All posts by Ken MacLeod

About Ken MacLeod

Ken MacLeod, AIA and Centerbrook Associate, earned his Bachelor of Architecture at Roger William University with a Minor in Small Craft Design. He worked for firms in Massachusetts and Connecticut before joining Centerbrook in 2004.

No Excuses After This

In architecture, where regulations, practices, and technology constantly change, it makes sense to spread the word. At Centerbrook, one of my duties is to serve as curator of the firm’s accumulated design wisdom, which has been compiled into “NEAT Cards” since the 1980s. NEAT stands for No Excuses After This. This effort was initiated by partner Mark Simon, and nearly 250 cards have been created and updated over the past two decades.

Here’s a recent example of a NEAT Card; it gives a sense of the level of detail that we designers have to address in drafting building plans. Unlike baseball, which is a game of inches, winning architecture often deals in fractions of inches. Heaven (or Hell, i.e. costly “change orders”) can depend on details like this:

Be careful how pipe sizes are specified in details such as handrails

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Pipe and tubing (for railings) are measured differently. Pipe sizes are measured by the internal diameter of pipe (ID). Plumbing engineers specify pipe sizes that way because they are concerned with what is flowing within the inner diameter. Tubing, on the other hand, is measured by the outside diameter of the pipe (OD). Pipe railings are often dimensioned and noted as 1 ½” in diameter when, in reality, this “pipe” size does not exist. 1 ½” pipe is actually 1.90” OD 1 ¼” pipe is actually 1.66” OD.

To avoid getting larger diameter rails than desired, do not use “pipe” in the description in detail notes and simply specify the desired diameter. In order to get the required 1 ½” or 1 ¼” gripping surface, you must use “tube” in your description of the handrail.

In addition, knowing the actual diameter of the pipe for railings is critical in the selection of the wall brackets to maintain proper wall clearances. Hardware manufacturers such as Julius Blum have brackets sized for both pipe and tubing sizes. To make matters more complicated, some specialty tubing is also made in pipe sizes (Julius Blum). See link below for a more thorough explanation of pipe and tubing sizes.

How to get what you want… not what you ask for (

Organ Transplant

When duty calls, I answer. If it means travelling to Quebec to visit the renowned Casavant Frères, foremost facteur d’orgues in the world, c’est la vie. The exquisite pipe organ that I and two others came to examine was assembled at the Casavant factory in Saint-Hyacinthe, and following our inspection it would be carefully disassembled for its journey to St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. It will be installed in September, replacing an outdated organ.

The massive instrument is roughly 18-feet by 18-feet by 20-feet tall and has more pipes than I could count; there is less than two inches of clearance on either side of the space that we have designed for it. The organ will be the centerpiece of the expansion and renovations to the historic church that Centerbrook, led by Partner Jim Childress, designed.

I was joined on the tour by Reverend David J. Ware, Rector of St. John’s Church, and church organist Dr. Carol Weitner, who sat down and – in a wonderful, impromptu concert – put l’orgue through its paces. It is the 3,897th organ that the firm has crafted since 1879. They can be found all around the world.

I could ramble on, but this video will do a better job of characterizing the magnificent artistry and grandeur of this complex musical machine – not to mention the considerable talents of Dr. Weitner. She is performing Charles-Marie Widor’s Toccata Symphony No. 5. Enjoy!

Still High on the High Line

I touched on New York City’s High Line in my last post; now I am landing on it with both feet. Set atop an abandoned, elevated rail line, it is the planet’s longest green roof, stretching nearly a mile and a half. It is a remarkable, idiosyncratic pathway that commences in lower Manhattan’s West Side, at Gansevoort Street, and runs north to West 34th Street, augmenting an existing park system lining the Hudson River.

Along its merry way, the High Line provides city residents and visitors with an urban oasis as well as limitless perspectives on the surrounding natural and built landscape. For example, the Statue of Liberty, to the south in New York Harbor, is framed in one stretch, the Empire State Building looms to the north, while westward toward Chelsea is a Frank Gehry designed apparition. Its frankly amorphous and frosty facades fit the nondescript client, IAC (InterActiveCorp), to a tee. It’s hard to tell what either of them is supposed to be. Continue reading Still High on the High Line

The High Line and the Cunard Line

Queen Mary 2 is framed by the Manhattan Skyline. This photo, which I took, was used on the cruise line’s website.

“Getting there is half the fun” was Cunard Line’s famous advertising slogan in the 1950s, intended to lure Americans away from flying across the Atlantic. At the time, its fleet could boast two of the finest examples of ocean liner transport, the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth, which regularly traveled between Europe and the States.

Although that catchphrase was in use well before my time, I can relate to it because, in addition to being an architect, I am a confirmed ocean liner enthusiast (with a blog to prove it). There is a connection between the two (trust me), as well as between the Cunard Line and the High Line, both being appealing examples of horizontal design and alternative modes of transportation. Continue reading The High Line and the Cunard Line