UMass Amherst Lab Designed to Save Energy

The UMass Life Science Laboratories features an elevated walkway along the building’s façade, protected by an overhead canopy that is supported by steel cantilevers. / Wilson Architects

Amherst, MA – The Life Science Laboratories building at UMass Amherst was designed to foster excellence in research while reducing energy consumption.

To prevent thermal bridging where 40 steel cantilevers penetrate the building envelope, Wilson Architects and Lim Consultants specified structural thermal breaks, reducing energy loss by 50% where utilized and contributing to the project’s LEED Gold certification. It also employs a range of advanced measures to slash energy usage, carbon emissions, and related costs.

The five-story 310,000sf building is designed to foster collaboration among faculty and student researchers in biology, environmental science, physics, chemistry, and other sciences.



Isokorb Type S22 structural thermal breaks were installed at each point of penetration to prevent thermal bridging between warm interior structural steel and cold exterior steel cantilevers. / Wilson Architects

Sustainability is especially challenging for a research facility, which typically consumes more energy than comparable buildings, due in part to ventilation systems that draw large volumes of interior air through fume hoods and expel it into the atmosphere.

To meet safety and functional requirements of the building while minimizing energy use, Wilson Architects and Lim Consultants specified low-flow fume hoods and plumbing fixtures, energy-recovering air handling units and heat recovery chillers, water reclamation and recycling systems, and sensor-controlled lighting and water-cooled systems, while maximizing the effect of sunlight.

An additional energy-saving strategy was required to mitigate the potential of thermal bridging through steel beams that penetrated the insulated building envelope to support the 300-ft. glass canopy spanning the length of the building’s façade.

Construction of the Life Science Laboratories building began in 2011 and was completed in 2013. Currently, the building houses 64 faculty, 512 student researchers, and 37 staff. However, it was designed for flexibility to reconfigure interior spaces to accommodate changes in direction of scientific research and in staffing.

With the energy-saving technologies in place, including structural thermal breaks for the canopy support structure, the lab saves approximately $300,000 in energy costs per year, which bears out the energy modeling that Wilson Architects conducted at the project’s outset. As the building systems are constantly monitored for energy usage, savings were documented to the extent that, in 2015, the building achieved LEED Gold certification.