A preview of coming Sherman Center attractions

Visual mock-up on quad shows what exterior elements will look like

By Michael Cohen and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

May 04, 2011


Now showing on the Medical School quad is a preview of what the exterior of the Albert Sherman Center (ASC) will look like when finished. It’s a temporary display known as a visual mock-up that incorporates all the elements proposed for use on the exterior of the ASC. 

“We need this mock-up to prove things out in full scale,” said John Baker, associate vice chancellor of facilities management, who is overseeing the ASC construction project. “We are investing over $20 million in the exterior system, so we don’t want to just put components up on the building that we may regret, or that don’t work as designed.” 

The design for the exterior of the ASC uses glass, aluminum, terracotta and granite elements, all fitted together in 1,775 panels to form the façade of the building. It’s called a curtain wall system because it “drapes” over the exterior of the building and is not a structural element. The visual mock-up now overlooking the quad is a microcosm of the curtain wall system. 

The mock-up is divided into four main flat sections, and one corner treatment. The first section on the left represents the panels that will cover most of the east and west sides of the building. The windows are framed by light brown tiles of terracotta, which is a fired clay product. All of the terracotta to be used on the building is the same material, but with different textures and patterns. Some tiles are smooth, some scored with fine lines, while other terracotta panels are cut with wider channels, all strictly for aesthetic reasons. 

The section second from the left on the mock-up shows a window framed by the granite that will be used on much of the first three levels of the ASC. “We’ve used granite on the base for an aesthetic component, but primarily because of its durability,” said Bryan Thorp, a senior associate at ARC, the firm designing the building. “The terracotta is a lighter-weight product, which is good for use on the upper floors. The lower floors of the building, however, are where we expect more interaction with people and the environment. Snow removal, for example, or contact with the ground and plantings, all sorts of activities that could impact the façade happens there, so the stone is more durable.” 

The next two sections of the mock-up represent the largest areas of the façade—the upper floors on the north and south facing walls of the ASC. First, to the right of the granite section, is the treatment that will dominate the north side of the building, where the laboratories will be located. In that area, the façade is mostly glass, with long widows designed to allow in as much natural light as possible. Above and below each clear window pane, there is a section of glass with a shadow-box design, which is often called spandrel glass. Those elements add color to the façade, and are used to cover the structural elements of the building like the steel beams that support the floors. There are spandrel glass sections on all sides of the building. 

The last flat section of the visual mock-up shows the south façade treatment, which contains glass and terracotta, plus a system of sun shades that look like small louvers extending perpendicular to the glass. “The south side of the building will get the majority of the direct sunlight, so we had to design a system that would allow us to bring as much daylight into the building as possible, while managing the glare and the solar heat gain,” said Sarah Walker, an associate at ARC, who works on the façade. 

The shades are designed to block much of the heat energy of the sun’s rays, particularly in the summer months when the sun is high in the sky, beating down on the southern face of the building. The shades (which are not adjustable, but are fixed in place) will also bounce some of the light up to the interior ceilings of the offices and educational spaces that dominate the south side of the building. The glass on the south side is also slightly more reflective than the rest of the building, again to limit solar glare and heat gain, Walker said. 

The smallest element on the visual mock-up is the corner on the right end. Its primary purpose is to show how the various materials will fit together on the corners of the building. Some of the glass on the corner section is called fritted glass, which is not completely transparent, but has a small embedded pattern. This glass will be used on the mid section of the south side of the ASC to create a multi-story atrium-like space. 

In addition to the visual mock-up now on campus, a similar structure known as a performance mock-up was recently built in a laboratory, and then subjected to a battery of physical tests. In March, Baker and other members of the design and construction team traveled to York, Penn. to witness a series of tests on the performance mock-up. (See related story.) 

Once the final analysis of the performance testing data is completed, and the visual mock-up is analyzed and approved, the façade panels will be manufactured by Enclos, a national curtain wall company headquartered in Minnesota. The panes for the ASC will be built at the company’s Pennsylvania plant. 

Related stories: 

More than just a pretty façade 
Going tall and deep at the Sherman Center 
Albert Sherman Center