University of Massachusetts Amherst unveils largest wood structure in northeastern U.S.

The exterior of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s celebrated John W. Olver Design Building. Image credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst.


One of the first institutional buildings in northeastern United States and the largest modern wooden building in the region, the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s John W. Olver Design Building was designed by Leers Weinzapfel, an architectural firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, with its construction managed by Suffolk, also based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Constructed out of cross laminated timber (CLT), the 87,000sqft facility also boasts glue-laminated columns (glulam), saving more than 2,300 metric tons (2,086 tons) of carbon when compared to a “traditional energy-intensive steel and concrete building,” according to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Other sustainable features include LED lighting, electro-tinting glass, and rain gardens.

The most technologically advanced CLT building in the U.S., the John W. Olver Design Building also holds the distinction of being one of only two buildings in North America to use CLT for seismic and wind resistance, the other being the Wood Design and Innovation Centre in British Columbia, Canada.

Moreover, the university’s Building and Construction Technology programme also had a hand in building the structure: With support from a National Science Foundation grant, the programme developed some of the some of the CLT technology used and tested native species from Massachusetts for their suitability.

In the Design Building, timber structural elements are intentionally left exposed for teaching. Image credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Named in honour of Congressman John W. Olver, a retired congressman and former chemistry professor at the university, the interdisciplinary building, houses three academic units: Architecture; Building and Construction Technology; and Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. Its timber structural elements are deliberately left exposed for teaching, and its exterior courtyard encourages collaboration between the various disciplines.

And even before completion, the John W. Olver Design Building was featured in the Timber City exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and earned an Award of Merit in the Engineering News-Record (ENR) list of New England’s 2017 Best Projects.

“The Design Building reflects the university’s commitment to sustainability and innovation in education,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, said. “It is a landmark building that offers an optimal space for team projects and experimentation and serves as an educational tool for students exploring every aspect of architecture, design, planning, and construction.”