Merit - SCUP/AIA-CAE Excellence in Architecture for Rehabilitation, Restoration or Preservation

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Old Chapel Student Center
University of Massachusetts, Amherst - Old Chapel Student Center
Jury Comments
". . . compelling story—reinvesting and bringing back to life a building that has been abandoned for 20 years . . . the programming is excellent . . . "


    • Site – 17,451 sq ft; Building – 16,000 gsf / 12,466 asf
    • LEED Gold
    • National Register of Historic Places
    • The building is centrally located on campus, flanked by two major pedestrian spines, and adjacent to the library.
    • The center has contributed significantly to the university’s music, theater, and history departments.
    • The building is a sought after resource for lectures, collaborative projects, group study, presentations, performances, and events for academic and other programs, as well as private events for alumni and local community organizations.
    • Old Chapel is now the most in demand resource on campus.


The Old Chapel building has been the jewel in the heart of campus for over 130 years. Life-safety and access issues required closure of the building for a period of almost 20 years, but the goal of the university was to ensure its legacy; the challenge was figuring out how to do it. The purpose and goals for the building, program, and design were to create a multipurpose student center for contemporary teaching, learning, performance, and event space while preserving the best aspects of the existing building fabric.

The biggest planning challenges involved resolving accessibility and code requirements, as well as integrating new systems with minimal impact to the building fabric. Key interventions included: lowering the basement level; creating an underground mechanical vault that ties into the existing campus energy grid; an integrated landscape intervention that resolves access with a terrace and ramp leading up to a new glass entry addition; and the insertion of a strategically located elevator that does not disturb the original building fabric.

The design team went to great lengths to restore the building back to its original condition while adding complementary new elements. A paint analysis was done in the Great Hall to uncover the original paint colors. The new millwork paneling was based on the color palette of the original wood. The accent wall in the lobby incorporates the school color and serves as the backdrop of the donor wall. The rose window which had been covered for 86 years was restored using historical photos to guide the process. Existing millwork, roof trusses, and other woodwork elements were carefully cleaned and restored.

Project Team

Finegold Alexander Architects; also Barr & Barr, Inc.; RSE Associates, Inc.; ARUP; ART Engineering Corp.; Kessler McGuinness & Associates; The Green Engineer, Inc.; VHB; Hughes Associates, Inc.; Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects