Amherst Magazine

Office Space: Design and Construction

Located in the Physical Plant building next to Campus Police, the Design and Construction Department is responsible for the "oversight and management of facilities, planning and design at Amherst College." As the college's physical form has evolved, the department has collected the souvenirs of a growing institution: construction scraps, hidden treasures uncovered by countless renovations and even a pair of postmodern mistakes. Tom Davies, the director of design and construction, shows us around.

To navigate the 360° image below, click and drag to move around or click the "+" or "-" buttons to zoom in and out. You can also use your  "Shift" and "Control" keys to zoom in and out. Clicking on any object's number will bring you to the explanations below. You must have QuickTime installed to view this image. If you don't have the plug-in, you may download it for free. If you have trouble viewing the image, please contact us at info@amherst.edu.

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Object 1: The Clock That Thinks It's in Denver

Some clocks are able to automatically set themselves to the official time based on a government radio signal from Fort Collins, Colo. This particular clock's time zone setting doesn't work, so no matter how many times it's set to Eastern Standard Time, it stubbornly returns to believing it's in Denver. For a room full of designers, the solution was fairly simple.

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Object 2: Greening LeFrak

The diagram on the whiteboard shows the mechanics of LeFrak Gymnasium's heating system. Fed by two large vents beneath the structure (both visible from the baseball field), the system heats the air and pumps it through the floor and out its edges. The problem with the radiant heating system, though, is it's nowhere near as efficient it should be—heat ends up going the wrong way. The diagrams are part of a project on increasing the building's energy efficiency.

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Object 3: Column Scrap

During the renovation of Morris Pratt Dormitory, the solid oak column enclosures found in so many of the common spaces were fabricated off-site. The enclosures that arrived at the job site were a tad large, so they were trimmed down to fit. Davies picked up this scrap before it was thrown away.

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Object 4: Column Capital

Renovations are full of surprises—this one happens to be cast-iron. When Fayerweather was renovated, this column capital was found hidden in the ceiling of what is now the Eli Marsh Gallery. A modern support was put in its place. "We couldn't just let that go," says Davies, "so, for the last 10 years, it's been living here."

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Object 5: Pulleys and Plaster

These pulleys are some of the last remnants of Charles Pratt's days as the college gymnasium. Before it was a dorm or natural history museum, the building housed gymnastic equipment suspended by dozens of these pulleys. On the left is another piece of Fayerweather—this one was removed and sent to a mason as a color sample for replacement terra cotta.

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Object 6: A Track and a Tree

These two objects form the bookends of one of the largest construction projects in recent college memory: the Earth Sciences and Museum of Natural History Building. On the right is, according to Davies, "what's left of a white birch tree that gave its life" for the building. On the left is a builder's sample of a mechanical track system. Designed to smoothly carry extremely heavy loads on industrial process lines, the system was adapted to carry the dinosaur track slabs in the Museum of Natural History.

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Object 7: The Grove

A rejected test print whose superior now hangs in Frost Library, this photo shows the College Church and the Noah Webster sculpture east of the main quad. The statue was moved, the church was demolished, and the trees (known in their time as "The Grove") were destroyed in the 1938 hurricane. Davies finds it funny. "You can't see Stearns Steeple very well in this image—but it's the only thing that's left."

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Object 8: A Mystery and a Mistake

The arch at the left was found in a closet at Wilder Observatory, but nobody seems to know what it is. Davies says that, while it's likely part of a mount with a universal movement, "whoever can tell us what it actually is wins a prize." (Most found objects go to the college's Archives and Special Collections, but, according to Davies, "once in a while, they'll show up here.") The squat, pawn-like piece at the right, he says, is "a little bit embarrassing." Manufactured for the renovation of Hamilton Dormitory, this bit of decoration, called a finial, looked "normal and small" on the plans. When it showed up, though, "we said 'no way.' It was a little bit too postmodern for us." 

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Object 9: Blower Door Fans

These fans are pieces of an assembly known as a blower door that enables Davies to test the air-tightness of a building. The fans are placed in an assembly that makes a nearly air-tight seal with a door frame, and air is vacuumed out of the building. "You can then run around the inside of the building with an infrared camera and see where cold air is leaking in." Since this type of leakage accounts for the vast majority of heat loss, "we can use this system and a couple hundred bucks of caulk and foam to greatly improve the energy performance of a building."

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Object 10: Lord Jeffery Inn Renovation Plans

"This has been an intense project," Davies says. The plans have been approved, and construction on the inn resumes shortly. Atop the plans is the complete contractor specification list for the project.

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Object 11: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

One of these plants is alive and contemporary; the other... not so much. The plant on the right is a prototype design for the Museum of Natural History's diorama modeling of what the local dinosaurs and plant life might have looked like.

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