All posts by Chad Floyd

About Chad Floyd

Chad Floyd, FAIA, graduated from Yale University in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts and served as a Marine officer in Vietnam before earning his Master of Architecture degree from Yale University in 1973. He continued his education when he was awarded a Winchester Traveling Fellowship to visit India and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to study “America’s celebratory spaces.” He is one of four partners at Centerbrook Architects and Planners in Centerbrook, Connecticut

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.

40 Years Building a Connecticut Cultural Treasure

Florence Griswold Museum

I was delighted to read this article about Jeffrey Andersen, our longtime client and Director of the Florence Griswold Museum. The museum is celebrating his 40th year on the job with a new exhibition, “Ten/Forty: Collecting American Art at the Florence Griswold Museum,” on view through the end of May.

In an era where museum directors hopscotch with abandon, Jeff’s enduring leadership has been instrumental in transforming an antique house into a nationally-recognized home for American Impressionism. We’ve been honored to work with Jeff and his committed Board of Trustees to make a place where scholars and families alike come to experience art, history, music, and community in an exquisite natural setting. He’s managed to do all this while keeping up with the times and preserving Miss Florence’s legacy. That’s no easy feat in the museum world.

The Day: The art of leadership: Jeffrey Andersen marks 40 years as the Florence Griswold Museum’s director

Making a Place for the Arts and Artists

Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

We’ve enjoyed renovating and expanding the fabled Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, where the likes of Meryl Streep, August Wilson, and Michael Douglas got their start. Founded in 1964, the Tony Award-winning Center is the “Launchpad of American Theater,” developing and nurturing aspiring artists and new works for the stage. It is home to six distinct programs, among them the annual O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Music Theater Conference, and Puppetry Conference.

The existing campus was a collection of Victorian, Federal, and rustic farm buildings set amidst stone walls and expansive pastures leading down to Long Island Sound.

1369-Site South

Our charge was to develop a master plan for additions and improvements such as housing for 65 students, a rehearsal facility, a new 400-seat theater, a dining hall, a production studio, improved parking, reorganization of visitor access, and renovations to several existing buildings. Our challenge was to do all this while preserving and even enhancing the O’Neill’s special character.

South Seaville Methodist Camp, Cape May County, NJ
South Seaville Methodist Camp, Cape May County, NJ

We feared that a 65-bed dormitory might overwhelm the place. So we decided to tap into America’s 19th century Methodist Camp tradition. The camps were built in woodsy locales under shady trees and consisted of tiny Victorian cottages surrounding a big central pavilion where daily prayer and community gatherings took place. The camps eventually lost their religious focus and morphed into cultural “cottage camps,” some of them, like Chautauqua in New York State, centering on the performing arts.

We thought a group of charming small cottages might minimize the impact of so much new construction on the campus’s lovely open space. We also liked the idea of a socially inviting village for the many actors, playwrights, and directors who visit throughout the year, and we hoped the comfortable porches and intricate Victorian detailing would create an atmosphere of a simpler time.

Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

Advances in durable composite building materials allowed us to select elaborate gingerbread trim pieces out of catalogs and to rely on them to hold paint and withstand the elements. Otherwise our Victorian cottages would have posed insurmountable maintenance issues in this seashore environment.

The O’Neill’s staff, along with Centerbrook Project Manager Dan Batt, joined me in mixing and matching a diverse pallet of colors. We took particular pleasure in the fantastic names paint manufacturers conjure, for example: Mega Greige, Rhapsody Lilac, and Something Blue (not to be confused with Sorta Blue).

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We are thrilled that our efforts at the O’Neill are indeed making this hotbed of American theater an ever more memorable place. Maybe our little cottages will house yet another Lee Blessing or Wendy Wasserstein, honing their craft and readying their artistic vision for the world.

Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

Photos by Brenda Floyd, Dan Batt

Respectfully Modernizing a Classic

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We were excited in 2005 to be asked to restore and expand the Addison Gallery of American Art, a museum designed by Charles Platt in 1930 for Phillips Academy Andover. Phillips Academy is a distinguished boarding school in Massachusetts that was founded in 1778. Our addition would increase the museum’s size by half and refurbish the building top to bottom.

GreatLawn

We were asked to respect the building’s formal relationship fronting a broad green that had been ridden across by General Washington during the Revolutionary War and reconfigured a century later by Frederick Law Olmstead. Continue reading Respectfully Modernizing a Classic

A Home for American Impressionism

Florence Griswold Museum - Photo by Jeff Goldberg/Esto

At the Florence Griswold Museum we designed a building for housing the art of a very special group of American Impressionists. So we wanted to create a memorable contemporary structure but one that would honor the extraordinary history of the site.

Museum Summer

The story begins at the turn of the last century when a handsome Greek revival house in the village of Old Lyme was left to a spinster, Miss Florence Griswold, by her seafaring father.

FG19

To make ends meet, Miss Florence ran the place as a seasonal boarding house. To her delight, the clientele she attracted was a rollicking band of New York artists looking to escape summers in the city.

FG14

They came in search of landscape subjects to paint in the new Impressionist style. These they found in Miss Florence’s gardens, stands of mountain laurel, fields and barns, and in the marshes that lay just across the Lieutenant River. The ranks of Miss Florence’s artists grew over the years and became known as the Lyme Art Colony. It included such masters as Henry Ward Ranger, Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, Matilda Browne, William Chadwick, and many others. Today, Miss Florence’s house and our new museum stand as the core elements of a regional institution dedicated to this great moment in American art.  Continue reading A Home for American Impressionism

Building Big in Texas

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Building in a park can be controversial, especially when the building is big and the park is hugely beloved. We ran into this in Austin, Texas, at Town Lake Park, which is revered by Austinites as the “Jewel in the Crown” of their open spaces. Our friends at BGK Architects in Austin got us involved with them designing a really big building for that park –the 130,000 SF Palmer Events Center. The building was to host concerts, boat shows, conventions, festivals, weddings, flea markets and all kinds of funky community events. We tapped a group of 100 citizens to help us figure out how we might make so large a building fit seamlessly into so special a park and amiably reflect Austin’s memorable character. Continue reading Building Big in Texas

Clean Energy, One Kilowatt at a Time

Centerbrook's sustainable laboratory. Photo by Derek Hayn

I would like to be able to state that I became an architect to save the planet from wasteful, polluting buildings – the built world accounts for some 40 percent of the greenhouse gases we produce – but the truth is my fondest desire was to become a thespian.  As the theater is an iffy business and my best stage feature, a lively head of hair, was rapidly waning, I turned to a more sensible alternative: architecture school.

Graduating into the teeth of the 1973 oil embargo, I thought to temper my nascent design instincts with a heavy dose of practicality.  For a time, my partners and I advocated large windows on the south sides of houses for capturing solar warmth and called for insulated shades to keep heat in at night, but it wasn’t long before our clients lost interest in such measures.  The next shock at the pump, which came in 1979, was a reminder to all that our notion of “cheap oil without end, Amen” had indeed been naïve, if not hazardous to our national health.  The only real response we architects had at the time was passive-solar technology and better insulated homes, and my partners and I set about dedicating ourselves to them with enthusiasm.  Still, the early warnings of vulnerability to imported oil didn’t stick with our clients.  As oil got cheap again in the 1980s, people just went back to gorging without remorse on foreign fossil fuels. Continue reading Clean Energy, One Kilowatt at a Time

Enduring Perfection in Norfolk, CT

Norfolk is a small village in the rural northwest corner of Connecticut, the setting for a classy summer music program sponsored by Yale University.  The other day while driving through, I stopped to admire the town’s library, a fine old structure that really catches your eye from the road.

The building expresses the essence of that vibrant period of late nineteenth century American architecture when the sleek new Shingle Style was shaking off the excesses of Queen Anne.  The second floor is clad in reddish tile shingles stretched tight over a curved bay.  Its fish-scale shingles sit atop a rusticated first story of brownstone.  You can see in the building’s strong front gable facing the street signs of the struggle underway at the time between the old verticality and the new horizontality that was just coming into vogue.

But the building is remarkable for more than its façade.  This is the most perfectly preserved nineteenth-century structure, outside and in, that I have ever seen.  Apart from a small 1985 addition that houses a children’s space, it looks and functions exactly as its architect must have originally envisioned, right down to the circulation desk.  What is notable, of course, is that the architect envisioned it all in 1888 –a full decade before the Spanish American War! Continue reading Enduring Perfection in Norfolk, CT

Cell Phone Sellout a Faustian Bargain

Base station church tower Maasland, Holland

They have been with us for less than two decades and they are now a relentless necessity.  We’d sooner do without flush toilets than our cell phones.  If we can’t reach everyone from everywhere, or get the latest stock quotes while we’re on the treadmill, our business and personal lives are deeply compromised.

You’re in the Pet Food Aisle and you’re drawing a blank: does Whiskers distain Meow Mix or Little Friskies?  No problem, just pull your trusty cell out of its holster and call home.

To keep Whiskers purring, of course, the call HAS to go through.  And there’s the rub.  What we gave little thought to as our addiction grew was that total connectivity implied infrastructure, which isn’t always pretty – especially when it is given precious little forethought.  You can’t miss the sprawl: cell towers towering over pine forests, littering highways, atop pristine hills and ridges, sometimes “disguised” as trees-not-found-in-nature.  These fake trees are graphic testimony to the problem, but they are a sorry charade.  You stare at them longer than you do the silver blighters. Continue reading Cell Phone Sellout a Faustian Bargain

Making Design Accessible

Storefront Office, Riverdesign Dayton

To mangle an old saw, the stakeholders are NOT always right.  But they do have opinions and ideas, oftentimes quite insightful ones.  At our peril do we architects overlook, or lord over our clients, and building inhabitants as well, in the design effort.  When said stakeholders include citizens wielding the franchise, as is the case with some complex municipal projects, engaging the “others” is not optional.

Once upon a time, in an attempt to distinguish ourselves from better-qualified firms competing for a civic development in Ohio, we managed to invent a new use for television.  The project was to redesign the environs of the Great Miami River where it flows through Dayton, Ohio.  The date was 1976, and an earlier attempt to create a downtown riverfront plaza had been rejected by the voters.

Continue reading Making Design Accessible