West Experiment Station University of Massachusetts Amherst

The West Experiment Station (WES) is a 19th Century research laboratory and one of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst’s oldest buildings. Built in 1878, it was one of the first agricultural experiment stations established in the United States. Recreating the WES was an integral part of the Physical Sciences Building (PSB) project.

The project began with a search for the ideal site for a new Chemistry and Physics research laboratory (PSB). After extensive study, it became clear that the best site bordered Goessmann Laboratory and the Lederle Graduate Research Center, and was being occupied by the West Experiment Station.  The University proposed a combination project where the PSB would rehabilitate the WES, and incorporate it into a two-building solution (PSB+WES).

The design team originally thought to renovate, or move and renovate, the building. But analysis uncovered serious structural deficiency. Initial testing revealed shockingly weak shear strength in the structural brick bearing walls. A series of extensive and increasingly complex tests revealed that the building was structurally unsound and should not be renovated, let alone moved.  The building was recommended for demolition. The University faced a choice between demolishing the building, or trying to save it through extraordinary means. Recognizing the value of recreating the WES, the University opted to take on the challenge of salvaging and recreating the building.

The team developed a plan to disassemble WES brick by brick and then reassemble it on a nearby site. A system for cataloging and tracking individual exterior and interior salvage elements was developed to facilitate removal, cleaning, repair, storage, and eventual recreation. The new design preserves the outward appearance of WES, but underneath, the WES is fully upgraded to modern building technology, fixing a variety of technical and structural issues.  A new steel skeleton replaces deteriorated light wood framing, significantly upgrading safety and stability. The historic bricks are reused in a brick cavity wall strategy, adding a vapor barrier, thermal insulation, and a drainage plane, thereby reducing the environmental impact of the building and increasing its durability over time.  The interior is replaced and made fully accessible to the disabled. The building now houses Physics department theory space.

PSB+WES is a physical embodiment of the continuum of scientific research over the past 150 years. The two-building solution could not have been predicted before the project began.  Overall, the project is much better with the WES than it would have been with PSB alone.

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