All posts by Guest Contributor

Art and Biomass

J. Bradley Faus, Program Director of Art at the Hotchkiss School

Editor’s Note: Centerbrook designed the Hotchkiss School Biomass Central Heating Facility to be accessible for tours and academic uses. The school’s art students explored and sketched its interior workings.

Students on site.2

The “Industrial Interiors” assignment was driven by an interest in finding ways to have our students explore the Biomass Facility as a unique teaching, learning, and energy generating environment. The Art Program embraced the opportunity to work outside of a studio setting and pursue a complex industrial interior of pumps, burners, wood chip furnaces, steam lines, ash collectors, and a range of other equipment along with lighting, architectural elements, windows, doorways, gates, stairs, etc.

Hotchkiss School

Students first toured the facility with a technician to learn how it functions. Each investigated the interior with viewfinder and sketchbook in search of an appealing composition. Light, shadow, texture, and perspective were key players in this process. Students completed a range of different formatted thumbnail sketches before presenting their work to the class. Peer critique led each student to select a final composition to pursue on a larger scale using charcoal on gray pastel paper. This view was documented photographically as a studio resource.

With planning sketches, studies and photos in hand, the class returned to the studio to complete a final perspective drawing.

Megan Lee, charcoal
Megan Lee, charcoal

As a complement to this assignment the class reviewed the work of contemporary artists working with architectural subject matter: artists like Gideon Bok, Jane Bennett, Cara Campbell, and Sean Freeman informed the media and technique that were used.

Students on site.1

Our Art Program is committed to student self-assessment, and routine paired-peer, group, and instructor critique. Two-point perspective, sighting and measuring techniques, and light and shadow are essential components of the drawing process, as is the careful and thoughtful refinement of the overall composition. Students are pushed to engage the viewer and lead the viewer’s eye through the composition with attention to focal point and overall pattern. Expressive use of media and a personalized approach to technique were encouraged.

Lila Camillos, plywood
Lila Camillos, plywood

A second phase to this assignment was to pursue a looser, potentially more expressive drawing style on A/C plywood panel. We liked the idea of using a material consistent with the interior of the biomass facility, which features a wide variety of ways in which wood is used in construction. The relationship of plywood to wood chips was appealing as well. The plywood surface presented a different texture and forced students to change the technique, often yielding more abstract, muted, or high contrast results.


A New Building, a New Campus Vibe

Kurt Schleunes is a mathematics teacher at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, MA.

Guest blogger Kurt Schleunes teaching a class in Berkshire School's new science and math building
Guest blogger Kurt Schleunes teaching a class in Berkshire School’s new science and math building

Our new academic building, the Bellas/Dixon Math and Science Center, has transformed the Berkshire School both educationally and culturally. It isn’t just a pretty façade with great facilities. The design incorporates the idea that change will occur rapidly in the 21st century and that a building must be optimally flexible, for now and for later. The science and math rooms meet not simply the needs of today’s students, but they also were designed with an eye towards the future as curriculum requirements, teachers, and students change.

Berkshire School

Our Advanced Math/Science Research Laboratory is a prime example. It is now a full-on microbiology research facility with ties to laboratories and professional researchers in Albany, Hartford, and the Berkshires. Under the direction of Dr. April Burch, director of the program, this lab has been able to grow and change according to the needs of the students.

Similarly, our Project Exploration Room has gone through several iterations in just a couple of years and is now home to our STEAM program. This Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics program continues to expand in scope, including an after school program and an interdisciplinary component. This allows classes to access the room and use it in a variety of ways. Current projects include a 20-foot-long suspension bridge, 3D printing in a variety of disciplines, and artistic pursuits. We never anticipated that one of our students would use the room to create a piece of art that was honored as one of the top 35 AP Studio Art pieces in the nation; we just made sure to leave enough room and provide the resources to help her succeed.


The science rooms are well laid out, with excellent adjacent storage that, again, allows for maximum flexibility in terms of the types of classes and manner of projects that can use the space. The math rooms are big! This enables lots of group work and the ability for students to present projects to the class without feeling any space limitations. Our students are much more relaxed in the new building because of the spaciousness of its classrooms and labs. They also are able to use the Center as a study space because of all the areas designed for that.


On the personal level, this new facility has rejuvenated my teaching. I can now incorporate technology into my classes like never before. For example, in Multivariable Calculus, we are creating mathematical surfaces in K3dSurf, a mathematical modeling program. Then we bring them into SketchUp and make buildings. Then we bring them into Meshmixer and distort them, a la Frank Gehry. Next we bring them into Cura and print them out on our Ultimaker2 3D printers. It’s Unbelievable.


The Bellas/Dixon Math and Science Center is a source of pride for everyone at the school and visiting tours are pretty amazed. The open and transparent interior design lets them look right into classrooms and walk into many of the rooms to get a feel for what we are doing. Its beautiful spaces also make it a very popular place for students to hang out and study at all hours of the day.



We constantly have representatives from schools that are looking to build their own STEM centers come through and they’ll say, enviously, “We really want a building like this.” I tell them, “Get Centerbrook.”

Kurt Schleunes is a mathematics teacher at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He created the school’s Advanced Math/Science Research Program and has assisted eight student semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, an annual program of the Society for Science & the Public. He also plays the vibraphone and marimba.

The New Normal at a Campus of History

Robin Sarratt is Vice President of

Our guest blogger Robin Sarratt at

This morning, I am not at my normal post at, doing normal things like grant writing —and lately construction management. Today I am filling in at the front reception desk, welcoming visitors to our newly expanded and improved Campus of History. They have come for a tour of President James Buchanan’s home, Wheatland, to see an exhibition in the Groff Gallery, or to conduct research in our library and archives. I am getting a chance to experience a normal day here from a different vantage point.

Normal is such a relative term, especially for an organization that serves a community that sometimes seems anything but typical. After all, Lancaster County is one of the oldest inland communities nationwide, with colonial settlement dating back to the 17th century and the municipal records beginning in 1709. We also have perhaps the largest community of Amish and Old Order Mennonite residents in the country. Nearly 20 percent of Lancastrians, about 100,000 people, belong to one of the “Plain” sects of Anabaptist religion. Buggies create traffic problems. The local Target has tie-up posts and watering stations for horses. Yet we also have one of the healthiest economies of any mid-sized city in Pennsylvania, largely driven by a vibrant arts scene. We have always been a bit abnormal compared to most of the east coast. Continue reading The New Normal at a Campus of History

Reflections on Otaniemi Chapel

Photos by Molly Hubbs

Designed by Heikki and Kaija Siren in 1957, the Otaniemi Chapel is settled quietly among the pine and birch trees on the Aalto University Campus in Finland. The woodland clearing contrasts starkly with the hustle of the main campus. As this was my first trip above the Baltic, I found all Finnish architecture enchanting. And so it was with the Otaniemi Chapel. Its simplicity of form and material impressed upon me the ideals of early modernism. Continue reading Reflections on Otaniemi Chapel

Architectural Trial by Fire

Southern Connecticut State University

My six-month internship at Centerbrook Architects proved essential to my architectural education. The internship not only complemented my coursework, it also expanded upon that preparation by incorporating the real life consequences of dealing with colleagues, budgets, and clients. The collaborative atmosphere of firm work – between client, designers, and consultants – instilled a tangible appreciation for the integral role teamwork plays in architecture. Because of these experiences, and many others, my architectural education is far richer.  Continue reading Architectural Trial by Fire

Lessons Learned at Centerbrook

Guest contributor and Centerbrook extern Larry Chapman with his students

As a teacher serving a month-long “externship” at Centerbrook this summer to gain insight into “real world” applications of my curriculum, I was particularly interested in learning how the firm approaches academic design, which represents a substantial portion of its work. I teach pre-engineering courses, including architecture and design, at Old Saybrook High School, and I was at Centerbrook to observe how architecture is practiced today – as well as how I could make my classes more compelling by connecting the relevance of my course material to concrete examples (no pun intended). Continue reading Lessons Learned at Centerbrook

Teacher is Learning at Centerbrook

Guest contributor and Centerbrook extern Larry Chapman works with students in one of his classes.

I teach pre-engineering courses, including architecture and design, at Old Saybrook High School, and to improve my own, and ultimately my students’ understanding of real world applications of these subjects, I am working this month at Centerbrook Architects and Planners. I sit in on design meetings, observe how Revit, Navisworks, and other new 3D technologies are used here, learn how the practice is structured, and write for the Centerbrook blog about my great expectations (this post) and what I actually gain from the experience (stay tuned). Continue reading Teacher is Learning at Centerbrook

A Preservationist’s View of the Ocean House

The Ocean House, constructed in stages between 1867 and the early 20th century, was a key landmark in the Watch Hill Historic District and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was one of seven resort hotels plus guesthouses and private cottages that made Watch Hill a popular and premier summer destination a century ago.  While the Ocean House building was in dire need of improvements, it was one of the last of the great Victorian seaside resorts in Rhode Island.  It retained its historic appearance on the exterior, and the public lounges and dining rooms on the first floor still kept the real architectural quality of seaside hotels of a past era.

Public controversy erupted in 2004 when plans were announced to sell the historic hotel to an out-of-town developer who would demolish it and build a number of luxury homes on the site.  In response, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission worked with preservationists, Town Planner Bill Hasse, and the Westerly Town Council to create an “Oceanfront Historic Hotels” ordinance to try to protect the landmark hotel and to preserve the historic character of Watch Hill. Continue reading A Preservationist’s View of the Ocean House