All posts by Jason Cunningham

About Jason Cunningham

Jason is Centerbrook's public relations director. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in his home state of Illinois, Jason spent 12 years in the field of sports communications before joining Centerbrook in 2016 to manage the firm's PR and social media efforts. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeastern New England chapter of PRSA.

Let There Be Light (Mock-Ups)

Dan Batt (left) and lighting designer Mark Loeffler (right) evaluate the height of the light placement.

There are unknowns in translating design into reality. Luckily, in some instances, we can test concepts right here at Centerbrook.

Our project for The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut, features an outdoor courtyard encircled by a trellised walkway. The design calls for three dozen or so light fixtures mounted between the steel columns that form the trellis to illuminate the walkway underfoot and the vegetated canopy overhead.

With this one seemingly simple concept comes a number of questions, though. How will the fixture mount? What height would be comfortable for passersby? How far and at what angles will the light diffuse? Is it bright enough? And so on.

A temporary lighting mount for further observations.

To answer these questions and more, project manager Dan Batt enlisted our facilities manager (and former general contractor) Ron Campbell to construct a full-size column mock-up. He then invited lighting designer Mark Loeffler and light fixture supplier David Mainville from Illuminate here to test the setup. The fixture came from Pathway Lighting Products in nearby Old Saybrook.

The mock-up proved to be more than beneficial. A comfortable height was established. Preferences were discussed for mounting. And perhaps best of all, the specified fixture performed as intended.

Mark Loeffler charts the diffusion of the light’s intensity.

Nationally Ranked

A bird’s-eye view inside The Pavilion at Grace (Jeff Goldberg/ESTO)

As a generalist firm that has designed everything from a five-star resort to a kitchen table, we believe the diversity of our portfolio is a distinguishing characteristic. So it was great to see our range of expertise exhibited in a recent rankings index.

Building Design+Construction magazine produces its annual Giants 300 report that ranks architecture, engineering and construction firms by revenue. More than 480 firms participated in this year’s report, which includes rankings for 20 different market sectors.

We threw our hat in the ring for the first time this year and ended up listed in 12 different categories. Check out this photo gallery with representative projects from each of the eight categories in which we ranked in the top 100.

Historical Context

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

Our current job designing the expansion and renovation of the historic Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is fascinating in a number of ways. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you to read more about that on our project page, but in this blog post I wanted to share a neat historical tidbit that ties the Peabody with another prominent past client.

Like any of our renovation projects, I try to poke around the internet and find out all I can about a building’s history. And one of the pieces I always look for is who was the original architect. With the Peabody Museum, I was fairly quickly able to discover that it was designed by Charles Klauder. That was confirmed by an image of the original plans our architectural staff had attained.

Peabody Museum plans, dated March 21, 1923 (Yale University)

My inquiring mind then wanted to know more about Klauder. I quickly learned that he was one of the most notable campus architects of the 20th century, and he started in the profession at age 15! His list of design credits include institutions like Brown, Cornell and Princeton.

With a passion for sports history, I immediately recognized the name of perhaps his most famous campus building: the Cathedral of Learning at Pittsburgh. It was from atop the Cathedral that this famous and stunning image was taken of the 1960 World Series at Forbes Field below.

For the non-baseball historian, the Cathedral of Learning is notable as it is the tallest education building in the U.S. at 42 stories. It’s an icon not only of the University of Pittsburgh, but of the city itself.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh (Don Burkett/Wikimedia Commons)

After learning Klauder designed the Cathedral at Pitt, next I noticed he did Franklin Field at Penn. Wow. The Palestra, too. Double wow. Now you’re talking my language. Each of those venues oozes with sports history.

Franklin Field is home to the famed Penn Relays, Quakers football, and once upon a time the Philadelphia Eagles. Franklin is where the Eagles’ last NFL championship prior to this past season was clinched, and where the infamous Santa Claus incident took place.

The Palestra is a revered basketball cathedral. It has held more college hoops games than any court in the nation, for Penn, the Big Five and many others. It was at the leading edge of arena design at the time as it was one of the first without interior support pillars that obstructed sightlines.

The Palestra, University of Pennsylvania (Peetlesnumber1/Wikimedia Commons)

All that said, now back to my original point of tying the Peabody Museum to our previous work.

Klauder is also highly regarded for his master plan for the University of Colorado at Boulder. This was significant in that it established a distinct building style, later referred to as Tuscan Vernacular Revival, that CU is known for to this day. Klauder further set the precedent by subsequently designing 15 buildings on campus in the style.

In the 2000s, we added two new buildings to the CU landscape. Prior to that, recent building had strayed from the Tuscan Vernacular. But with the Wolf School of Law Building and the Center for Community, our designers built on the style Klauder established.

Center for Community and Wolf Law School, University of Colorado (Jeff Goldberg/ESTO)

Fast forward to 2018, and here we are once again, with an an opportunity to add to another Klauder design, this time at Yale. While the interior renovations will provide the first substantial modernization in the building’s history, the addition and new tower is a modern ode to the existing iconic design that has stood the test of time.

Much like the effort we started a decade ago in Colorado.

Addition, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

Linda Sets Sail

Linda’s counltess contributions to Centerbrook were recently recognized with an office cookout in her honor (Linda, seated in red).

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.

Photos: Temple-Tifereth Israel

Last summer we had esteemed architectural photographer Peter Aaron shoot our expansion and renovation project at Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, Ohio.  A good many of those frames have yet to be seen. Until now:

A host of Centerbrook staff worked on this extensive project through its life cycle, including: Mark Simon, Katie Roden Symonds, Ken MacLeod, Russell Learned, Patrick McKenna, Scott Allen, Frank Giordano, Alan Paradis, David O’Connor, Sheryl Milardo and Seaneen Thorpe.

Big Apple Book Event

Centerbrook 4 Author Event at Rizzoli Bookstore in New York City. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook Architects)

The Centerbrook 4 book tour continued in New York City on April 2 when iconic Rizzoli Bookstore welcomed our principals and co-authors for a wonderful evening at its location on Broadway near the Flatiron Building.

A crowd of over 60 gathered as Jeff Riley, Mark Simon and Jim Childress talked about themes that permeate the projects featured in the pages of Centerbrook 4. The fourth principal and author, Chad Floyd, was unable to attend, but his inspirations were also represented.

Here are some images from the event taken by our own Derek Hayn, who in addition to being a talented photographer, was also the graphic designer of Centerbrook 4.

Centerbrook 4 Goes on the Road

L to R: Chad Floyd, Jeff Riley, Jim Childress and Mark Simon participated in an author event at the Madison R.J. Julia bookstore. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

We were recently fortunate enough to participate in a wonderful local tradition: an author event at R.J. Julia Booksellers.

The independent R.J. Julia is a Southeastern Connecticut treasure, proudly bucking the big-box, online trend. Its flagship location in downtown Madison has a long-standing series that hosts celebrity and local authors alike. We took our turn on Feb. 27.

Principals Jeff Riley, Mark Simon, Chad Floyd and Jim Childress spoke in front of a capacity crowd about the themes that permeated their respective chapters in their new book, Centerbrook 4. Jeff touched on his seven layers of allure, Mark described how buildings speak, Chad exhibited metaphor in architecture and Jim talked about sense of place.

Jim Childress talks about his approach to Centerbrook 4. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

A wide-ranging discussion followed, which prompted the most light-hearted moment of the evening. Asked to advise a budding architect, the four recalled in unison – arm-in-arm – the famed quote attributed to Henry Hobson Richardson about the most important aspect of an architectural practice: “Get the first job, then get the next job.”

The four principals channel H.H. Richardson. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

The evening concluded with a book signing where attendees talked with the authors, often trading anecdotes and stories from past projects, events, and common acquaintances.

The wonderful, intimate Madison R.J. Julia location. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

Centerbrook 4 is available for purchase on R.J. Julia’s online store.

2017 Review: Project Images

It was another rewarding year here at Centerbrook, where we worked on 95 different projects in one capacity or another. While some have garnered their fair share of attention, many have yet to be fully revealed, either as concept designs or as built projects.

Without giving away too much at the current time, here is a cross-section of images from some of our work in 2017. Also included are a few new frames from past projects that we visited in the past year.

Notes from The Cube: VR is an R

Senior Associate David O’Connor takes a turn in the VR model.

Virtual Reality has become a reality at Centerbrook Architects & Planners.

Today, during our “Friday Dessert” presentation in The Cube, staff demoed our newest tool of the trade.

We’ve been keeping tabs on VR and its applications to the architecture industry for a while now; considering all of the hardware and software options, and just how it could be integrated into our practice.

With digital design coordinator Mike Hart and architectural intern Ben Mayne on the case, we decided the time was right to take the leap. Mike and Ben procured an Oculus Rift headset and controllers, which is fed by graphics from software programs Revit and Unreal Engine 4.

Mike and Ben liked that the Oculus Rift is light, so the virtual experience isn’t hampered by headset weight. Ben recommended pairing our modeling program Revit with Unreal 4 based on his experience using it as a student in Cornell University’s School of Architecture & Planning program.

A staple in video gaming and movie animation, Unreal is finding its way into our industry due to its efficient, photorealistic renderings and lifelike animations. Other users of Unreal Engine include Adidas, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Mountain Dew and even NASA, who implemented it to prepare astronauts for missions to the International Space Station.

So with this setup we’re ready to involve our clients in the design process in a whole new way.

Associate Principal Justin Hedde recalled that while our recently-completed residence in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was carefully detailed and rendered, the client only grasped what they were getting when they stood on-site and saw it with their own eyes. He believes VR can facilitate greater client involvement in the design process.

“We are in a world where we’re designing duplicate environments – the virtual environment before the real environment,” said Hedde, who helped steer our VR effort. “The more we understand and experience in the virtual, the smoother things are going to be during construction.”

As to Friday’s test run in The Cube with one of our latest residence designs as the subject, the reaction was nearly universal from architects and staff alike: “This is so cool.”

A “wicked cool” may have also been uttered. That was me.