Notes from the Cube: Hydro on Display

For many of us, basements are an afterthought, their contents hidden from view. Not here at Centerbrook. We cut holes in the floor just to see what’s down there.

Granted, we have a pretty neat basement. It houses our 10-kW low-head hydropower turbine and its supporting infrastructure. Since 1982, whenever water flows over our dam, it produces power. A constant thrum under the Cube’s floor was our only reminder of its operation, until now.

Our facilities manager extraordinaire, Ron Campbell, recently installed a portal that brings the hydro-gear into full view. Ever precise in his work, Ron centered it on the turbine, its holding tank, and the tail race beneath where the water exits.

Hovering 14 feet above the turbine, the portal’s glass cover –fabricated by Lucid Glass Studio of East Providence –is a three-layer sandwich topped with an anti-skid frit. A full 1 ¼” thick, its tempered low-iron glass is plenty sturdy and provides a dramatic, though slightly vertiginous view of the happenings below. Cold-formed and secured to oak floor joists, a circular maple frame supports the glass, which is protected by a neoprene pad in between.

Up next: the turbine, tank, and flowing water will be lit under the theatrical lighting direction of Partner Chad Floyd.

Notes from The Cube: Mimicking Mother Nature at Her Best

Phil Williams of Delos presents in The Cube.

Last Friday our “Dessert in The Cube” series hosted our friend and collaborator Phil Williams. Phil is an engineer who found his calling with Delos, whose modest goal is to infuse human health and wellness into the built environment.

Centerbrook designed the 7,500-square-foot Well Living Laboratory, which Delos and the Mayo Clinic use to measure how the interior environment affects us. Our own Mark Simon and Jim Coan then joined Phil on Saturday to describe its design and the results of the first round of experiments at the inaugural Northeast Summit for a Sustainable Built Environment at Yale (following image).

Phil reminded us that humans evolved to hunt and gather, not to sit in front of a computer screen. Amazingly, while modern homo sapiens spend 90 percent of our time indoors, until the Well Living Laboratory, there was no effort to quantify how that impacts our short and long term health and wellbeing.

The lab’s first experiments simulated an office environment for eight Mayo Clinic digital medical records workers. For 18 weeks, they completed their usual tasks while researchers measured the impacts of lighting, temperature, acoustics, and other variables. The lab’s systems and sensors performed as advertised, and the data showed clear and measurable impacts of different environmental conditions. The next experiments will focus on how lighting quality affects cognitive ability.

Delos, making no small plans, will open another Well Living lab in China that is four times larger, and envisions a network of studies with developers, architects, and owners all around the world. We’re honored to be part of it.

Investing in the Future

Adrienne Sieverding works with Associate Principal Justin Hedde on a master planning project.

Architects never stop learning their craft. It is in this spirit that we welcome prospective designers here to test the waters. We’re fortunate now to have three students under our broad roof gaining experience in the profession.

Tanya Gianitsos hails from Old Saybrook High School, where she is a junior. Hoping to pursue a degree in architecture, Tanya’s internship includes two weekly visits that will span her entire academic year. Last fall, she developed her own design for a Greek church, which she is refining this semester into renderings and a 3D model.

Lindsey Lent, a senior at nearby Valley Regional High School, is with us during her spring semester to complete her capstone internship. She is hands-on with Revit and Lumion rendering software.

Our newest protégé is Adrienne Sieverding. An architectural studies major in her final semester at Connecticut College, Adrienne came to us by way of Associate Principal Elizabeth Hedde, who was her instructor in an architectural drafting course. The daughter of an architect, Adrienne is assisting with one of our prominent projects currently in concept development.

Tanya, Lindsey, and Adrienne bring a refreshing view of the profession with their presence and their enthusiasm. We look forward to their growth and contributions and hope they return to us someday.

Ties That Bind

Reese Stadium, Yale University.

Past and present have connected in New Haven County for a pair of our longstanding clients.

Construction of the new athletic complex at Quinnipiac University began last fall on the Mt. Carmel campus in Hamden, Connecticut, and will continue through the remainder of the academic year. As a result, the Bobcat men’s and women’s lacrosse teams needed a temporary home for their respective 2017 schedules.

Enter Yale University and Reese Stadium, also one of our projects.

The Reese job entailed a significant renovation and expansion of what was then a 30-year-old facility. The modernized lacrosse and soccer stadium reopened in 2011.

Six years later, Reese has welcomed its neighbors to the north. The 1,250-seat stadium is serving as host venue for Quinnipiac’s 2017 home contests.

The Bobcat women’s lacrosse squad has already played twice at Reese. The first resulted in a win. The second was technically an away game as it came versus the primary inhabitants of the facility – the Bulldogs of Yale – and ended in defeat. They’ll be back at Reese this weekend for one of five remaining games there on the calendar.

A preseason favorite to win its conference title, the Bobcat men’s lacrosse team held the first of six “home” games at Reese this past weekend and fell by a narrow one-goal margin. Unlike the women, the Quinnipiac and Yale men aren’t scheduled to face each other in 2017. Both made the NCAA Tournament last year, however, so you never know what the future may hold.

Quinnipiac’s new lacrosse and soccer venue, as well as an adjacent field hockey facility, will open for competition later this year.

Construction progress at the new Quinnipiac complex. The lacrosse-soccer facility is in the foreground with field hockey in the background. Photo courtesy FIP Construction.

The Idea Workshop

Come workshop your ideal learning environment with us this week at NAIS 2017.

It’s that time of year again. The 2017 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference (#NAISAC on Twitter) is on tap this week, and we’re looking forward to heading down to Baltimore.

If you’re attending, drop by Centerbrook’s Idea Workshop (Booth 315) or follow our conversation on Twitter at #WhatsYourVision. Tell us what you think makes for an ideal learning environment. We’ll be using a graffiti wall and a tabletop space planning exercise to interactively create and share ideas about learning space design.

So #WhatsYourVision for the ideal classroom? Maker labs? Collaborative spaces? Outdoor integration? Join the conversation. We’d love to hear from you.

If you stop by, you’ll meet Todd Andrews, Russell Learned and Katie Roden Symonds. Todd and Russell lead Centerbrook’s Pedagogy CoDE (Community of Design Expertise) and all three are at the forefront of research and practice in education design.

The NAIS Conference is an annual gathering of independent school administrators, trustees and teachers. This year’s conference will be held March 1-3 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland.

Centerbrook Independent School Portfolio

MICDS Robotics Laboratory.

Visualizing the Future

Ted Tolis (right, standing) and Aaron Emma (seated) take The Country School students through the master plan animation for their campus.

With many connections to our surrounding community, we often welcome visitors to our offices for tours and learning experiences. We’re especially excited when student groups come to visit with their fresh perspectives and interests.

I recently welcomed a 6th grade science class from The Country School in Madison to the office. I gave the class and teachers Beth Coyne, Stephanie Johnson, and Stephanie Smelser, a thorough tour of the office, letting them see how we work. My wife, Amy, who also teaches at The Country School, came along as well. I was going to summarize the things that seemed to excite them the most, but they did it for me in this great poster they sent as a thank you.

(click to enlarge)

Centerbrook principal (and a Country School alumnus parent) Ted Tolis then took the students on a virtual tour of the master plan that Centerbrook has designed for their campus, to excited oohs and ahhs. Aaron Emma also helped by navigating the model.

The students were engaged in a “Shake, Rattle and Roll” learning unit that challenged them to design a building in a seismically active part of the world, combining local architecture with the structural principles they have studied. I gave them a brief presentation on creative ways architects have responded to those same challenges. The lively class had many interesting questions from students and teachers alike, and I was able to share my experience of designing in San Francisco to the most stringent codes.

The students left excited and full of ideas, and maybe even with the notion of becoming an architect in the future, as evidenced by some of the comments on the poster they sent.

The Gift of Giving

This year we were able to grant Christmas wishes for 30 children in Connecticut.

The act of giving is tied to the very core of the Christmas holiday. Like many, we have a special charitable cause that is near and dear to our hearts this time of year.

Covenant to Care for Children is a charitable organization that provides direct assistance to Connecticut’s children who are neglected, abused and/or impoverished. Its beneficiaries are often foster children, many of whom might go without a Christmas gift if not for the organization’s efforts.

We got connected to Covenant to Care for Children through the design community. Local interior designer and product representative Pat Mackenzie-Thompson – a longtime friend of Centerbrook – annually leads a state-wide gift solicitation drive on behalf of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) New England chapter. This marked the 17th-consecutive year that IIDANE has collected gifts and held a holiday gala in the greater Hartford area to benefit the Covenant.

Our own interior design and products department of Sheryl Milardo and Seaneen Thorpe gracefully manage our contributions to the program each year. The gift requests come in the form of tags that include a child’s name, gender, age and gift wish – providing a personal connection.

Once collected, the donated gifts are then provided to the parents or guardians to give to their children.

This year Pat was able to collect 450 gifts from across the Connecticut design community, which benefited children in Hartford, Manchester, Meriden and Norwalk. We were especially heartened to learn from Pat that a special group of 150 kids under the age of five from a Head Start program in Bridgeport will also receive gifts this year.

Thank you Sheryl and Seaneen, Pat, IIDANE and Covenant to Care for all of your efforts with such a worthy cause.

From all of us here at Centerbrook, we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Plugged In

Dan Batt’s 2017 Volt in Heather Gray Metallic, Aaron Trahan’s 2013 Volt in Summit White.

As a car guy, I’m cool to hybrid technology. When you’ve heard a Porsche flat-six at full chat or been pushed out of shape by a torquey small block V-8, the faint whir of an electric motor just doesn’t cut it. Fortunately for our planet, a growing number of my more fully evolved colleagues are embracing hybrid’s bright future.


Centerbrook has long been a renewable energy devotee, with solar panels and a hydro turbine producing nearly a third of our energy. As you’d expect, many here share that progressive environmental ethos. Our parking lot is smattered with hybrid offerings from Toyota and Ford. While a pioneer, Toyota’s Prius feels to me like a science experiment on wheels, with nary a hint of sporting character.


Recently, however, our stable grew with the addition of two plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volts. With our renewable systems offsetting some of the current they draw while parked during the work day, you can squint and see the future. Its firm handling, straightforward ergonomics, and strong power delivery make the Volt an easy car to live with and have some fun with. And to my enthusiast’s eye, its taut lines, especially in latest guise, have enduring appeal.

I’m proud that Centerbrook is “plugged in” to reducing our carbon footprint, and heartened that my colleagues are driving hybrid vehicles to help us get there.

Notes from the Cube: Is Biomass a Viable Fuel Source?

Hotchkiss School, Heating Plant, Location: Lakeville CT, Architect: Centerbrook Architects

At last Friday’s “Dessert in the Cube”, Mark Herter, one of our sustainable building experts, discussed the future of biomass as a renewable thermal energy source. Mark has addressed several industry groups on the topic, including the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Biomass Heat and Power Conference.

Mark described the pros and cons of wood chips and pellets as an energy source. The public often has the impression that wood fuel is not sensible given the environmental impact of harvesting, emissions from combustion, ready access to forestland, and the special equipment required. This has slowed acceptance of the industry.


However, when harvested using sustainable forest management, and if near to a fuel source, biomass energy can be an economically and environmentally viable alternative to fossil fuels. Mark demonstrated this in Centerbrook’s Biomass Heating Plant at The Hotchkiss School, whose wood chips displace more than 150,000 gallons of fuel oil annually. With its advanced electrostatic precipitator removing nearly all particulates from the combustion, it cuts sulphur dioxide emissions by more than 90 percent and provides fertilizer for the school’s organic farm.

Hotchkiss School, Heating Plant, Location: Lakeville CT, Architect: Centerbrook Architects

We never overlook a sustainable option here at Centerbrook.

Sketch Up

Architectural Record recently held its annual Cocktail Napkin Sketch Contest. This year we thought it would be fun to throw a few napkins into the ring.

Although – in my opinion – we had some championship-caliber entries, they ultimately were not among the magazine’s featured winners. They’re too good not to see the light of day though, so we’ll give them life here.

So here are the sketches, described by the architects in their own words.

“I have always admired the simplicity, elegance, engineering and ingenuity of Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch. The stainless steel catenary curve has a purity that exudes the notion that less is more. Traveling to St. Louis for the MICDS STEM and Center for Community Building enabled me to visit the Arch at different times of the year and day. I found that the simplistic form is amazingly dynamic; the arch gracefully reflects the light and the seasonal qualities of sun-soaked vibrant summer day or a cool crisp autumnal evening.”Todd Andrews

“This is a program diagram, illustrating the design process and how it’s about relationships between different elements. It’s also about how the process is not a linear process – it goes forward, goes back – and we’re always thinking about a million different things in creating a solution to a problem.”Elizabeth Hedde

“This is nature inside and city outside. So you’re surrounded by the city but you’re visiting nature indoors instead of outdoors.”Justin Hedde

“This is a house from Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori, one of my favorite architects. He’s a historian and an architect, and he does houses with these little tea houses up top.” – Justin Hedde

“This is the view of a historic European city from an airplane.” – Justin Hedde