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.

Selecting the Right Synthetic Turf

Installation of FieldTurf at the QU soccer/lacrosse facility.

Few topics have recently trended higher in the athletic facility management world than synthetic turf, as both player safety and durability have been called into question. With two different playing fields featured in one of our active projects, we explored the latest and greatest options. Here’s what we found:

Background

Construction is finishing up at Quinnipiac University for a new athletic complex we designed that features a field hockey facility and a dual-purpose soccer and lacrosse stadium. Both venues have begun hosting competitions.

AstroTurf was first used in the Houston Astrodome in 1966.

The first generation of synthetic turf was little more than a carpet (think of a Scotch-Brite pad) laid over a stone base. Then turf made up of longer tufts, spaced further apart, and with sand spread between them was introduced. Today’s state-of-the-art synthetic turf field is a sophisticated system made-up of the synthetic turf itself, which consists of fibers (grass blades) and a backing layer, an infill material which is spread between the fibers, and a shock-pad below the turf. This third generation of turf has the capacity for cleats to release which prevents soft-tissue injuries to knees and ankles, absorbs impact which helps prevent head injuries, and is a more playable surface.

Field Hockey Surface Selection

What to Consider

Choosing a playing surface for a field hockey pitch can be pretty straightforward. Ideally these fields are only used for field hockey. For this sport, the gold standard is knitted nylon turf, and only one major manufacturer makes it. Other manufacturers produce polyethylene tufted turfs at a significantly lower cost. Nylon is more durable than polyethylene. As a construction method, knitting is both more durable and provides a more uniform playing surface than tufting.

The Decision

Given the superiority in material and construction, Quinnipiac quickly chose AstroTurf A12, a knitted nylon carpet.

One of the first QU Field Hockey practice sessions on the new AstroTurf.

Soccer/Lacrosse Surface Selection

Selecting a playing surface for soccer and lacrosse was a far more complex decision. As you might expect, natural grass turf is the holy grail of athletic surfaces. However, natural turf is expensive to maintain, especially with multiple teams using it for daily practices and games. With this new stadium the home to both the men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse programs, we looked at synthetic surfaces from the outset.

Given its durability, synthetic turfs make good economic sense, and the turf industry is working hard to match the playability of real grass. Also driving the evolution of turf systems are player safety and environmental concerns. This segment of the synthetic turf industry is currently in a period of rapid change and advancement.

What to Consider – Type of Fiber

A primary decision for the turf system is the type of fiber. Fibers come in two forms: extruded monofilament fiber, which is like a strand of string; or slit-film, which is manufactured in sheets and cut into strips. Slit-film looks more like natural grass, and it holds the infill material in place better. Monofilament turf provides much better interaction between the field, athlete and ball.

The Decision

The key consideration for Quinnipiac was the playability of the soccer ball, so a monofilament turf was chosen.

An aerial view of the soccer/lacrosse playing surface shortly after installation. (courtesy FIP Construction)

What to Consider – Type of Infill

Infill materials are varied, and have become a flash-point for controversy. Infill is typically a material that has been ground up into small particles and is spread between the fibers of the turf. It helps the individual fibers to stand up and provides shock attenuation. It can be made from crumb rubber (ground-up tires), EPDM or TPE roofing, or from organic materials like cork and coconut.

Much has been made of an alleged increased health risk associated with crumb rubber use in playing fields and playgrounds, but research has yet to support that assertion. We continue to keep an eye on the progress of the EPA’s action plan as new information is made available.

The Decision

Quinnipiac makes every effort to be environmentally conscious, thus the decision to use organic infill was made very early in the process. To aid the school in deciding the type of organic infill, we had two 60’ x 15’ patches of turf mocked-up, and university staff and athletes were invited to test the surfaces.

What to Consider – Type of Shock Pad

Shock pads made up of polypropylene, or rubber, can make a field play better, safer, and last longer.  Before shock pads came into use, infill material alone was used to provide shock absorption, or attenuation. In order to be truly safe, a lot of infill material had to be used. This had a large effect on player performance. Think of running in sand; the softer the sand the slower you run, and the sooner you get tired. A shock pad provides additional impact attenuation, which allows the infill material to be better tuned for optimal performance.

In addition, a shock pad will protect the backing of the fiber, adding to the life of the turf. A shock pad can add significantly to the cost of the turf system versus a turf system with no pad. However, the safety of young athletes is a critical concern that – in Quinnipiac’s case – eclipsed cost.

QU women’s soccer preseason practice on the FieldTurf.

Decision Summary

For its new soccer/lacrosse stadium, Quinnipiac chose a FieldTurf Revolution 360 field – the same as Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots and New England Revolution – along with their proprietary organic infill product and a Brock Powerbase YSR 25mm shock pad.

How We Can Help

Keeping up with the latest developments, in any field we work in, is part of the job description of an architect. Whether it’s state-of-the-art advancements in educational pedagogy, laboratory design, or playing fields; it’s how we help our clients make critical decisions about complex issues.

Notes from The Cube: VR is an R

Senior Associate David O’Connor takes a turn in the VR model.

Virtual Reality has become a reality at Centerbrook Architects & Planners.

Today, during our “Friday Dessert” presentation in The Cube, staff demoed our newest tool of the trade.

We’ve been keeping tabs on VR and its applications to the architecture industry for a while now; considering all of the hardware and software options, and just how it could be integrated into our practice.

With digital design coordinator Mike Hart and architectural intern Ben Mayne on the case, we decided the time was right to take the leap. Mike and Ben procured an Oculus Rift headset and controllers, which is fed by graphics from software programs Revit and Unreal Engine 4.

Mike and Ben liked that the Oculus Rift is light, so the virtual experience isn’t hampered by headset weight. Ben recommended pairing our modeling program Revit with Unreal 4 based on his experience using it as a student in Cornell University’s School of Architecture & Planning program.

A staple in video gaming and movie animation, Unreal is finding its way into our industry due to its efficient, photorealistic renderings and lifelike animations. Other users of Unreal Engine include Adidas, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Mountain Dew and even NASA, who implemented it to prepare astronauts for missions to the International Space Station.

So with this setup we’re ready to involve our clients in the design process in a whole new way.

Associate Principal Justin Hedde recalled that while our recently-completed residence in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was carefully detailed and rendered, our client only grasped what they were getting when they stood on-site and saw it with their own eyes. He believes VR can facilitate greater client involvement in the design process.

“We are in a world where we’re designing duplicate environments – the virtual environment before the real environment,” said Hedde, who helped steer our VR effort. “The more we understand and experience in the virtual, the smoother things are going to be during construction.”

As to Friday’s test run in The Cube with one of our latest residence designs as the subject, the reaction was nearly universal from architects and staff alike: “This is so cool.”

A “wicked cool” may have also been uttered. That was me.

Science and Architecture: Back to the Future!

This anaglyph-style rendering of Demerec Laboratory was created for Harbor Transcript’s 3D summer issue. If you can find 3D glasses, give it a shot!

As advancements in 3D visualization push the boundaries of virtual and augmented realities, you can imagine our surprise when longtime client Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory asked if we could create a “retro” rendering for use with 3D glasses to feature in the Summer 2017 issue of the Harbor Transcript. This rendering style looks to the past as CSHL and our design team rediscover a 1950s building that has been occupied by some of the laboratory’s most notable scientists—including Nobel laureates Alfred Hershey, Barabara McClintock, Richard Roberts, and Carol Greider—and transform it into a modern research facility.

Anaglyph images, the kind intended for viewing with 3D glasses, were first used in the late 1800s and came to prominence in U.S. cinema in the 1920s. Mainstream use in newspapers, magazines, and comic books flourished into the 1950s and ‘60s, engraining the iconic red-and-blue-lensed glasses into the cultural zeitgeist. At that same time, future Nobel laureates McClintock and Hershey were conducting their research within the newly constructed Demerec Laboratory building. Completed in 1953 during the Brutalist architecture movement, the building is brought to life in the anaglyph image which highlights the strong repetitive vertical window patterning that defined a new era of architecture in the 1950s-70s.

Aaron Trahan (far right) presents the Demerec anaglyph rendering to the office during a “Friday Dessert” session.

The biannual Harbor Transcript publication highlights current research and news across campus about scientists at the forefront of their fields. In the most recent issue, CSHL saw an opportunity to create a more dynamic and immersive experience accessible to all recipients. The unique “3D Science” issue features anaglyph imagery from current cancer research as well as a rendering of the proposed renovations and addition to the Demerec Laboratory building that our firm is involved in. Construction is slated to begin this summer on a renovation and expansion to house the new Center for Therapeutics Research, a new $75 million initiative that aims to apply the Laboratory’s biomedical expertise toward advancing therapeutics for genetic diseases.

In our office, research and testing is ongoing to study how advancements in virtual and augmented reality can benefit our design process. These burgeoning technologies allow an immersive experience for clients to gain an understanding of the volume and form of a building design that cannot be achieved with traditional renderings and animations. With all of their promise, these technologies currently fall short in their feasibility for mass distribution due to the necessity of headsets, apps, or tethering to computers.

In contrast, anaglyph images pair perfectly with print media because the iconic red and blue glasses can be easily inserted into a publication. This realization of the simplicity of what is now a “retro” technology is a perfect metaphor for the Demerec Laboratory renovations that seek to bring back the simplicity and beauty of a building from the same era. Creation of this image was a reminder that with ever-evolving technology, the best means to convey a project to a large audience isn’t always the most advanced.

This story also appears at CSHL’s newsblog LabDish. Our Demerec design team includes: Todd Andrews, Reno Migani, Aaron Trahan, Ken Cleveland, Frank Giordano, Scott Allen, Justin Hedde and Hugo Fenaux.

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.