Notes from The Cube: “Can Self-Checkout Really Work?”

Ryan Hansen presents during Friday Dessert in The Cube.

At a recent Friday dessert conclave, Ryan Hansen described his year-long thesis research about how grocery store self-checkout kiosks have changed the way customers and staff interact with technology and with each other.

Ryan considered how cities spur civic engagement, and applied urban design principles to his analysis, with the goal of improving the customer experience. He surveyed new models for full automation like Amazon Go as well as Japan’s flourishing vending machine culture, necessitated by an aging population and dearth of low-cost labor.

Ryan’s research focused on Minnesota’s Lunds & Byerlys grocery store chain, which broadly implements self-checkout in its stores. He spent time in the St. Paul flagship studying how customers interacted with the kiosks; exploring demographic and design issues with an in-house architect, interior designer, and financial analyst; and interviewing cashiers and attendants to learn how self-checkout affected their daily tasks. He also visited Target and Walmart to see how their checkout areas were organized.

The foot traffic flow of a Lunds & Byerlys grocery store checkout area.

Ryan found that self-checkout has broad ergonomic, social, spatial, and organizational implications that all can be influenced by design. How intuitive is the self-checkout screen? What is the best pitch and volume of a warning buzzer? How can the checkout area be organized to enhance security and improve worker satisfaction? What visual cues can ease traffic flow? How can lighting and color induce calm?

Ryan’s hope is that careful planning and design can promote healthy human interactions, even when we’re picking up milk and eggs on the way home.

Ryan’s drawing comparing self and traditional checkout lines.

Committee on Design Reunion

A reunion of past Committee on Design chairs at the committee’s 2019 Spring Conference in San Francisco. Centerbrook was the only firm present with two past chairs: Mark Simon (first row, second from right) and Jim Childress (third row, third from left).

The national American Institute of Architects has a number of member interest groups, called ‘Knowledge Communities.’ These range from committees focusing on particular types of projects to practice and technical issues. They began 50 years ago with the establishment of a ‘Committee on Aesthetics,’ now the ‘Committee on Design,’ that was fostered by the late Jean-Paul Carlhian, a partner in Shepley Bullfinch, the Boston firm that evolved out of HH Richardson’s office. Jean-Paul felt that design was too often overlooked by the business oriented AIA as well as the American public, and that the institute needed an ‘ombudsman’ group that would promote good design within and without the AIA.

Over the past 50 years, the Committee on Design has thrived. It does important work for the AIA as a whole, selecting awards juries and finding candidates for special institute honors. When it began in 1969, it met at AIA headquarters to discuss issues and to organize the AIA’s design awards and then visit an American city to focus on a particular issue. By the time I joined in 1980, the Committee was visiting two cities as well as Washington, and the visits included extensive tours as well as discussions. This grew out of Jean-Paul’s (and others’) strong conviction that to be truly comprehended, architecture must be seen in place, not through photographs. And that led as well to the requirement that annual national awards finalist buildings be visited by a jury member.

All past Committee on Design chairs were asked to compile a slideshow representing their year for the 2019 reunion. Here are two from Mark Simon’s show.

Recently, Jim Childress and I joined past chairs of the committee in San Francisco to celebrate its 50th birthday at a Committee on Design conference on innovation. It was wonderful to reconnect with many old distinguished friends and see the latest and greatest work arising out of Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s tech culture.

Jim and I are very proud to come from one of only three firms in the country (Pei and Partners has had three) that provided more than one chairman in the Committee’s history. I was mildly horrified that my chairmanship tenure (1986) was the oldest represented at the reunion, but time passes quickly when you are having fun! Jim’s was 2015 and even that seems long ago now.

The program cover and introduction from the 2015 Committee on Design Spring Conference in Providence, R.I., led by Jim.

UConn Chem at 20

One of the sayings we have around here about our approach to design is; “endearing is enduring.” As we found during a recent event, the UConn Chemistry Building is Example 1.a. of that catchphrase.

In the two decades since the ribbon was cut, the building has endeared itself so much so that the Chemistry Department organized two days’ worth of events to celebrate its 20th anniversary. We were honored to take part in the festivities. Principal-in-Charge Mark Simon and Project Manager Jim Coan led the Blueprint Architect Tour of the building, and Mark took part in an exclusive Q&A session, going behind the scenes of how the project came to fruition.

As with any anniversary event, it was a trip down memory lane for those involved from the beginning. The first of two guided building tours started with a look at our model, which prompted Art Dimock (then-department head, now-lecturer emeritus) to recall a tidbit from the original planning meeting where the lone request from UConn Facilities Management was that the building have a pitched roof. Apparently one less building they had to worry about a flat [leaky] roof was a high priority.

The tours elicited a number of questions and comments. During one chem lab stop, a guest mentioned that there is a noticeable lack of any chemical odor. “It smells good in here.” Art attributed that to the building’s robust ventilation system.

Another guest, who is a new professor in the department and joined the tour to learn more about the building, was impressed that the labs have whiteboards on three walls – providing ample space for class participation.

One of the main talking points across both tours was the considerable extent of building systems and services necessary for a chem lab – fire protection piping, supply air ductwork, power, water, lab gases, telecommunications, etc. – and how they were laid out in layers that rundown the hallway and split off to each lab. There are no suspended ceilings in the lab areas and corridors. The original intent was, as needs and wants change over time – say changing a dry lab to a wet lab, or vice versa – that conversion work would be minimal. Building manager Tyler Cardinal confirmed the ease of access is indeed as originally intended.

Special access to the attic was granted for our tours. The sheer size of the equipment housed there is quite impressive, with the massive air handlers needed to properly vent a 200,000-square-foot chemistry building. As Mark noted, it’s also defacto bonus storage space not found in a flat roof building.

Overall, there have been very few changes in the 20 years since the Chemistry Building opened. A small library was converted to a tutoring room since journals are now accessible online. A computer lab was also adapted to a research lab since dedicated desktop workstations are no longer a necessity. There are more student locker spaces in the labs since enrollment is up in the last 20 years. Naturally, the size of equipment and instrumentation has decreased over the years, so the way some spaces are utilized has changed a bit as a result. The nuclear magnetic resonance equipment, for one, has changed dramatically. But as Mark commented upon entering one of the general chemistry labs, which can be extrapolated to the building on the whole, it pretty much is as it was in 1999.

And as it became clear from the event’s planning stages through execution, the building has indeed endured as it has endeared itself to so many. Chemistry department head Dr. Christian Bruckner, a great champion of the building, noted that only one chem faculty member has chosen to leave UConn for another institution since the building opened. He added that it is likewise a great recruiting tool for prospective faculty.

In fact, the Chemistry Building is so revered, it was commemorated on a cake during the event’s luncheon. Two cakes, to be exact!

Fun Fact #1:

The 14 large stacks perched on the roof ridges (see above) are prominent feature of the Chemistry Building’s exterior. Each is fed by multiple exhaust ducts – some more than others (see below) – but they are uniform in their size at seven feet wide by 19 feet high. Wind studies determined the height that would safely disperse the exhaust and reduce the potential for reentrainment at air intakes at this and adjacent buildings. And to add to the stack discussion – one of the 14 is actually for aesthetic purposes to keep the uniformity, and has no exhaust function. We’re not telling you which one, though!

Fun Fact #2:

The floor tile in the hallways of the two lab wings have a feature that would likely go undetected by a guest, but is essential knowledge to lab users. The darker tiles designate where the emergency services are located. So if one accidentally gets chemicals in their face, perhaps resulting in impaired vision, they can trek toward the distinguished dark tiles for the wash station. And to answer a follow-up question from the tour, there is no drain at the emergency wash station since the chemicals have to be safely contained.

Fun Fact #3:

The Chemistry Building has its own machine shop in the basement, where instruments can be manufactured or modified as needs arise for different experiments. There was also originally a glass blowing shop next door to the machine shop, but that service has since been outsourced.

To see more about the 20th anniversary events, UConn Chemistry set up a webpage on their site to commemorate the milestone. You can also check out this preview of the events from the UConn student newspaper.

The Fishway is on its Way

The fishway behind our studio will allow migratory fish to gradually ascend 18 feet to Mill Pond. (Centerbrook Architects)

An effort years in the making, it was officially announced that a fishway will be installed on our campus this summer. The following is a news release from The Nature Conservancy that details this exciting project:

Falls River to Benefit from Fishway Construction this Summer

CENTERBROOK, CT (March 12, 2019) – Migratory alewife and blueback herring will soon be able to reach additional high-quality habitat—including the 59-acre Mill Pond in Centerbrook—with The Nature Conservancy’s construction of two fishways on the Falls River this summer.

To be built at the Mill Pond and Dolan Pond dams, the fishways also will benefit migratory American eel and other resident fish and improving overall river health.

The building of a fishway around the 18-foot tall Mill Pond dam, which is slated to begin in late summer, is supported by a generous $250,000 grant from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation. The Nature Conservancy continues to raise money to round out support for the project.

The Dolan Pond dam fishway project—expected to kick off as early as July—is supported by the Audubon Connecticut In-Lieu Fee Program and Tom’s of Maine. Tom’s of Maine’s support for the Mill Pond dam project is part of a larger contribution of $1.8 million to TNC to help restore and revitalize waterways in need.

There are more than 4,000 dams in Connecticut. Most of these dams were built during the Colonial and Industrial periods and no longer serve the purposes for which they were built. They do, however, block fish migration and impact river health.

“Migratory fish like alewife and blueback herring need access to upstream freshwater habitat to reproduce and rebuild their own populations,” said Sally Harold, director of river restoration and fish passage for TNC in Connecticut. “These dams keep them from getting to that critical habitat.”

Without a robust population of fish like alewife, an entire host of creatures including turtles, otters, racoons, eagles and many marine fish lose a critical food source.

In cases where dams can’t be taken down, fishways—sometimes called fish ladders—provide an alternate approach to opening access to habitat.

Fishways are made up of a series of ascending pools or a roughened chute that allows fish to get over or around a dam. Migrating fish swim upstream through the flowing water that connects the pools, resting in the pools along the way.

At 18-feet tall, the Mill Pond dam—which is only a half-mile upstream from the Dolan Pond dam—is the larger of two projects.

For that project, The Nature Conservancy is working with Centerbrook Architects, the dam’s owner, to develop opportunities for the public to view alewife on their journey upstream through a viewing window that will be incorporated into the fishway wall

The Mill Pond and Dolan Pond fishways will be TNC’s second and third fishways on the Falls River. In 2014, TNC and partners built a fishway downriver at the Tiley-Pratt dam.

Peabody Project Progressing

A view of the Central Gallery from the new addition to historic Yale Peabody Museum. (credit: Centerbrook Architects)

Our extensive Yale Peabody Museum of Natural history renewal project has recently received approval from both the New Haven Board of Alders and the City Planning Commission. As part of the municipal approval process, a number of new renderings were made public for the first time.

Among these renderings are two images of the Central Gallery, the first interior views to be released. The Central Gallery is the centerpiece of the project’s new construction, a four-story infill addition between the Peabody Museum and neighboring Environmental Science Center.

Also included in this image update are six new exterior views featuring landscape designs by James Corner Field Operations, whose portfolio includes award-winning projects like the High Line in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Domino Park.

The multi-year project is currently targeted to commence construction in March 2020. More information can be found in this detailed update from the Yale Daily News.

2018 Review: Project Images

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History addition and renovation. (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

We worked on 70 different projects in one capacity or another in 2018. While some have garnered their fair share of attention, others 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 featuring some of our work from the past year. Also included are a few frames from recently completed projects that were photographed for the first time in 2018.

Book It

Book lists have long been a holiday shopping season staple. You’ve seen them. They can be found everywhere this time of year. This may not even be the first book list you’ve read today.

That’s right. We’ve got our own list of books to seek out this year. We’re sure your favorite architecture magazine or website has a collection that makes recommendations from across the entire industry, but this list was established with an admitted self-interest. Our compilation pulls together recent books that have featured Centerbrook projects, as well as a pair that we’ve authored.

So whether you choose to visit your favorite local book retailer, or open up the world’s most popular marketplace app on your mobile device, the following is what to look for:

Cocktails and Conversations: Dialogues on Architectural Design
Abby Suckle & William Singer
Centerbrook Principal Mark Simon participated in an entertaining installment of the unique “Cocktails and Conversations” lecture series along with John Ruble of Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners. Published in November, this book highlights more than six years of lectures by a who’s who of eminent designers, including Simon’s and Ruble’s talk on the late, great Charles Moore, founder of both Centerbrook and MYR. Eight different Centerbrook projects are pictured in the book, as is a recipe for the cocktail crafted especially for the event, the “Mooretini.”

Connecticut Architecture: Stories of 100 Places
Christopher Wigren
Also published just in time for the holiday season, this compilation highlights the most historic and distinctive places in the Constitution State. Yale University’s ultra-sustainable Kroon Hall, home to the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is featured in the book’s first section titled “Shaping the Landscape.” Centerbrook teamed with Hopkins Architects on the project, which was completed in 2009.

Ocean House: A Sense of Place, The History of Ocean House
Lauren DiStefano & Deborah Stewart
This brand new book takes an extensive and fascinating look at the history of the esteemed Rhode Island resort. The present day Ocean House is widely recognized as one of the world’s finest properties, and is arguably Centerbrook’s most publicized project. The book dedicates 20 pages of prose and pictures to its foreword, written by Centerbrook Principal Jefferson B. Riley, architect of the Ocean House.

The Architectural Story of Quinnipiac University: Four Decades, Three Campuses, Two Presidents, One Architect
Jefferson B. Riley
Written by Riley, this comprehensive compilation chronicles the unprecedented story of one architect designing for a college for more than 40 years. Riley’s detailed descriptions and imagery go behind the scenes of campus planning and design like never before. The book, which went on sale this past May, also includes Riley’s updated campus master plan and vision for potential future developments at Quinnipiac. As a bonus, fellow Centerbrook Principal Chad Floyd analyzes the evolution of college campuses in the afterword.

Centerbrook 4
Jefferson B. Riley, Mark Simon, Chad Floyd, Jim Childress
We will reach back to 2017 for this one to provide a reminder that our latest book representing Centerbrook’s collective portfolio is still relatively new and easily found in the market. Rich with imagery and insight, this book was composed by each of our four principals at the time – Riley, Simon, Floyd and Jim Childress – and highlights their most notable work from the 21st century.

The American House: 100 Contemporary Homes
Hannah Jenkins
Also from 2017, this title includes Riley’s own new residence that he designed along with his wife, Mary Wilson. The book dedicates four pages to the Riley-Wilson house, known as the eMBarkerdero, which is perched majestically along the Connecticut River.

A Setting for Excellence, Part II: The Story of the Planning and Development of the Ann Arbor Campus of the University of Michigan
Frederick W. Mayer
This book from 2017 is a second installment that goes behind the scenes of the planning and development at one of the nation’s premier public institutions of higher learning. Centerbrook’s School of Public Health complex is profiled as part of the book’s chapter on the evolution of the Medical Center.

Let There Be Light (Mock-Ups)

Dan Batt (left) and lighting designer Mark Loeffler (right) evaluate the height of the light placement.

There are unknowns in translating design into reality. Luckily, in some instances, we can test concepts right here at Centerbrook.

Our project for The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut, features an outdoor courtyard encircled by a trellised walkway. The design calls for three dozen or so light fixtures mounted between the steel columns that form the trellis to illuminate the walkway underfoot and the vegetated canopy overhead.

With this one seemingly simple concept comes a number of questions, though. How will the fixture mount? What height would be comfortable for passersby? How far and at what angles will the light diffuse? Is it bright enough? And so on.

A temporary lighting mount for further observations.

To answer these questions and more, project manager Dan Batt enlisted our facilities manager (and former general contractor) Ron Campbell to construct a full-size column mock-up. He then invited lighting designer Mark Loeffler and light fixture supplier David Mainville from Illuminate here to test the setup. The fixture came from Pathway Lighting Products in nearby Old Saybrook.

The mock-up proved to be more than beneficial. A comfortable height was established. Preferences were discussed for mounting. And perhaps best of all, the specified fixture performed as intended.

Mark Loeffler charts the diffusion of the light’s intensity.

Nationally Ranked

A bird’s-eye view inside The Pavilion at Grace (Jeff Goldberg/ESTO)

As a generalist firm that has designed everything from a five-star resort to a kitchen table, we believe the diversity of our portfolio is a distinguishing characteristic. So it was great to see our range of expertise exhibited in a recent rankings index.

Building Design+Construction magazine produces its annual Giants 300 report that ranks architecture, engineering and construction firms by revenue. More than 480 firms participated in this year’s report, which includes rankings for 20 different market sectors.

We threw our hat in the ring for the first time this year and ended up listed in 12 different categories. Check out this photo gallery with representative projects from each of the eight categories in which we ranked in the top 100.

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)