John W. Olver Design Building

Architect: Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Owner: University of Massachusetts Building Authority

Location: Amherst, Massachusetts

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Education – College/University (campus-level)

Bringing together the previously dispersed Departments of Architecture, Building Construction Technology, and Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning, the John W. Olver Design Building fosters multidisciplinary collaboration and expressively integrates construction, landscape architecture, and building technology. It exemplifies the University of Massachusetts’ commitment to sustainable and innovative design with its LEED Gold certification and demonstration of emerging wood construction technologies.

"The space is made possible by an innovative wood truss system showing us how to reach beyond the 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." - Jury comment

An integrated approach to sustainability maximizes the impact of passive design, while incorporating strategic engineering solutions to minimize energy use. Addressing not only operational energy use, but also reducing the embodied energy of the building itself, the Olver building features an innovative use of engineered timber structure. The largest cross-laminated timber (CLT) academic building in the United States, the Olver building demonstrates the sustainability, economy, and beauty of mass timber as a building material and renewable resource.

The Olver building occupies a pivotal site on the Amherst campus and brings the community into "the commons" where students and faculty gather for organized and informal activity. The well-lit space offers visual connection to studios and maker spaces, embracing the university's collaborative goals. The surrounding landscape and roof garden restore a visibly functioning ecosystem, creating an outdoor classroom for detailing, site engineering, plant ecology, soil science, and stormwater management.

For students using the spaces, the building itself is both a learning environment and a teaching tool, demonstrating the simplicity, power, and beauty of design that expressively integrates structure, landscape, and architecture.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2015

Year of substantial project completion: 2017

Gross conditioned floor area: 87,573 sq ft

Number of stories: 4

Project climate zone: ASHRAE Zone 5A

Annual hours of operation: 5729

Site area: 85313

Project site context/setting: Suburban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: 37,000,000

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 361,264

Project team

Accessibility: Kessler McGuiness & Associates

Acoustics & Audiovisual: Acentech

Code Consultant: Howe Engineers

Cost Estimating: Faithful and Gould

Engineer - Civil: Nitsch Engineering

Engineer - Geotechnical: GZA Geoenvironmental, Inc.

Engineer - MEPFP: BVH Integrated Service, P.C.

Engineer - Site/Hazmat: Weston and Sampson

Engineer - Site Utilities: BVH  Integrated Service, P.C.

Engineer - Structural Design: Equilibrium Consulting Inc

Engineer - Structural of Record: Simpson Gumpetz & Heger

General Contractor: Suffolk Construction

Hardware: Campbell-McCabe

Landscape Architect: STIMSON

Specifications: Steven McHugh

Sustainable Design & Lighting: Atelier Ten

Wood Shop / Digital Fabrication Consulting: Radlab


Robert Berkebile, FAIA, BNIM Architects

Roy Decker, FAIA, Duvall Decker Architects

William Horgan, Assoc. AIA, Grimshaw

Vivian Loftness, FAIA, Carnegie Mellon University

Andrea Love, AIA, Payette

Image credits

2020 COTE Image3

Albert Vecerka/Esto

2020 COTE Image10

Ngoc Doan / STIMSON

02_UMASS DB Final-3148

2020 COTE Image16

Albert Vecerka/Esto