Historical Context

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

Our current job designing the expansion and renovation of the historic Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is fascinating in a number of ways. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you to read more about that on our project page, but in this blog post I wanted to share a neat historical tidbit that ties the Peabody with another prominent past client.

Like any of our renovation projects, I try to poke around the internet and find out all I can about a building’s history. And one of the pieces I always look for is who was the original architect. With the Peabody Museum, I was fairly quickly able to discover that it was designed by Charles Klauder. That was confirmed by an image of the original plans our architectural staff had attained.

Peabody Museum plans, dated March 21, 1923 (Yale University)

My inquiring mind then wanted to know more about Klauder. I quickly learned that he was one of the most notable campus architects of the 20th century, and he started in the profession at age 15! His list of design credits include institutions like Brown, Cornell and Princeton.

With a passion for sports history, I immediately recognized the name of perhaps his most famous campus building: the Cathedral of Learning at Pittsburgh. It was from atop the Cathedral that this famous and stunning image was taken of the 1960 World Series at Forbes Field below.

For the non-baseball historian, the Cathedral of Learning is notable as it is the tallest education building in the U.S. at 42 stories. It’s an icon not only of the University of Pittsburgh, but of the city itself.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh (Don Burkett/Wikimedia Commons)

After learning Klauder designed the Cathedral at Pitt, next I noticed he did Franklin Field at Penn. Wow. The Palestra, too. Double wow. Now you’re talking my language. Each of those venues oozes with sports history.

Franklin Field is home to the famed Penn Relays, Quakers football, and once upon a time the Philadelphia Eagles. Franklin is where the Eagles’ last NFL championship prior to this past season was clinched, and where the infamous Santa Claus incident took place.

The Palestra is a revered basketball cathedral. It has held more college hoops games than any court in the nation, for Penn, the Big Five and many others. It was at the leading edge of arena design at the time as it was one of the first without interior support pillars that obstructed sightlines.

The Palestra, University of Pennsylvania (Peetlesnumber1/Wikimedia Commons)

All that said, now back to my original point of tying the Peabody Museum to our previous work.

Klauder is also highly regarded for his master plan for the University of Colorado at Boulder. This was significant in that it established a distinct building style, later referred to as Tuscan Vernacular Revival, that CU is known for to this day. Klauder further set the precedent by subsequently designing 15 buildings on campus in the style.

In the 2000s, we added two new buildings to the CU landscape. Prior to that, recent building had strayed from the Tuscan Vernacular. But with the Wolf School of Law Building and the Center for Community, our designers built on the style Klauder established.

Center for Community and Wolf Law School, University of Colorado (Jeff Goldberg/ESTO)

Fast forward to 2018, and here we are once again, with an an opportunity to add to another Klauder design, this time at Yale. While the interior renovations will provide the first substantial modernization in the building’s history, the addition and new tower is a modern ode to the existing iconic design that has stood the test of time.

Much like the effort we started a decade ago in Colorado.

Addition, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

Linda Sets Sail

Linda’s counltess contributions to Centerbrook were recently recognized with an office cookout in her honor (Linda, seated in red).

After more than 30 years here at Centerbrook – 11,117 days to be exact – our own Linda Couture has decided to pursue a well-earned retirement. Serving as the assistant to the firm’s principals, she’s been intimately involved in the operations of Centerbrook, as well as the friendly face that greets visitors at the front desk.

While the personal stories of day-to-day life are too numerous to recount, Linda offered to share a few memories of just how much things have changed around the firm during her three decades. If you’re a Centerbrook alum, consultant, client or visitor to our campus, this may be a trip down memory lane for you as well.

Here now, in her own words, is Linda’s recount of working at Centerbrook. Thanks so much, Linda, and enjoy retirement!

In March 1988, I joined the staff of Centerbrook Architects as a secretary. In the 30 years since then, just as with society at large, there have been many changes in the firm, in the building in which it is housed, and in the ways in which work happens.

 

What is now the reception area, the front office, and the accounting department was then Charlie Thill’s Antique shop. What is now the Fish Bowl Conference Room and the Machine Room was a greeting card shop. For the first couple of years after the card shop moved out, the Fish Bowl was known as the Card Shop Conference Room. Centerbrook’s reception desk was upstairs in the area outside what is now the IT Office. The IT office was split down the middle, and one end was the accounting department (one person), and the other end was occupied by two. There was enough paperwork to justify hiring a third secretary, so I sat at a Mac word processing unit out on the main drafting room floor.

 

Each afternoon, the secretaries dropped what they were doing to help our receptionist wrap rolls and rolls of drawings to be sent out via courier. Our copiers were unsophisticated, so most of our printing was outsourced to a company in Old Saybrook. Occasionally, they would get an order wrong, and we would have “parties” in a conference room as staff members held piles of page 1 or page 2, etc., and followed each other around the table creating collated sets.

 

Telephone messages were recorded in spiral bound books where a copy of the message was kept while the original was placed on “the spindle.” This was a large nail driven into an approximately 4” x 4” block of wood. Staff members who had been out of the office were expected to stop at the front desk and retrieve their phone messages from the spindle upon their return. No high tech message delivery/retrieval system for Centerbrook. The good part was that it gave the receptionist a chance to touch base with fellow staff.

 

There was only one computer in the firm (known as the Pen Dragon) dedicated to CAD, and only one associate trained in its use. The other architects had drafting boards at their stations, and the bulk of our construction drawings were done by hand. When I was promoted to Office Manager and put in charge of purchasing, I ordered pencil leads of various sizes by the gross each week and lead holders by the dozens. Each new employee was issued a lead pointer, an electric eraser, and drafting brushes to clear the eraser debris off their work. I ordered mylar and vellum in cut sheets in various sizes and in rolls. I wonder sometimes what happened to the companies that manufactured and sold that merchandise, because I haven’t ordered any of those things in ages and doubt that other architectural firms order them either.

 

As the firm grew in size, we took over more of the tenant spaces, and the architectural staff became more computerized. Our copiers and telephone system were more technically advanced. The drawings we stored in what is now the Vault conference room were moved to off-site storage. Similarly, the front office correspondence files were regularly boxed up and archived. As part of my preparations to leave Centerbrook this month, I recently boxed up the last of the project files to be archived. We will no longer maintain paper copies of project correspondence. The cloud has taken the place of the file cabinet.

 

All of these changes have taken place as the world at large has become more computerized. Fewer drawings were sent out via courier each day and fewer letters were sent via U.S. Mail. Secretaries were shifted to other departments (Leslie Henebry to Marketing, Sue Savitt to Shop Drawing Administration), and the front office shrank in both size and in duties.

 

One thing that hasn’t changed is that I continue to work with a group of talented and energetic people. I’ve seen courtships, wedding plans being made, families being started. I’ve attended holiday and summer parties, Friday night happy hours, and Secret Santa luncheons. We even had a “baby” shower for one staff member who was getting a puppy. I’ve gotten to meet and cuddle new additions to lots of young families and watched as they have grown up, headed off to school, and started careers and families of their own. I’ve seen the sadness of loss even as I experienced my own losses and have been party to the joys that brought joy to my Centerbrook family. I’ve watched as project teams received awards for their efforts. I rejoiced when Centerbrook won the Firm of the Year Award. Our trip to the AIA National Convention in San Francisco was exhilarating – an opportunity to relish.

 

I was recently asked by a potential candidate to be my replacement what made me want to work at Centerbrook for 30 years. The question was unexpected – my answer truthful but inadequate. There are almost as many reasons for wanting to work at Centerbrook all these years as there have been days I came to work. Ultimately though, the reality is that the years have flown by. One day I was celebrating my fifth anniversary and the next my 30th. Now it’s time to investigate new avenues and opportunities and I thank everyone at CBK for the memories and life lessons I will take with me.

The Steward of the Sluice

Our resident craftsman, Ron Campbell, recently installed two new sluice gates and restored the lifting and lowering mechanisms on our hydro-turbine’s head race. Let’s break that down.

About 10 percent of our power at Centerbrook is generated by a low-head hydropower turbine. Installed in 1982, the turbine in the basement of our mill building uses the infrastructure that once harnessed waterpower to run machinery that manufactured drill bits. A “head race” diverts water from our pond to the turbine, through which it flows before exiting the “tail race” into the Falls River below. The diverted water collects in a concrete tank with a hydraulically-actuated control switch.

We clean the tank and a screen that catches debris (and the occasional northern water snake) before it enters the turbine. That’s where the upstream gates come in–they shut the inlets, stopping the water flow so we can drain the tank and do the maintenance. Problem was, the long-submerged gates leaked.

Enter Ron.

He planned to remove the gates by hand and rigged up a brace to hold them in place as they came out. Concerns about safety led him to instead enlist arborist Town Burns, who brought in a crane mounted on a flat-bed truck. Lashed to a harness, the gates came out in short order.

Using the old gates as templates, Ron fabricated new ones out of sturdy white oak, fastened together with stainless steel hardware. He restored the rack-and-pinion lifting and lowering mechanisms, which involved welding a broken toggle and fabricating new pinion gears. Asterisk, Inc. helped with this, cutting steel with a water jet. Ron sandblasted all the parts and finished them with a two-part epoxy-based blue/gray paint.

Installation was the reverse of removal.

Photos by Derek Hayn and Patrick McCauley

Photos: Temple-Tifereth Israel

Last summer we had esteemed architectural photographer Peter Aaron shoot our expansion and renovation project at Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, Ohio.  A good many of those frames have yet to be seen. Until now:

A host of Centerbrook staff worked on this extensive project through its life cycle, including: Mark Simon, Katie Roden Symonds, Ken MacLeod, Russell Learned, Patrick McKenna, Scott Allen, Frank Giordano, Alan Paradis, David O’Connor, Sheryl Milardo and Seaneen Thorpe.

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has officially sprung at Centerbrook. Our mill compound here is capped with a rooftop garden where we gather for cookouts and camraderie when weather permits. We’re treated to expansive views of the Falls River and our dam and spillway, and shaded by a cedar trellis topped with wisteria. Its fragrant blossoms called our architect-gardeners to action, who at lunch today filled teak planters with flowers and herbs procured by Matt Montana from nearby Acer Gardens. Each contains the same varieties, blended together in a pleasing composition that complements our green roof of sedum. Up next, a moss garden at the base of the wisteria’s twined stem, which will be watered with air handler condensate. Waste not, want not.

Kudos and thanks to architect-gardeners Matt Montana, Jim Childress, Ted Tolis, Anna Shakun, Mark Herter, David O’Connor, and Pete Cornell. Photos by Derek Hayn

Big Apple Book Event

Centerbrook 4 Author Event at Rizzoli Bookstore in New York City. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook Architects)

The Centerbrook 4 book tour continued in New York City on April 2 when iconic Rizzoli Bookstore welcomed our principals and co-authors for a wonderful evening at its location on Broadway near the Flatiron Building.

A crowd of over 60 gathered as Jeff Riley, Mark Simon and Jim Childress talked about themes that permeate the projects featured in the pages of Centerbrook 4. The fourth principal and author, Chad Floyd, was unable to attend, but his inspirations were also represented.

Here are some images from the event taken by our own Derek Hayn, who in addition to being a talented photographer, was also the graphic designer of Centerbrook 4.

Centerbrook 4 Goes on the Road

L to R: Chad Floyd, Jeff Riley, Jim Childress and Mark Simon participated in an author event at the Madison R.J. Julia bookstore. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

We were recently fortunate enough to participate in a wonderful local tradition: an author event at R.J. Julia Booksellers.

The independent R.J. Julia is a Southeastern Connecticut treasure, proudly bucking the big-box, online trend. Its flagship location in downtown Madison has a long-standing series that hosts celebrity and local authors alike. We took our turn on Feb. 27.

Principals Jeff Riley, Mark Simon, Chad Floyd and Jim Childress spoke in front of a capacity crowd about the themes that permeated their respective chapters in their new book, Centerbrook 4. Jeff touched on his seven layers of allure, Mark described how buildings speak, Chad exhibited metaphor in architecture and Jim talked about sense of place.

Jim Childress talks about his approach to Centerbrook 4. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

A wide-ranging discussion followed, which prompted the most light-hearted moment of the evening. Asked to advise a budding architect, the four recalled in unison – arm-in-arm – the famed quote attributed to Henry Hobson Richardson about the most important aspect of an architectural practice: “Get the first job, then get the next job.”

The four principals channel H.H. Richardson. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

The evening concluded with a book signing where attendees talked with the authors, often trading anecdotes and stories from past projects, events, and common acquaintances.

The wonderful, intimate Madison R.J. Julia location. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

Centerbrook 4 is available for purchase on R.J. Julia’s online store.

2017 Review: Project Images

It was another rewarding year here at Centerbrook, where we worked on 95 different projects in one capacity or another. While some have garnered their fair share of attention, many have yet to be fully revealed, either as concept designs or as built projects.

Without giving away too much at the current time, here is a cross-section of images from some of our work in 2017. Also included are a few new frames from past projects that we visited in the past year.

Cracking the Cover on Centerbrook 4

Taken from the pages of the new book, Centerbrook 4,  principal Chad Floyd provides a descriptive synopsis of what readers will learn from our fourth volume.

Centerbrook 4 Introduction, by Chad Floyd

This is more than a monograph of an architecture firm’s projects. In these pages we partners of Centerbrook (Jeff Riley, Mark Simon, Chad Floyd, and Jim Childress) show our work of the last 15 years, but in a departure from the monograph norm, we reveal the formative ideas behind it.

Our first three books presented us more or less as a collective, but here we present material by partner, each of us devoting 96 pages to photographs and drawings of projects accompanied by candid explanations of our inspirations, references, and design goals. The reader can judge how well we realized them.

We believe it’s fitting that this, our 4th book, which comes at the conclusion of our 4th decade, should bring our 4 ways of working into the light. The organizational format we followed these many decades has allowed the luxury of four unique approaches to cohabit within a single office. That’s a little different from what’s found at most places, where specialized partner roles such as manager, marketer, or designer, are the order of the day, and office output reflects a more singular point of view. At Centerbrook each of us finds and performs his own projects. We use communal office resources and are blessed with a spectacularly talented staff, but other than that, we’re pretty much on our own, and our work reflects it.

The Upper Drafting Room of our studio in Centerbrook.

We do share a lot, however. We support each other, heart and soul; we influence each other; we watch over each other; and we’re generally of like minds. We respect rather than eschew tradition and are not afraid to make buildings that resemble something that came before. We are devoted to sustainability, including the enhancement of disappearing land and cityscapes that people hold dear. On campuses and in cities we try to stitch together torn and frayed seams, bringing focus, harmony, and completeness to places where architectural entropy had been setting in. We think buildings and the spaces between them should invite people to sit comfortably in shady spots, provide intriguing vistas, create special landmarks, convey special meaning, inspire small ceremonies, nurture big festivals, kindle memories, and delight the eye.

In our approaches there are differences to these ends and thus differences, too, in our buildings—some of them subtle, some less so, many revealed in these pages. We have long sensed a gentle and positive competition between us, but that competitive spirit is tempered by the mutual friendship, admiration, encouragement, and wisdom that comes from many years working together.

Our format has remained unchanged from our earliest days in 1975, when the oldest three of the current four partners—that’s Jeff, Mark, and Chad—along with emeritus partner Bill Grover and partners Bob Harper and Glenn Arbonies, both deceased—inherited our 19th-century factory in Centerbrook, Connecticut, from Charles Moore, our mentor. Charles had been Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, so as Yalies we three of the current four partners went pretty far back with him.

Bill, too, attended Yale Architecture. He operated ably as the closest thing we had to a managing partner, guiding us with Yankee acumen. Bob and Glenn had pedigrees from other fine schools and contributed strong fluency in construction technologies. A RISD graduate, Jim Childress was never a student of Charles’s, but he had numerous opportunities to work with him in the 1980s, so the four of us now remaining and featured in these pages were influenced at a youthful age by the verve and free-thinking of Charles Moore’s remarkable design talent.

In 1975 Charles headed off to Southern California, lured by UCLA which offered among other blandishments first class seating on airplanes. That left the original three of us, and later the four, to carry on, which we have been happily doing since, immensely grateful to Charles for making our firm’s launch easy. Charles died nearly 25 years ago, but his memory remains strong with us.

Eventually we came to call our office Centerbrook, thinking highway signs to the Village of Centerbrook where our building is located might give us some free publicity. Knowing more than that would be needed for success, we vowed then and there to evolve our operation into a top-notch professional outfit that would let us four shine independently while operating at the highest level of quality.

A staff cookout (a.k.a. “burn”) on the roof of our office overlooking Mill Pond.

The uniqueness among architecture firms of our “independence” format is brought into sharper focus when you consider the dynamics of other creative groups—for instance, bands. How many rock-and-roll quartets have four musicians who write, play, and sing equally? Not many. Bands assign different roles to members according to their strengths. Not to compare us to the Beatles, but in that legendary band John and Paul did most of the writing and lead singing, but it was George who did the guitar heavy-lifting. In the Eagles it was Glen Frey and Don Henley who did much of the writing and lead singing, but it was Joe Walsh who did those amazing guitar riffs. Unlike rock bands, our goal has been to allow each of us four to operate across the full architectural spectrum exactly as we would be doing were we sole proprietors. Also, we’ve managed to stay together for four decades. How many bands besides the Rolling Stones can say that?

Our format has yielded a firm whose work is prolific, whose clients enjoy the ministrations of partner-designers, and where the staff’s artistic, managerial, technical, and support expertise is boundless. You might ask how critical the specific mix of the four of us partners is to our success? As with rock bands, each partner contributes a special something, so if you took one or two of us away from the place it would change, but only gradually, because Centerbrook’s staff and future leaders are strong. Many have been with us for nearly 30 years. They provide stability and a storehouse of experience that yields many dividends in mastering the diverse ways we design buildings.

In fact, design diversity is a Centerbrook trademark. That’s also a difference from most other firms, which inhabit narrow bandwidths of curvy planes, or glass and timber, or spikey towers—all striking to look at but limited in scope of materials and details. By contrast, our buildings are so aimed at each of their situations that they end up looking very different from one another. This means our staff must maintain a commanding knowledge of many materials and styles—a tall order.

This search for the particular , though, is Centerbrook’s greatest strength. It makes our work emblematic, but emblematic of our clients, not of us. To get there, we exercise a kind of ego-loss in which we unclog our personal design receptors of our own baggage in order to make out signals coming to us from our clients.

There’s another theme that runs through Centerbrook’s work: craft. We are fortunate to have a well-equipped shop where we make things by hand. It’s manned by industrial designer Patrick McCauley, assisted by the very able Ron Campbell, a former professional contractor. In addition to such things as architecture models, furniture, mock-ups, and specialty objects, our two maker gurus run a unique Centerbrook tradition called a “Chairshop.” Groups of employees take craft classes over several months and then work out the design and construction of their very own chairs, which then are juried by the partners. Our Chairshop is described in detail at the end of the book. Staff craftsman Bill Rutan, now retired, was a key ingredient in getting it up and running.

Patrick McCauley models an asteroid for the wall mural in our Southern Connecticut State University project.

Even bathrooms at Centerbrook do not escape our penchant for the particular. Each partner took on the task of designing a bathroom for the use of staff and guests, and it turned out the four rooms and their arrangements could not be more different from one another.

So, in these pages the partners of Centerbrook open up in different ways—Jeff Riley about his affirmation of humanism, Mark Simon about his art background, Chad Floyd about his use of metaphor, and Jim Childress about his thought process. You can be sure the ideas contained here have been spread pretty thoroughly around our office, so consider this book a window into our place’s inner workings.

Centerbrook 4 is available for purchase at Amazon and Images Publishing.