AN checks in with Leers Weinzapfel Associates for updates on its mass timber projects


Leers Weinzapfel Associates (LWA) is a women-led firm that’s been creating intentional, public-facing work since 1982 from their studio in Boston. But in recent decades, the team has been focused on expanding their knowledge and understanding of mass timber as an architectural material. Five recent projects featured here have taken timber and wood products to new heights for a variety of programs, from affordable housing to an ivy league college campus.

entry perspective
Williams College Davis Center (Courtesy Leers Weinzapfel Associates)

Williams College Davis Center
Williamstown, Massachusetts
Expected completion: January 2024

The Williams community has long identified the Davis Center as the heart of the campus, so a major new addition by LWA sought to seamlessly connect to the existing human scale of the plaza while also offering comprehensive, deep-energy retrofits to neighboring structures. New tenants of the expansion include the Minority Coalition, and the entire project sought to continue the tradition of intimate social gatherings and knowledge exchange.

The design of the center is bold and contemporary, however, without overwhelming historic structures due to its modest scale and focus on material. Mass timber is immediately present on the facade, playing with light and shadow: windows are framed in raw timber while the rest of the facade’s mass is burned black. The entire project is pursuing Living Building Challenge Petal Certification thanks in part to the carbon sequestration of the material palette.

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Woodland Wonders Nature Preschool (Courtesy Leers Weinzapfel Associates)

Woodland Wonders Nature Preschool
Auburn, Alabama
Expected completion date: May 2024

This is a school like any other: Auburn’s youngest students are surrounded by nature on all sides, and learning within a building made from timber harvested on-site. Operable windows, natural ventilation and daylight suffuse the entire project, redefining the standards of biophilic design and ecologically focused early education. Design and material choices intelligibly place sustainable forestry at the center of the student experience.

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Eliot Church Affordable Housing (Courtesy Leers Weinzapfel Associates)

Eliot Church Affordable Housing
Boston
Concept design phase

Eliot Congregational Church has debuted bold, modern housing for an underserved community in the Roxbury neighborhood of LWA’s native Boston. A four-story, 15-unit addition is envisioned to occupy a site previously paved for parking, and makes stunning use of mass timber inside and out.

A unique aspect of this project is not only the beautiful, but the affordable use of mass timber material to meet affordable goals. The project also employed small local contractors, paying close attention to community input and engagement.

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Cornell University Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science (Courtesy Leers Weinzapfel Associates)

Cornell University Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science
Ithaca, New York
Expected completion: Spring 2025

As computer science and related technological fields continue to expand rapidly on college campuses, Cornell University sought out LWA’s expertise for a new building to complement and expand upon the Morphosis-designed Gates Hall. While the structure is wrapped in a sculptural metal envelope, a mass timber structure shines through thanks to exposed floor and roof framing throughout the building.

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Conservation Legacy Center Museum of Forest Service History (Courtesy Leers Weinzapfel Associates)

Conservation Legacy Center Museum of Forest Service History
Missoula, Montana
Expected completion: Fall 2025

Forestry is an ancient science, defining the interaction of humans with the woodlands that provide such essential resources, particularly in terms of architecture. It’s fitting then that the U.S. Forestry Service (USFS) is funding the construction of a new museum to its science made entirely from wood materials redefining architectural practice today, and sustainable interactivity between people in the 21st century.

This pavilion is set in a bucolic landscape and will itself be made of wood from U.S. forests and in the USFS Forest Products lab. The design is itself inspired by the trees, with branching structures of varying wood types supporting a roof structure with highly skilled craft joinery. LWA chose to make this a pedagogical structure through these decisions, and also incorporates passive heating and cooling technologies throughout the sawtooth form.





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