All posts by Charles Mueller

About Charles Mueller

Charles Mueller received his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1983 and 1984. Upon graduation, one of his professors, Robert L. Harper, invited him to join Centerbrook Architects and Planners, where he is currently a principal.

De-cluttering a Visually Cluttered World

As highly visual types, architects often are aggravated by things we encounter every day that go unnoticed by most people. Believe me, it’s both a blessing and a curse. Only rarely, it seems, do we delight in something we’ve stumbled upon in the visual world.

Think about it. As we walk or drive around, we are continually assaulted by poorly conceived, disjointed, and downright obnoxious attempts to apprise, attract, direct, and warn us with various signs, marquees, billboards, and notices. In that wide-angle view, zoning regulations can only go so far, and it may be hard to imagine some overarching, draconian framework designed to bring ordo ab chao without heading toward an undesirable homogeneity. Variety is, after all, the spice of life, right? Continue reading De-cluttering a Visually Cluttered World

Better Design through DIY

I just finished constructing a 3- by 5-foot tiled shower in place of the cramped, one-piece shower stall where I’ve been banging my elbows every morning for 15 years.

And it only took 3 months.

Once again, I discovered that hands-on construction experience improves design decisions. The things I learned from summers building decks and painting houses, or half a lifetime honing furniture-making skills – and, oh, from all my mistakes – have made me a better architect. No wonder the Yale School of Architecture requires students to design and build a structure as part of their graduate education.

With my shower project, I used some existing skills, such as selective demolition (which actually entails a lot of planning and finesse), framing, plumbing, wiring, sheet-rocking, and painting. But doing the tile work was new to me. Despite designing plenty of tile installations and being quite familiar with the methods detailed in the venerable Tile Council of North America Handbook, it soon became clear that I had much to learn. Continue reading Better Design through DIY

An Architecture of Happy Accidents

View of Schaffhausen’s Altstadt from the canon fortress ‘Munot’

Owing to close family ties, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Switzerland.

Aside from the requisite sightseeing of astonishing alpine environs, the small city of Schaffhausen, first mentioned in the historical record in 1045, has served as my vacation base camp for more than 40 years.  Staying there so often has given me the opportunity to appreciate and study its urban fabric, architecture, and history in great detail.

Switzerland’s northernmost city, Schaffhausen is located on the bank of the river Rhein.  Its raison d’être lies just downriver.  The Rhein Falls, with its spectacular 75-foot drop, makes the river, once a major transportation route through central Europe, un-navigable.  Shipboard goods were unloaded at Schaffhausen – and stiff tariffs imposed – before they were carted a couple of miles to a point just below the falls (where additional duties were presumably levied).  This favorable situation made for a very vibrant and prosperous mercantile town, which grew dramatically between the 12th and 15th centuries, when its city “plan” (well, its non-plan, really) was shaped.  Its Altstadt, or medieval city core, has remained largely unchanged since.

The accompanying photos highlight one aspect of Schaffhausen’s built environment – the cheek-by-jowl density of buildings that over the centuries has produced countless collisions of assorted architectural styles, forms, and elements.  It is these oddities of juxtaposition – let’s call them Happy Accidents – that are the tastiest seasoning in its pot of bubbling architectural fondue. Continue reading An Architecture of Happy Accidents

PLANNING at the Planning & Zoning Commission!

Main Street, Chester, CT

In his October 2, 2009 blog entry, “Zoning Out the Best Laid Plans,” Centerbrook Partner Chad Floyd tells us about the unfortunate ramifications for communities all across the country, including 23 towns in Connecticut, which have adopted boilerplate zoning codes provided decades ago by a Florida company.  Well, change does occur here in the “Land of Steady Habits,” but sometimes you need time-lapse photography to see it.  Little by little, however, we are planning our zoning better, at least in one Connecticut town.

For the past 16 months I have been serving on a subcommittee of the Planning & Zoning Commission in my hometown of Chester.  Our mission is to completely re-imagine the zoning regulations for the town’s much-loved Village District.  The hope is that the new regulations will reflect the actual context and character of our pocket-sized town center, rather than some generic, homogeneous vision imposed by those alien, boilerplate zoning codes.

For decades now, virtually every parcel in Chester’s Village District has been classified in zoning parlance as an “Existing, Non-conforming Use.”  What this means is that although the current eclectic mix of two- and three-story structures are more or less situated cheek-by-jowl and cover most, if not all, of their respective lots, the currently required 20-foot setbacks from front, side, and rear yards, and the maximum lot coverage requirement of just 25 percent, would not permit a new building of even remotely similar size to be constructed.  This is, of course, completely ridiculous.

Continue reading PLANNING at the Planning & Zoning Commission!

Tour of Stony Creek Classic Granite Quarry

stoney-creek

Despite the impressive role it has played in our nation’s history, the classic granite of Stony Creek, Connecticut is virtually indescribable, but I won’t let that stop me.  Long termed “pink,” that adjective doesn’t do it justice and lumps it together with other, less appealing varieties that go by that name.  It reminds me of the mottled fur of a cheetah cub, the muted, brownish “pink feldspar” is flecked with black biotite, and gray and cream quartz.  There is nothing quite like it.  You can tell it immediately from pink granite from other localities.  It has more character, flow structure, and a subtle intriguing complexity.  It is not a feminine pink, but not quite masculine either.  Darrell Petit of Stony Creek Quarry Corporation calls its look “highly eroticized.”  I better stop there.  You have to see it.

We have used it for a number of projects, most recently as stair treads, wall caps and as ornamental pieces on buildings at Quinnipiac University.  This fall I organized a field trip of my colleagues from Centerbrook to the last Stony Creek quarry in operation.  There once were as many as 15 such enterprises in tiny little Stony Creek, a section of Branford better known today for its upscale residents than for hardy quarrymen.  Around 1900 there were some 1,800 workers in town extracting large blocks (routinely 20 tons, but sometimes much more) from the ground, a veritable United Nations of immigrants: Italians, Irish, Swedes, Finns, English, Spaniards, Germans, Scots, among others.

Continue reading Tour of Stony Creek Classic Granite Quarry