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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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

How to Add a Maker Space to Your Museum

Hubert Robert - Projet d'aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre (1796).
Hubert Robert – Projet d’aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre (1796).

There’s a new trend we are seeing with museums. They are moving away from places of just observation and adding spaces of dialogue and creation.

This change requires a new type of space that is flexible enough for multiple arrangements, yet also provides the support necessary to create art.

Many institutions have areas for resident artists, but this space is designed to be open to the public. This maker space strengthens a museum visitor’s relationship with art through making.

What Was Old is New Again
The maker space concept is not new to museums, just forgotten. Before the 20th Century, museums like the Louvre and The Met were places of art making. The museum would grant artists permission to set up easels and copy works. By the mid-20th century, adults mostly learned about art through lectures and left art-making to children.

Museums and visitors are revisiting and evolving the concept through spaces like collection study, object study classroom, the teaching gallery and maker spaces. These spaces allow visitors extended study for selected works, areas to create, and an incentive to visit repeatedly.

Concept in Development
Recently we were asked to design a maker space within a university’s museum of art – a space that blurs the boundary between art, media and technology.

We recognized that as students increasingly grow up in maker space educational environments, extended learning spaces like museums should likewise evolve in a similar way. Therefore we immediately thought of a flexible classroom model we have developed over years of education design experience, and are adapting it for museum settings.

Essential Elements
Decided you want your museum to incorporate maker spaces? Here are some additional things for you to consider in the design:

• Padded tables to protect precious objects
• Stacking chairs and movable tables for multiple room configurations
• Large flat screens for sharing digital works and presentations
• Flexible power access integrated into tables
• Wall-mounted art rails
• Wall talkers
• General and directional lighting
• Storage (a flexible room always needs easy access to ample storage)
• Wi-Fi connectivity
• A wet studio (sinks can be a security risk to art pieces)
• Lockers
• Audio/video cabinets
• Open shelving

Floyd to Introduce Scully Film

Tonight one of our firm partners, Chad Floyd, will provide the introduction for a film on revered art and architecture historian Vincent Scully. Chad studied under Scully at Yale, and will share some of those experiences tonight. Here’s a brief background from Chad:

I took classes from Vincent Scully both as an undergraduate and later as an architecture graduate student.

My first class, in 1963, was History of Art 101, a year-long survey beginning with the Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, France, and ending with the paintings of Frank Stella.

I later took Scully’s course on the history of architecture, which focused on the Shingle Style, a term he coined to describe the uniquely American resort architecture that emerged in places like Fenwick.

Years later, as a graduate student, I monitored his course on American architecture once again and had my eyes opened to the emerging work of a then young Robert Venturi.

There were many, many Yale undergraduates who were entranced by Scully’s lectures. I’m in the sizable subset of those who got so fired up that we sallied forth, flags flying, into an architecture career.

Chad Floyd, FAIA

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Pumpkin Party

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Photos by Derek Hayn, Sue Wyeth, and Nick Ficaro

Never ones to let a design opportunity pass us by, last Friday’s pumpkin carving party was an excuse to get our families in on the creative process. While the engagement of the little ones was spotty, the Dads, architects all, made sure the jack-o’-lanterns met the spookiness spec. Our campus provided a resplendent backdrop for the artistic merriment, which was capped off by a campfire where the kids chased goblins and the adults, well, unwound.

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The Alewives Are Coming!

This afternoon we spotted some wild activity on our dam’s spillway. Little silver fish were leaping off with reckless abandon. Concerned for their welfare, we asked our friends at The Nature Conservancy what was going on. All is well, they tell us. They are juvenile alewives making their migration out to salt water. Our Mill Pond was stocked this summer with pre-spawned adults. Their offspring, our fearless jumpers, now consider the Falls River, a tributary of the Connecticut River, their “natal” stream. This means they’re hard-wired to find none other that’s quite so special. We hope they’ll return, perhaps one day to a fish ladder that makes the return trip less harrowing.

hayn201610-0654 Continue reading The Alewives Are Coming!

Mayne Makes the Most of Summer Stint

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It was a symmetrical match from the start.

Ben Mayne, a student in Cornell University’s top-ranked Architecture, Art and Planning program came to Centerbrook Architects & Planners as a summer intern looking to get some real world experience.

We made sure he did not leave disappointed.

Ben, who hails from Suffield but calls nearby Old Lyme his summer home, worked on renderings for two different museum designs and did some site massing for a potential mixed use project. He also contributed his knowledge of the parametric design tool Grasshopper to do some acoustic paneling for a soon-to-be publicized university project.

“Ben was able enhance the designs of multiple projects with his advanced knowledge of parametric modeling,” said Centerbrook Associate Principal Justin Hedde, who worked closely with Ben throughout his internship. Continue reading Mayne Makes the Most of Summer Stint