All posts by Patrick McKenna

About Patrick McKenna

Patrick McKenna is a native of Ireland and studied architecture at Queens University Belfast and subsequently at the Mackintosh School in Glasgow, before joining RPP Architects in Belfast where he worked for 5 years, becoming licensed in 2002. Following a year doing home repair with low income families in West Virginia, he joined Centerbrook in 2007. He is a member of Architecture for Humanity, New Haven and of the Middlesex Habitat for Humanity building committee.

Home for the Holidays

The proud new home
The proud new home
The homeowners, from left: Maria, Nataly, Eulalio, and Bruno with shovel.
The homeowners, from left: Maria, Nataly, Eulalio, and Bruno with shovel.

Being home for the holidays this year meant something special for one family in Middletown, Connecticut. Eulalio and Maria, along with their two children Bruno, 6, and Nataly, 4, moved into their new house on December 6 and celebrated Christmas there.

The house, a three-bedroom New England farmhouse design with a wrap-around porch, was built by Middlesex Habitat for Humanity of Connecticut (HFH) over the past six months with the help of many local donors and volunteers. The family contributed countless hours of “sweat equity” as well. Three Centerbrook employees were among the construction volunteers: Danielle McDonough, Dillon Wilson, and I.

An existing house on the property was deemed beyond repair, so HFH reached out to Architecture for Humanity, New Haven (AFH) for help. The challenge was to design a new Energy Star Version 3 home to meet Habitat’s accessibility standards and to incorporate a driveway that was required by the city on an already narrow wedged-shaped site.

Once they had guided the project through Planning and Zoning, AFH passed the baton to Centerbrook: Dan Batt and I produced the permit drawings with additional help from Dan Morrissey Engineers. Then Centerbrook construction volunteers joined with AFH folks in a Saturday building day in November. This was an opportunity that not enough architects get: that is, to not only build a house that they designed, but to work alongside the family who will make it their home.

Motley crew of volunteers, from left: Patrick McKenna, Dillon Wilson, Tim Ariosto (AFH), John Sepples (AFH), and Danielle McDonough.
Motley crew of volunteers, from left: Patrick McKenna, Dillon Wilson, Tim Ariosto (AFH), John Sepples (AFH), and Danielle McDonough.

[Editor’s note: Patrick is cofounder and coordinator of Architecture for Humanity, New Haven and co-chair of the Middlesex Habitat for Humanity Building Committee.]

Centerbrook Saps Suffering

Patrick's sap boiling rig

The weather is always a good topic of conversations in these parts. Last winter the water cooler chatter was about the record amount of snow we were getting, which roof collapsed, or whether ice dams were forming in the attic. The weather caused many construction projects to be delayed, but also meant that ski resorts and outfitters profited. Twelve months later all is reversed. The talk, often accompanied by sighs of relief, is about how mild it has been. Those industries that did well last winter are suffering and vice versa. Continue reading Centerbrook Saps Suffering

The Gift of Good Design

Green Street Arts Center, Middletown, Connecticut

Nothing says the Holidays like the gift of elevated cholesterol, unless it is giving people something they really need.

People are always in need of good design:  whether it is for a home that uses materials and energy efficiently, a school building that promotes learning and community, or a public space that unites and delights a neighborhood.  Unfortunately, not everyone has access to good design, and as a result they may be left to inhabit buildings or spaces that affect them negatively.  Buildings built without the input of designers or architects often fail to adequately shelter the body or enlighten the soul.

The challenge for me and others is how to widen access to good design to those who need it, not just to those who can afford it.  There are many organizations working toward this end, such as Public Architecture and Architecture for Humanity, as well as colleges offering courses that teach about social responsibility and design, like Rural Studio and the Yale Building Project.  The majority of architects, however, do not work for non-profit organizations, but many still want to share their skills with individuals or groups that are not paying clients. Continue reading The Gift of Good Design