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.