Beautifying the Commons

McCarthy Dining Commons Addition, Framingham State University
Framingham, Massachusetts

Framingham State University came to SMMA with a problem; programming and dining opportunities at the university’s McCarthy Campus Center were severely constrained by the building’s existing plan. Seating in the campus center was strung out in an embedded floor level with very little natural light that made events feel congested and dull.

The proposed design consisted of a 5,280 sf addition that would address the seating concern as well as increase the space’s connection with the outdoors. The result is a transparent “jewel box” formed by continuous glazing, where all 250 new seats visually participate in the campus landscape.

Looking out, students now have a view of a new elevated garden at the southwest, a heavily treed primary campus pathway to the north, and—because the floor elevation of the facility is nine feet above the level of the existing adjacent surface parking—parallel stands of dense trees to the west, which frame a historic neo-Romanesque chapel just beyond the project site. The elevated ceilings within the 55-foot clear-span central space are highlighted by its contemporary halo-like “chandeliers,” making the venue feel open and modern.

  • Framingham State McCarthy Dining Commons and Campus Center SMMA

SMMA’s approach was to achieve a large outcome through a relatively small intervention—that is, to take advantage of the dining hall’s traditionally central role in campus life as a place of daily gatherings and special communal events.

  • Framingham State McCarthy Dining Commons and Campus Center Interior Aerial SMMA


Framingham State McCarthy Dining Commons and Campus Center SMMA

Flexibility for the Future

The modernist design language of the expansion is consistent with the 1970s era of the original McCarthy structure and contextual with an earlier addition on the front. But on a more practical level, it expands the Commons’ views to three sides while capturing desirable natural light. SMMA also added a third program component that “serves” the Dining Commons in a larger sense—an outdoor space. This space is highly flexible and designed to meet the Dining Commons’ needs over time. Specifically, it can evolve from garden, to dining terrace to future dining space, as needed.


  • Framingham State McCarthy Dining Commons and Campus Center Exterior SMMA

The exterior design of the Dining Commons' expansion is a simple elegance in glass and lineal banding. The design develops the strong theme of its indoor/outdoor connection, highlighting an intentional blending of the new with the existing. The project's strong attention to design and detail is seen throughout.

AIA Central Massachusetts, 2016 Design Awards Jury