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Nexus of student engagement

University of Massachusetts Amherst
Student Union Renovation
Amherst, MA

Built in 1957, the renovated Student Union radiates energy from the geographical heart of campus to become the nexus of student engagement restoring its historic cultural vibrancy.

Reinventing the building as a social and cultural incubator, the newly renovated facility embraces student entrepreneurship, organizations, and events to transform the Student Union into a refreshed stage for campus life, designed for equitable communities and the campus’ well-being.

The Union is now a place for social gathering; it serves as the campus’s “Living Room,” a place to congregate. Located at the heart of campus, it is at the crossroads of most pedestrian activity as students traipse or bike between classes throughout the day. The existing two-story portico of the main entry was enclosed with a new curtain wall system to create an accessible vestibule and welcoming building entrance in scale to the campus.

The student body became the physical and intellectual capital that propelled the Student Union’s success for future generations. They wanted the Union to become the campus’ social incubator supporting the physical and emotional health that is strengthened by building campus community; they voted to increase their student activity fees to help fund the renovation.

During intensive interactive workshops, representatives from the numerous Student Organizations were engaged in defining the types and qualities of spaces desired, from intimate study spots to casual gathering to formal event venues to a shared home for all the organizations.

The Union is home to several student-run businesses and over 200-registered student organizations; these are an institutional hallmark for educating the next generation of entrepreneurs. New media and art spaces, including TV and podcast studios, newspaper offices, and campus radio station, integrated student media within this hub of student activity and out-of-classroom learning.

The bold proposal to relocate the 8,000-sf Ballroom by lifting it up one level created a two-story lounge opening the once dense and circuitous, connecting and layering visual activity from within to the campus outside. The now open interior encourages serendipitous connections and collaboration, providing views to and from campus and flooding the Union with natural light.

The design of the Ballroom employs an expansive window system in the historically significant exterior to create a light-filled space that allows occupants to take advantage of views out to Metawampe Lawn, a ceremonial green, and the pond which is one the campus’ primary view corridors. The result is a building that acts as a beacon for student-centered engagement, entrepreneurship, and activism.