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Walking up on a path to the new building characterized by warm woods, tall windows, and a curved roof at Swarthmore College Dining and Community Commons.
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Biophilia and Mass Timber at Swarthmore College

Cory Clippinger

From the beginning of our 360 engagement for the Dining and Community Commons Project at Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum, equitable community and ambitious sustainability goals have served as powerful North stars for the design team. Our team also found inspiration from the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, which articulates the social connections, support network, and community resources that exist between trees in a forest. Exploring themes from the book and in collaboration with campus leaders, our team committed to the design objectives of biophilia, community, and sustainability.

Dining commons interior under construction. Mass timber walls and ceiling exposed with ductwork and large windows
In Progress: A seating area on Level 2. Image © DLR Group.

To align with Swarthmore College’s carbon neutrality goals, the DCCP aims to reduce its carbon emissions in operations and embodied carbon. A mass timber structural system was compared against a steel structure and was found to eliminate a significant portion of the embodied carbon associated with steel structures, and sequester a considerable amount of carbon for the life of the facility. Our engineering team designed efficient, innovative building systems, including an all-electric commercial kitchen and in-floor radiant heating and cooling. Intense collaboration with the engineering team resulted in building systems that remain exposed yet enhance the architecture – a celebration of our integrated design process.

Dining commons interior under construction looking from upper level. Mass timber walls and ceiling, equipment and large windows
In progress: Dormer views from Level 2-North. Image © DLR Group.

Sustainably harvested mass timber plays a vital role in occupant wellbeing. Early in the design process, at a biophilic design summit, the project team identified mass timber as a building material that will slow the release of stress hormones and reduce depression, fatigue, and anxiety. DCCP’s interior concept – inspired by the surrounding arboretum – reflects how nature provides nourishment, support, and social encounters aiding in mental and physical wellbeing. A strategic palette of interior finishes adds texture, color, and scale to front and back of house spaces. Timber brings warmth and comfort throughout the building, emphasizing the beauty of natural wood.

Students, faculty, staff, and administrators at the college share the design team’s excitement seeing the building take form. The building’s beautiful curves and welcoming warmth will transform the working environment for dining staff and provide a peaceful respite for busy students.

In Progress: An aerial view looking North. Image © DLR Group.
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