Students in Clemson University's Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics program need to look no further than their own classrooms to appreciate a well-designed package.

Dedicated in March 2009, the Harris A. Smith Building embodies the spirit of the multi-disciplinary program. It is the country's only university-level program to combine packaging science, graphic communications, environmental science, manufacturing principles, and marketing.

Like the forward-thinking program, its home was intended to represent the university's future. Architects combined brick, concrete block, and glass to create a “dressed-up industrial” look. The building's open, modern spaces encourage collaboration between students and help draw attention to the program.

Masonry is a traditional element that connects the structure with existing campus architecture. The Smith Building features the same Dark Palomino brick that was used on its neighboring architecture and engineering education buildings decades earlier. Precast concrete window headers and sills offer an economical alternative to limestone, but with a classic look.

Multi-faceted masonry

An extended brick pier marks the main entrance and prominently displays the building and program names. Two-story brick columns extend along the front façade, mirrored by a row of one-story brick piers that frame a covered walkway. Built-in brick benches capped with precast concrete transform the pedestrian pathway into a gathering spot.

Students meeting in front of the building's large windows have a front-row view of new packaging design projects. “It's a social space, but they can also look into the labs and see what's going on,” says Josh Andrews, associate at Lord, Aeck & Sargent and the project's architect. The program's enrollment has actually increased since moving to this building, especially with architecture and engineering students.

The building takes on a different character on the south side, where it emerges from the side of a hill. Polished block extends out from the earth at ground level, emphasizing the solidity of the building's base and accentuating the brick and glass façade. Its earthy tone also complements cast stone accents and aluminum framed curtain walls. “We chose polished block in a color called ‘Clemson Cream' to pull the building materials together from top to bottom,” explains Andrews.

At the back of the building on the western side, a concrete block and steel frame wall rises three stories, with polished block on the first floor and a brick façade above.

Earning credit

The $7 million facility is the first building on the university's main campus to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Gold certification. More than 40% of the building materials, mostly the brick and concrete block, were locally sourced. Pre-cast concrete earned points for recycled content.

Masonry also plays a significant role in the building's sustainability, beyond what is reflected in the LEED designation. The thermal mass of the brick and concrete block on the building's western wall, combined with its solar orientation, improve energy efficiency. Masonry reduces air leakage and helps regulate interior temperatures, reducing the need for air quality equipment.

“It's hard to pinpoint where you get LEED credit for these benefits, but we understand how important masonry is to the building envelope,” says Andrews. He explains his firm's philosophy of designing for longevity: “If you design the envelope right, your structure will stand the test of time. How can you be more sustainable than that?”

When construction began, the university had hoped the Smith Building would earn LEED Silver certification, but its design—and masonry's contribution—exceeded expectations. “If sustainability is part of how you design a package, then having a building that's sustainable in its design legitimizes what we're trying to do,” says Chip Tonkin, Sonoco Institute director. “It shows that we practice what we preach.”

Project Participants

Owner: Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.

Architect: Lord, Aeck & Sargent, Atlanta

Associate Architect: Michael Keeshen & Associates, Greenville, S.C.

Masonry Contractor: Goucher Masonry Inc., Gaffney, S.C.

General Contractor: Melloul-Blamey Construction, Greenville

Masonry Suppliers: Cemex (concrete block), Asheville, N.C.; Hanson (brick), Columbia, S.C.; Palmetto Stone (cast stone), Columbia