a revamped HVAC system, with fume hoods, which limits exposure to hazmat. This system and other technologies allow the center to produce 70 percent less energy than Merrill did, and use one-third of the energy that a similar sized science building would generate.

Meanwhile, an open space called the “activated atrium” connects the college’s science departments on three of the four floors. Transparent glass on the walls of 12 classrooms and 68 labs further breaks down barriers. The atrium hangs above a first-floor gathering place and café area, which attracts students across the college.

“The new science building has extended the core of our campus to a place that was previously just a central quad,” says Brassord. “We enhanced not only the sciences, but our entire college.”

COST: $230 million

COMPLETED: August 2018

PROJECT TEAM: Lead architect: Payette (Boston); landscape architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (Brooklyn, N.Y.); mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer: van Zelm Heywood & Shadford