All posts by Edward Keagle

About Edward Keagle

Edward Keagle, AIA, earned his Masters in Architecture from Syracuse University, joined Centerbrook in 1992 and was named an Associate in the firm in 1998. He also serves as the point man for interviewing and evaluating job applicants.

On Making Sausage… and Buildings

Sausage Making: An unpleasant process, especially one that is hidden from public view that is used to produce a widely consumed product: lots of people like sausage, but few would enjoy watching leftover animal parts ground up to make it. (urbandictionary.com)

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Construction, too, is inherently messy. Like surgery, blood flows from the first cut. It isn’t pretty. There are ways to make it neater but the healing doesn’t start until the last coat of paint goes on. Building begins with excavation. That initial incision, nowadays encircled by erosion and sedimentation fences and hay bales to control the runoff is just the beginning of the process. There probably never will be a minimally invasive option for construction.

The messiness remains until just days before the grand opening or the occupants move in. There is an amazing transformation that occurs in the latter stages of a project: similar to when the chrysalis comes off the caterpillar and the butterfly is revealed. Within days the job goes from construction site to home, office, or classroom.

The moment of the transition is as elusive as the green flash of a tropical sunset but equally rewarding. After months or years of labor to get it right, contractor, architect, and owner can step back and see what they have created. Even if the client visits often during the months of construction, the architects and builders tend to view the site as their domain until the very end, usually when the art goes on the wall and personal mementos appear with the furniture. I imagine it is similar to the emotions a surrogate mother must feel after months of gestation and seeing her baby go to someone else.

The beautiful photographs of completed projects in the magazines don’t begin to reveal the work that went into a project. The incredible spaces, smooth lines, and fine finishes you see instantly, but those of us who were part of the creation see through those images with x-ray vision to the bones that had to be gotten right in order for the finished project to shine. Credit is due the builders, too. Many careful layout decisions must be made and their sequence of activity is crucial.

Since each building is both a prototype and the finished product we try to stay on top of the process. We take hundreds of photos as things proceed: to document the process, recording parts that will be concealed, and to confirm that specifications and drawings are faithfully followed. After construction these photos are of little value and forgotten. Nevertheless, for those of us who were involved in Construction Administration they summon up smiles or frowns as we recall satisfactions or heart-stopping moments when surprises occurred. Both are inevitable. Construction is a journey into the unknown despite the best intentions and superb working drawings.

Here are a few examples of the CA photos I have collected over the years, with the final result alongside. By the way I still like sausage.

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Photo by Aurélie Reynes
Photo by Aurélie Reynes

Not my project, but I got the chance to visit the site of I.M. Pei’s Louvre project during construction in 1987. I remember construction trailers stacked three high, the mahogany formwork for the coffered cast-in- place concrete ceilings, and the beautiful bead-blasted finish of the stainless steel components that were used in the pyramid structure.

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Park Synagogue Interiors

The sanctuary of Park Synagogue in Ohio.

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Entry canopies at Park Synagogue in Ohio

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Park Synagogue Interiors

The entry common space at Park Synagogue in Ohio.

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Lakewood House in the Northeast.

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College

After threading new support steel and a new elevator shaft up through 4 floors of the occupied Steele Chemistry Building at Dartmouth College we removed the roof to provide new mechanical attic space for the renovated labs below. The end result was worth it. Introductory chemistry students may not imagine what it took to create the modern labs they now enjoy.

For Me, Boathouses Rock

Boathouse Row, Philadelphia
Boathouse Row, Philadelphia

While many kids grow up yearning for a treehouse, I craved a boathouse. I did spend time in trees on the banks of the Susquehanna River, an experience as close to Tom Sawyer’s as a child is likely to have in this modern world. But I spent an inordinate amount of time messing about in rowboats, canoes, jonboats, sailing dinghies, and eventually hydroplanes until it was time for college.

There I gravitated towards crew and joined the oarsmen and women of the world trying to make absurdly narrow, pointy boats go fast. At Philadelphia regattas I first experienced the wonder of a real boathouse at a one-of-a-kind place called Boathouse Row. Likewise, on the Hudson, in Buffalo and other venues along the east coast I discovered the charms of a dedicated boathouse, tied closely to the water and docks, chock full of evocative varnished wooden shells and oars.

I realized what I was missing. Our new program at Ithaca College had no boathouse back then: we rented space from waterfront businesses or racked our boats on the shore.

Vesper and Malta, Philadelphia
Vesper and Malta, Philadephia

Since then few manmade structures have the power over me that an old boathouse exerts. It must be that primordial, out-of-the-ooze instinct drawing me to the water.

One of the highlights of the Lakewood House project for Centerbrook Partner Mark Simon and me was designing and building the boathouse for our client’s collection of canoes, kayaks, and a singular handmade Adirondack Guide Boat. A memorable reward for our efforts was a trip around the lake in said winsome boat. Mark is genetically linked to lakefront boathouses, too. His great-grandfather built Prospect Point Camp which included a chalet-style rustic boathouse, pictured several photos down.

Boathouse at Lakewood House
Boathouse at Lakewood House

With any boathouse permitting is a key challenge. Our current wetland regulations discourage building near the shore but do allow for water-dependent structures. We have learned how fragile the margin between land and water is, and how many creatures depend on it to survive, so a boathouse designer has to dot the I’s and cross all the T’s. In the end it is worth it. Nothing beats an excursion to and from a beautiful boathouse.

Mark Simon in the stern seat for a view of the completed Lakewood boathouse
Mark Simon in the stern seat for a view of the completed Lakewood boathouse
Over the years this Adirondack Guide Boat and its sheltering boathouse will settle naturally into the landscape
Over the years this Adirondack Guide Boat and its sheltering boathouse will settle naturally into the landscape

Enjoy some of my favorite examples of the genre pictured below. I still remember the wonder I felt as a child at seeing the Boldt Castle boathouses in the Thousand Islands from the shore. Even half a mile away their vast scale was clear. Recently restored, these exceptional spaces can swallow up whole sailboats, masts and all. Then there are the rustic boathouses of the Adirondack Great Camps, the Minnesota lakes, and New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.

Interior of Boldt boathouse
Interior of Boldt boathouse
Boldt boathouse 1000 Islands NY
Boldt boathouse 1000 Islands NY
Swallow Boathouse, Lake Winnipesaukee
Swallow Boathouse, Lake Winnipesaukee
Prospect Point Camp boathouse, Upper Saranac Lake, New York
Prospect Point Camp boathouse (Built by Mark Simon’s great-grandfather), Upper Saranac Lake, New York
Topridge Boathouse, New York
Topridge Boathouse, New York
Prospect Park Boathouse, Brooklyn
The Prospect Park boathouse was designed by Helmle & Huberty in the classical style. It’s going on my list for things to see in New York.

While most of these examples had their origins in the Gilded Age, many recent boathouses and community boating programs have a public role and demonstrate novel ways to revitalize long-overlooked urban waterfronts, reconnecting adults and young people to adjacent rivers and lakes in places like Hartford, Connecticut and Columbus, Ohio.

Chesapeake Boathouse, Oklahoma City designed by Elliott + Associates Architects
Chesapeake Boathouse, Oklahoma City designed by Elliott + Associates Architects
The new Harry Parker Boathouse, the home of Cambridge Community Rowing designed by Anmahian Winton Architects
The new Harry Parker Boathouse, the home of Cambridge Community Rowing designed by Anmahian Winton Architects
WMS Boathouse, Studio Gang Architects, Chicago
Jeanne Gang’s boathouse in Chicago is getting tons of press lately. Boathouse design projects bring out the best in architects

Still for me, the rowing boathouse is tops. I’ve been a sculler for more than 30 years, car-topping my shell to the nearest suitable wet place, imagining someday being able to walk into a boathouse, lift my shell off a rack and launch from a low dock instead of dodging bass boats and water skiers at the state boat ramp. There are probably few others whose bucket list includes being able to row out of a boathouse. Recently I’ve begun to row with a group of like-minded folks near home and my hope is that in time we will achieve this goal. We’ve formed a community rowing association. Like many groups in recent years we expect interest to grow as more people realize the health benefits and social attributes of rowing.

The author at the Catch
The author at the Catch

Not only is rowing one of the most efficient aerobic fitness activities, it is low impact compared to running. Moreover, as more parents and student athletes consider the risks of concussion in many contact sports they are drawn to the life-long activity that rowing offers. Unlike football players, oarsmen and women continue to row and compete at master’s events well into their 70s. In time maybe I’ll be one of them, and do so out of a real boathouse.

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Photos by Juan Torres, Michael W Murphy, Melanie Lukesh, dvs, Brandon Watts, Pam Miller, Ed Keagle, Peter Aaron/Esto

On the Trail of Le Corbusier

Villa Savoy, Poissy, near Paris, 1931: Le Corbusier’s iconic house incorporates his five points, pilotis, ribbon windows, flat roof garden, planar curtain walls, and free plan.

Like many architects of a certain age, I am sitting on a slide collection of innumerable images gleaned from many trips to architectural shrines and lesser destinations. I recently began to digitize some of these so I could more easily share them with colleagues and remind myself of old lessons. In the process I also learned some new ones. Continue reading On the Trail of Le Corbusier

An Obscure But Worthy Legacy

Plecnik's 1905 Zacherl Palace in Vienna caps a modern planar stone facade with a parade of stylized classical telamons, the male equivalent of a caryatid.

I traveled to Prague and Vienna in 2008 to study the work of Jose Plecnik (1872-1957), a trip made possible by a Centerbrook Travel Grant.  This was my second opportunity to study far-flung architecture through this unique program:  My first, in 1996, allowed me to experience the work of C. R. Mackintosh in Scotland.  Most architects and many “civilians” know his work, although not many architects know of Plecnik’s.

Photographs from my 2008 trip come up on my computer screensaver so I get a regular reminder of this wonderful experience, of the lessons I learned from travel, and from Plecnik’s work in particular.

Architecture endures. The buildings I saw were all built in the early decades of the last century and are nestled among other, even older structures.  What we architects do may be around well after we are gone.  That is both humbling and ennobling.  It’s rewarding to do work that generations may enjoy and venerate (or hate and berate!)  In a modern world that is awash in ephemera, Tweets and blogs, the permanence of architecture is a throwback. Continue reading An Obscure But Worthy Legacy