Facilities (Campus Spaces)

The Right Stuff

Materials and systems for new higher ed building


Colleges and universities occupy a unique position when it comes to building new facilities. Decision makers must deftly keep a lot of balls in the air, balancing aesthetics, longevity, maintainability — and, as always, cost — when choosing materials and systems. Unlike other sectors, however, colleges and universities have an opportunity — some might argue an obligation — to walk along the leading/bleeding edge.

“Colleges should push the envelope and be the catalyst for change when it comes to new knowledge,” explains Phoebe Crisman, AIA, associate professor of architecture, University of Virginia. “The built environment is no different.”

Crisman acknowledges that this responsibility comes with heavy caveats. Structures on college campuses are routinely built to last 100 years or more as opposed to the mere four decades asked of a Class A office building. “Because of this, focusing on the longevity of materials is crucial,” she says. Crisman also advises balancing cutting-edge technology with a solid warranty from the manufacturer. “Sometimes things fail because of the installation, not the material,” she says.

Higher ed building construction


When choosing any material Crisman advises focusing on keep experimenting and innovating. “Universities have to lead in intelligent, forward and long-term thinking,” she insists. “If we can’t get it right, who can?”

Roofing for the Long Haul

Choosing a roof is a job you only want to do once. Dave Landis, manager, technical services & field inspections, Petersen Aluminum Corporation, explains. “Construction causes significant disruptions on campus,” he admits. “You don’t want to do it again in 30 years. College roofs should last at least 50 years, if not longer.”

That degree of longevity presents a compelling reason to choose a metal roof. As example, Landis points to the Koury Oral Health Sciences Building at the University of North Carolina. The school chose a 30,000-square-foot copper roof that is designed to last for 80 to 100 years. Of course, that long life comes at a cost. “A commercial, standing seam 16-ounce copper roof generally approaches $40-50 per square foot installed,” quotes Landis.

higher ed construction
higher ed construction at UMass Amherst


BUILT TO LAST. The four-story, 87,200-gross-square-foot Design Building currently under construction on the campus of UMass Amherst integrates the latest wood technologies including a structural system consisting of exposed heavy engineered timber and cross-laminated timber decking and shear walls. The exterior cladding incorporates a glazed curtain-wall system and an aluminum panel rain-screen system. It will also have a roof that will host two types of roof gardens, extensive and intensive. The facility is intended to be a showcase of integrated design that is expressive of today’s state-of-the-art building technology.

Aesthetics and ease of maintenance are other compelling reasons to choose a metal roof. But Landis stresses that not all metal is the same. “Any time we get into a corrosive, aggressive saltwater environment we urge the design team to look at aluminum,” he says. “We will not encourage a steel product in those environments.” He suggests aluminum for hot climates as well, as the material is more reflective than steel.

Landis eagerly points to metal roofs for longevity, aesthetics and ease of maintenance but stops short at sustainability for metal or any other product. “The substantiality of roofing gets overblown,” he cautions. “Even under LEED 2.2 roofing only represents one point. Sure it’s important, but is it critical? No.”

Wood You?

Prefabricated Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) has been used in Europe and Australia for more than 20 years. New technological advances now allow the material to be used for high rises. “They are constructing an 18-story structure in Vancouver, BC,” reports Dr. Peggi Clouston, associate professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), “and there’s discussion on going to 30 stories in Vancouver and Paris.”

The technology is explained in a paper titled “Introduction to Cross Laminated Timber,” published in Wood Design Focus. The authors state, “CLT panels consist of several layers of structural lumber boards stacked crosswise (typically at 90 degrees) and glued together on their wide faces and, sometimes, on the narrow faces as well. A cross-section of a CLT element has at least three glued layers of boards placed in orthogonally alternating orientation to the neighboring layers.”

The resulting product costs about the same as steel and concrete, according to a 2015 article in Seattle Business Magazine, but is lighter and quicker to assemble. The article states that CLT is as fire-resistant as steel or concrete and performs well during an earthquake.

The material is combined with concrete and steel for a first-of-its-kind application in UMass’s new Design Building. Still under construction, Dr. Clouston reports that the structure is already receiving attention and accolades. “I’m biased but I think the attention comes from the beauty of the product,” she says. “The wood integrated with steel at the connection points is eye-catching.” And photogenic. The building’s social media site hit 19,000 views in just two days.

Higher ed exterior construction materials


When completed, that beautiful wood structure will be covered with an anodized copper and aluminum façade. “I’m not a fan of using wood outside; you need lots of chemical preservatives to make it work,” explains Clouston. The interior, however, will showcase the product.

The material offers more benefits. “It’s been a quiet construction with very little waste,” Clouston says. It also requires a smaller crew at the building site to put together. But renewable wood’s most obvious selling point is its ability to sequester carbon. “It will be the equivalent of taking 512 cars off the road and powering a home for 228 years,” says Clouston in an article for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

Clouston reports that she had to fight for this cutting-edge material to be used on the Design Building.

The Wood Design Focus paper points to existing building codes as another obstacle to acceptance. Still, Clouston remains optimistic and offers this call to action. “If we’re going to make a difference we have to push to change the codes.”


While more building designers are considering mass timber for innovative designs, they often need to point to existing projects to demonstrate viability. A recent study from the AIA and the University of Utah evaluates project case studies from around the world that use large panelized solid wood construction — including nextgeneration materials such as nail-laminated timber (NLT), cross laminated timber (CLT) and glued-laminated timber (glulam).

Of the 18 projects examined — spanning from a multistory residential CLT project in Italy to an educational mass timber building in Vancouver — numerous interesting comparisons are drawn culminating in a list of key learnings and best practices for building designers.

The study can be downloaded in PDF format from the reThink Wood website at www.rethinkwood.com.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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