Amherst College New Science Center
Representing the most significant transformation of Amherst College’s campus since its founding in 1821, the school’s new Science Center facilitates collaboration among students in the sciences. Its open and accessible learning environment serves the entire college community, and the project demonstrates the school’s mission to ensure science remains a critical component of its liberal arts education program.
Evident in its organization and details, the design of the Science Center maximizes transparency and interaction among students and faculty. The overall program is divided among five building elements: two high-energy laboratory wings nestled into a hillside on the site’s eastern edge and three less energy-intense pavilions to the west. All of the elements open onto a multi-story commons enclosed in glass. In addition to building community around the ideals of science, the commons makes the activity inside the center visible to the college at large. A distinctive roof, animated by a series of skylights, caps the commons and serves as the building’s unifying feature. The roof itself serves a number of functions, including providing natural and artificial light, hosting photovoltaic panels, and handling acoustic control through its materials and shape.
The team relied on a palette of natural materials that was used throughout, allowing the contemporary architecture to easily fit into the traditional legacy of the rural campus. Handmade grey bricks recall local stone walls, and weathering steel screens echo the tones of adjacent red-brick buildings. Through the materials, it is clear that the team embraced craft to seamlessly tie the project to its context.
The center was born from three years of programming and design meetings held in an effort to shape an experience largely defined by the school’s connected and socially engaged community. Inside, the research and teaching spaces are structured to support subject-based instruction and interdisciplinary explorations. The classrooms can easily adapt to new pedagogies and diverse learning styles to welcome all students. Based on student feedback, the team included a network of community spaces at numerous scales to strengthen the close relationships that regularly develop between students and faculty at the college.
Despite the energy intensity of its laboratories, the center has reported a 76% reduction in energy use compared to a typical research building. Its architectural form and social geometry work together to reduce the building’s environmental impact through parametric design, energy modeling, and conservation systems. At the outset, the team identified aggressive energy targets that impacted everything, from the organization of the program to the design of the enclosure.
“The approach to sustainability is both humane and aware. Masterful daylighting strategies weave together the co-benefits of light for well-being as well as energy generation.” - Jury comment
Since the center’s opening, its celebration of education and socialization have helped enliven what was previously a marginalized section of the campus. Amherst’s science community events have become campus-wide affairs, and the center quickly became the center of the campus’ social fabric.