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A Beacon in the Sky


Standing tall in the Boston skyline is the new student residence hall at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, or MassArt. The 145,600-square-foot, 21-story building is modeled after Gustav Klimt's 1909 "Tree of Life" painting, impressing the Judges both on its uniqueness and creativity of its three-dimensional cladding.

The idea to design the residence hall after the painting came about during an 85-person design charrette-made up of MassArt administrators, students, faculty members, trustees, alumni, and representatives of Massachusetts State College Building Authority, the building owner-that met with architects at ADD Inc., Boston, to collaborate on the building's design. Students suggested the building be both expressive and exuberant, like a painting in the skyline.

From that suggestion, the ADD Inc. team suggested Klimt's "Tree of Life" painting as a point of departure and inspiration for the new residence hall. "The tree is represented in almost every culture and art form as a symbol of growth and change, and we at ADD Inc. always have strong concepts to guide projects with so many stakeholders," says Tamara M. Roy, AIA, LEED AP, senior associate principal at ADD Inc., and the project design leader. "The 'Tree of Life' painting by Gustav Klimt, with its warm toned, organic shapes and eclectic creatures all living happily together in a tree, seemed to capture the energy of art students who would one day be living in the tower."

For the project, 3A Composites USA Inc., Statesville, N.C., supplied 174,768 square feet of 4-mm Alucobond Plus aluminum composite material panels. The 5,500 Alucobond Plus panels range in width from 8 inches to 3 1/2 feet, and are in seven custom colors and five gloss levels ranging from 10 to 50. To come up with the correct color shades, 3A Composites' custom color specialists worked with PPG Industries, Pittsburgh, to provide 54 color marches. Lymo Construction Co. Inc., Merrimack, N.H., fabricated and installed the Alucobond panels in its Lymo 3000 Rainscreen system, which allowed for the panels to be set out from the building in five different depths ranging from 2 to 7 inches.


Orientated vertically, the panels are dimensionally positioned throughout the façade. At the base, dark brown panels mirror tree bark before becoming progressively lighter to give the building the appearance of being taller and lighter in the skyline. Green window panels punctuate the façade like leaves.

"The goal was to create a field of panels that appeared organic-varied like the bark of a tree, punctuated by several large green frames, lighter toward the top-without having every floor layout be different," describes Roy. "After some trial and error, we discovered that we could repeat the panel pattern in two floor increments, and as long as we changed the colors, no one would perceive the repeat. We then did a lot of color studies with half-size painted panels put in situ to determine the right seven colors that would blend together and suggest wood and the 'Tree of Life.'"


Metal panels were chosen for their ability to be used artfully, while still being affordable. According to Roy, the metal panels allowed more flexibility than any other material when it came to panel depth, width, color and gloss.


Solar orientation was a key factor in the buildings' design and engineering decisions. The windows on the north side of the tower provide light favorable to the work of resident art students, and the south side has a smaller number of windows to help reduce heat.

Located along the Avenue of the Arts, the LEED Silver certified tower opened in fall 2012 and is home to nearly 500 incoming art school freshmen. The residence hall features 136 suites with single, double and triple bedrooms. Public areas include workrooms, a café, student health center, a "pajama floor" outfitted with a game room, TV lounge, group study area, laundry, fitness room, vending area and a community kitchen.

MassArt Student Residence Hall, Boston

Completed: Fall 2012
Total square footage: 145,600 square feet
Building owner: Massachusetts State College Building Authority
Architect: ADD Inc., Boston,
General contractor: Suffolk Construction Co. Inc., Boston,
Building envelope engineer: Simpson Gumperts & Heger, Boston,
Metal fabricator/installer: Lymo Construction Co. Inc., Merrimack, N.H.,
Metal wall panels: 3A Composites USA Inc., Statesville, N.C.,

Middle photo by Peter Vanderwarker; Courtesy of MassArt