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Design building: Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Subhra Bera: Editor

Leers Weinzapfel Associations is mainly a Boston-based award winning method which has specialized in architecture, urban and framework projects. They had worked on a tri-faculty building with an inventive timber structure for the University of Massachusetts. The principal of the associates, Tom Chung had given an interview to SketchUp team and this article is about that interview where reader can find a new method of designing for designers, effectiveness of association helped the project team for making a fascinating and continuous project.

About the project: The team got a project where they had to design a new home for three agencies which were connected with the design of the building environment that was spread across the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. In the campus, the department of Architecture, department of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning and the department of Building Construction had to bring together so that they could have the same type of teamwork, association and advance in their disciplines. The total building had to be smart and continuous and the boundaries should be pushed of geographical, construction and landscape design in a single budget as the project was state funded.

Problems in the project: The team also concerned about the previous street contexts and captured the basic views around the campus; they had expanded their site between two streets with various characters. Among the twp streets, first one was faced with the larger sized buildings of the campus and the second one had smaller structures located the historic part of the campus.

They tested many locations, forms and design ways in SketchUp and their Landscape Architect, Stephen Stimson Associates suggested that both the street could be conditioned with a coherent courtyard bundled in between. Both the streets had became a common focal point in the project as it had created a common space for the citizens and visitors of the building which was started from the landscape garden on the third floor and ends up on the ground floor to welcome the least of the campus.

They made this ‘commons’ space in an animated way with a dynamic 3D truss which was made with Glulam beams and metal tension rods. It was basically made as a support for the roof garden that had up to 18’ of soil and dense planting.

Reason of selecting timber in this project: Alexander Schreyer, chair of Building and Construction was the main enthusiast for using the timber structure in the project of the client. Alex had knowledge and interest on this matter and gave the team confidence for using timber in the project. They took help form some specialist timber structure engineers, Equilibrium Consulting and as a result they had arrived as the first group timber structure of its size and scale in the United States. In this timber made structure, the structural body was of glulam beams, the columns and the floor deck was the unique combination of Cross-Laminated Timber or CLT and concrete. The complex floor was combined of wood and concrete for creating delegate long spans which were stable, serviceable and wonderful for controlling vibration and auditory.

SketchUp in design process: According to the Leers Weinzapfel Associations, SketchUp is a very useful tool for them and could easily model things for having the skill and energetically works on projects. They had tested various absorptions and conceptions which vary on the location form the Google 3D map and plug in their design for the contextual fit. The walk-through feature also helped them to capture and demonstrate the quality of the main spaces. For changing the design they transferred it into the construction documents created in Revit. They also had focused on specific conditions in SketchUp before centralizing it into the final drawings and this method was become helpful for further long term deign processes.

Project’s point of continuity: A timber structure defined that it is a sustainably harvested renewable material with very low illustrated energy and carbon. The instant nature of the timber structure also decreases on-site labor demanding processes and accelerates the building process. Choosing the timber structures instead of steel and concrete also could leave a big impact on global carbon emissions and can make the world healthier. Besides the specification on the material, they also had a limited budget that prevented them from using costly bolt-on renewable strategies at the end of the work. But it is also true that the building consumed less energy from the beginning and they used a LEED Platinum rating and renewable energy sources due to their cost boundary in the project, so they used campus’ existing chiller system that was very helpful. They also planned spaces for fitting the mechanical heating and cooling services.

Role of collaboration in the project: In this low-budget project, collaboration played an important part which was very much necessary for the success of this project and the collaboration could be seen everywhere. The collaboration between the team and the clients showed by the three different UMass department heads, they also used their imagination in various way into the dimensional planning of the building ensured the chance encounters between the students and faculty in the departments increased. The sustainability consultant, Atelier Ten, MEP engineer, BVH Integrated Services were there with the team from the beginning and by handling massing, orientation and façade design they made an energy efficient building. Though their method was not familiar in the Boston Area of the United States they tried their best to make the project successful and they did it.

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Design building: Leers Weinzapfel Associates

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