Design for a New Arts Building for the University of Massachusetts


The University of Massachusetts in Amherst is currently seeking proposals for the design of a new Arts building, which is intended to accumulate all visual arts faculties and facilities. These currently reside in a wide array of structures of varying soundness across the Amherst campus. University plans call for the design of the new building on a site, which is currently used as a parking lot (lot 62). This site is directly across the street from the main current arts building, the Fine Arts Center. Ultimately, it is intended to create an Arts “common” on the southeastern entrance to the campus, consisting of the FAC and the new building.

I created the design presented herein as a semester project for an Architectural Studies studio led by Sigrid Miller-Pollin.


nabld_170_400.jpgThe site of the proposed building is located at the southeastern corner of the Amherst campus near the campus entrance from the town of Amherst. It sits adjacent to one of the main campus thoroughfares, North Pleasant Street and is directly opposite the existing Fine Arts Center, which hosts the art department’s main offices as well as studios and classrooms. Currently, the site is dominated by a large parking lot.

A site analysis showed a strong pedestrian traffic flow from one of the dining halls (Franklin) on the north-eastern end of the parking lot to a passageway under the Fine Arts Center. Due to the existence of the lot and the pedestrian traffic, an overly large number of road crossings exist on North Pleasant Street. This is a nuisance to vehicular traffic and a safety problem for pedestrians. It was thus determined that a simplification of the pedestrian traffic flow had to be included in the plan for the new building.

The siting of the building itself was as close as possible to the existing Fine Arts Center. This was done mainly because department offices were to remain in their existing location and a significant exchange between the existing and the new building was anticipated. In finding an appropriate massing scheme for the new building, several aspects were taken into account: a) the curved road and non-rectangular site plan had to be accommodated, b) the sloping terrain had to be included, c) a somewhat “sculptural” form had to be found that links this building more to the Fine Arts Center than to the highly rectilinear shapes of other classic campus buildings, d) contrasting to the existing Fine Arts Building, a shell had to be found that would reveal the work done in this building to passers-by, and e) a parking component had to remain on the site.

The common theme for the shape of the proposed building thus became an arc. This allowed for a harmonious façade along North Pleasant Street, provided pedestrian collectors (“funnels”) and took up the sloping landscape both in plan and elevation. To create the pedestrian areas and to maximize daylight in the buildings, three building “wings” were devised, which open up from narrow eastern ends downhill to the road. All required functions (painting, printmaking, sculpture and core facilities) were included, however, it was deemed more appropriate to separate these into respective areas. This was mainly done to reduce the “culture shock” of accumulating departments under one roof and to separate the different work environments (sculpture = large storage requirements and noisy work areas, printmaking = reduced and non-direct daylight, painting = sufficient amounts of neutral northern light and a quieter environment). The final room layout thus places painting into the northern building, printmaking into the partially underground first and second floors of the northern wing of the southern building and sculpture into the second and third floors of the southernmost wing. Core facilities such as slide and computer rooms are located at the “intersection” between the two buildings, which is actually an underground connector. Common facilities for all arts departments such as the café and a library are placed at the end of the northernmost wing closest to the Fine Arts Center since a use of these from both buildings will be anticipated. To complete the program, a sculpture garden was added to the northern building, which provides refuge and interest for students working in the buildings as well as a transition to the rest of the campus.

Internal traffic areas in the northern building consist of a slightly meandering “road”, which provides access to all rooms and features balconies to double high spaces (galleries). Stairs are located next to glazed façades and can be seen as sculptural elements from the outside of the building. In the southern building, traffic areas consist of balconies and bridges that encircle a central full-height atrium. Internal walls are dominant and opaque in the east-west direction along the buildings’ axis. Room dividing perpendicular walls are either fully glazed providing views of adjacent functions or partially glazed providing a visual barrier while preventing any reduction of light. Façades are typically fully glazed on the northern and southern sides of all buildings and enclosed by high masonry shell-walls on the eastern and western sides. To provide shading for the southern façades, a system has been devised that consists of horizontal shading elements attached to angled vertical columns on the outside of these façades. Of course, the final system will be finer in detail that what is shown in the model.

On the roof, the angled façade elements as well as the sloping terrain are taken up in a series of north-facing skylight-dormers. These increase in slope and height from the western to the eastern end of the building and are fully glazed on three sides. This provides neutral and diffuse light for the major part of the day and “sunlight-wedges” in the afternoon, which add interest to the play of light in the rooms. The pedestrian area between the two main buildings is sloped to accommodate the changes in terrain elevations. It is intended to become a “pedestrian zone”, which can fulfill a multitude of functions ranging from a pathway to a possible exhibition space and even a location for conveniences. Entrances to the buildings are level with the first floor on the western sides and level with the second floor on the eastern sides. In addition, an outside work and storage area for sculpture work is provided in the south-eastern corner of the buildings. Altogether, it was intended to create a conveniently located building that responds to its environment as well as to the multitude of natures of its occupants while providing the campus with a visually unified and interesting art “common”.




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