Proj Overview

Libraries have always been a treasure trove of knowledge. In this modern take on the old classic, the reconstruction of Smith College Library features precast concrete additions.

Renowned architect Maya Lin updated the Smith College building in order to connect the campus to the landscape and create a 21st century library for the future.  The redesigned Neilson Library embraces flexible, open space, natural light, sustainable design and an interplay between new and old.

The original 1909 building was flanked by additions erected in 1962 and 1982. The renovation keeps the century-old core and replaces the wings with what she calls “jewel-boxes” – curved, airy structures that are 25% smaller than the existing wings but maximize spaces for social and solo studying and protect and display important books.

The new wings help restore the flow of the landscape envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted in his 1893 campus plan. The structure to the south will host the college’s special collections, now located throughout campus. The northern wing will be the active, engaged hub of the library.

A rooftop garden provides views of the Holyoke Mountains and a new outdoor amphitheater with a sunken courtyard creates a “sun trap” that offers warmth, sunlight and protection during those long New England winters.

The jewel box additions contrast a stone foundation wall at the base with an innovative precast concrete and glass facade. When viewed from the sunken courtyard, the precast concrete panels and glass panels allow light into the below grade spaces.

The courtyard walls are also covered with large precast concrete panels -- some of which weigh in excess of 14,000 pounds.

In total, Strescon Limited manufactured 61 precast concrete panels and 27 precast caps and sills that feature a light grey color with a light sandblast finish. The precast base panels are offset with an air and vapor barrier wall system.

The project was completed in the fall of 2020 and includes an under-ground pedestrian connector between the new Neilson and Alumnae Gym. Shawmut Construction paid special attention to ensure that construction activities did not interfere with quiet study periods and exams.

As part of this quintessential New England college, the new Neilson Library has a focus on sustainability and include an innovative, energy-efficient design and is pursuing a LEED Gold Accreditation. As the intellectual heart of the campus, Neilson Library advances and celebrates learning at Smith. Precast concrete panels helped to reimagine the complex as an intellectual common area.


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Project Team


Strescon Limited, Saint John NB, Canada


Smith College


Maya Lin Studio


Shepley Bulfinch, Boston, MA


Silman, Boston, MA


Shawmut Design and Construction, Springfield, MA              

Photo Credit:

Shawmut Design and Construction

Key Project Attributes

Precast Elements:     61 Architectural Precast concrete panels + 27 caps and sills


Project/Precast Scope

Sq. Footage:    124,000 sf (renovation and addition)