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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 evening concluded with a book signing where attendees talked with the authors, often trading anecdotes and stories from past projects, events, and common acquaintances.
Centerbrook 4 is available for purchase on R.J. Julia’s online store.
This is more than a monograph of an architecture firm’s projects. In these pages we partners of Centerbrook (Jeff Riley, Mark Simon, Chad Floyd, and Jim Childress) show our work of the last 15 years, but in a departure from the monograph norm, we reveal the formative ideas behind it.
Our first three books presented us more or less as a collective, but here we present material by partner, each of us devoting 96 pages to photographs and drawings of projects accompanied by candid explanations of our inspirations, references, and design goals. The reader can judge how well we realized them.
We believe it’s fitting that this, our 4th book, which comes at the conclusion of our 4th decade, should bring our 4 ways of working into the light. The organizational format we followed these many decades has allowed the luxury of four unique approaches to cohabit within a single office. That’s a little different from what’s found at most places, where specialized partner roles such as manager, marketer, or designer, are the order of the day, and office output reflects a more singular point of view. At Centerbrook each of us finds and performs his own projects. We use communal office resources and are blessed with a spectacularly talented staff, but other than that, we’re pretty much on our own, and our work reflects it.
We do share a lot, however. We support each other, heart and soul; we influence each other; we watch over each other; and we’re generally of like minds. We respect rather than eschew tradition and are not afraid to make buildings that resemble something that came before. We are devoted to sustainability, including the enhancement of disappearing land and cityscapes that people hold dear. On campuses and in cities we try to stitch together torn and frayed seams, bringing focus, harmony, and completeness to places where architectural entropy had been setting in. We think buildings and the spaces between them should invite people to sit comfortably in shady spots, provide intriguing vistas, create special landmarks, convey special meaning, inspire small ceremonies, nurture big festivals, kindle memories, and delight the eye.
In our approaches there are differences to these ends and thus differences, too, in our buildings—some of them subtle, some less so, many revealed in these pages. We have long sensed a gentle and positive competition between us, but that competitive spirit is tempered by the mutual friendship, admiration, encouragement, and wisdom that comes from many years working together.
Our format has remained unchanged from our earliest days in 1975, when the oldest three of the current four partners—that’s Jeff, Mark, and Chad—along with emeritus partner Bill Grover and partners Bob Harper and Glenn Arbonies, both deceased—inherited our 19th-century factory in Centerbrook, Connecticut, from Charles Moore, our mentor. Charles had been Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, so as Yalies we three of the current four partners went pretty far back with him.
Bill, too, attended Yale Architecture. He operated ably as the closest thing we had to a managing partner, guiding us with Yankee acumen. Bob and Glenn had pedigrees from other fine schools and contributed strong fluency in construction technologies. A RISD graduate, Jim Childress was never a student of Charles’s, but he had numerous opportunities to work with him in the 1980s, so the four of us now remaining and featured in these pages were influenced at a youthful age by the verve and free-thinking of Charles Moore’s remarkable design talent.
In 1975 Charles headed off to Southern California, lured by UCLA which offered among other blandishments first class seating on airplanes. That left the original three of us, and later the four, to carry on, which we have been happily doing since, immensely grateful to Charles for making our firm’s launch easy. Charles died nearly 25 years ago, but his memory remains strong with us.
Eventually we came to call our office Centerbrook, thinking highway signs to the Village of Centerbrook where our building is located might give us some free publicity. Knowing more than that would be needed for success, we vowed then and there to evolve our operation into a top-notch professional outfit that would let us four shine independently while operating at the highest level of quality.
The uniqueness among architecture firms of our “independence” format is brought into sharper focus when you consider the dynamics of other creative groups—for instance, bands. How many rock-and-roll quartets have four musicians who write, play, and sing equally? Not many. Bands assign different roles to members according to their strengths. Not to compare us to the Beatles, but in that legendary band John and Paul did most of the writing and lead singing, but it was George who did the guitar heavy-lifting. In the Eagles it was Glen Frey and Don Henley who did much of the writing and lead singing, but it was Joe Walsh who did those amazing guitar riffs. Unlike rock bands, our goal has been to allow each of us four to operate across the full architectural spectrum exactly as we would be doing were we sole proprietors. Also, we’ve managed to stay together for four decades. How many bands besides the Rolling Stones can say that?
Our format has yielded a firm whose work is prolific, whose clients enjoy the ministrations of partner-designers, and where the staff’s artistic, managerial, technical, and support expertise is boundless. You might ask how critical the specific mix of the four of us partners is to our success? As with rock bands, each partner contributes a special something, so if you took one or two of us away from the place it would change, but only gradually, because Centerbrook’s staff and future leaders are strong. Many have been with us for nearly 30 years. They provide stability and a storehouse of experience that yields many dividends in mastering the diverse ways we design buildings.
In fact, design diversity is a Centerbrook trademark. That’s also a difference from most other firms, which inhabit narrow bandwidths of curvy planes, or glass and timber, or spikey towers—all striking to look at but limited in scope of materials and details. By contrast, our buildings are so aimed at each of their situations that they end up looking very different from one another. This means our staff must maintain a commanding knowledge of many materials and styles—a tall order.
This search for the particular , though, is Centerbrook’s greatest strength. It makes our work emblematic, but emblematic of our clients, not of us. To get there, we exercise a kind of ego-loss in which we unclog our personal design receptors of our own baggage in order to make out signals coming to us from our clients.
There’s another theme that runs through Centerbrook’s work: craft. We are fortunate to have a well-equipped shop where we make things by hand. It’s manned by industrial designer Patrick McCauley, assisted by the very able Ron Campbell, a former professional contractor. In addition to such things as architecture models, furniture, mock-ups, and specialty objects, our two maker gurus run a unique Centerbrook tradition called a “Chairshop.” Groups of employees take craft classes over several months and then work out the design and construction of their very own chairs, which then are juried by the partners. Our Chairshop is described in detail at the end of the book. Staff craftsman Bill Rutan, now retired, was a key ingredient in getting it up and running.
Even bathrooms at Centerbrook do not escape our penchant for the particular. Each partner took on the task of designing a bathroom for the use of staff and guests, and it turned out the four rooms and their arrangements could not be more different from one another.
So, in these pages the partners of Centerbrook open up in different ways—Jeff Riley about his affirmation of humanism, Mark Simon about his art background, Chad Floyd about his use of metaphor, and Jim Childress about his thought process. You can be sure the ideas contained here have been spread pretty thoroughly around our office, so consider this book a window into our place’s inner workings.
There’s a new trend we are seeing with museums. They are moving away from places of just observation and adding spaces of dialogue and creation.
This change requires a new type of space that is flexible enough for multiple arrangements, yet also provides the support necessary to create art.
Many institutions have areas for resident artists, but this space is designed to be open to the public. This maker space strengthens a museum visitor’s relationship with art through making.
What Was Old is New Again
The maker space concept is not new to museums, just forgotten. Before the 20th Century, museums like the Louvre and The Met were places of art making. The museum would grant artists permission to set up easels and copy works. By the mid-20th century, adults mostly learned about art through lectures and left art-making to children.
Museums and visitors are revisiting and evolving the concept through spaces like collection study, object study classroom, the teaching gallery and maker spaces. These spaces allow visitors extended study for selected works, areas to create, and an incentive to visit repeatedly.
Concept in Development
Recently we were asked to design a maker space within a university’s museum of art – a space that blurs the boundary between art, media and technology.
We recognized that as students increasingly grow up in maker space educational environments, extended learning spaces like museums should likewise evolve in a similar way. Therefore we immediately thought of a flexible classroom model we have developed over years of education design experience, and are adapting it for museum settings.
Decided you want your museum to incorporate maker spaces? Here are some additional things for you to consider in the design:
• Padded tables to protect precious objects
• Stacking chairs and movable tables for multiple room configurations
• Large flat screens for sharing digital works and presentations
• Flexible power access integrated into tables
• Wall-mounted art rails
• Wall talkers
• General and directional lighting
• Storage (a flexible room always needs easy access to ample storage)
• Wi-Fi connectivity
• A wet studio (sinks can be a security risk to art pieces)
• Audio/video cabinets
• Open shelving
Tonight one of our firm partners, Chad Floyd, will provide the introduction for a film on revered art and architecture historian Vincent Scully. Chad studied under Scully at Yale, and will share some of those experiences tonight. Here’s a brief background from Chad:
I took classes from Vincent Scully both as an undergraduate and later as an architecture graduate student.
My first class, in 1963, was History of Art 101, a year-long survey beginning with the Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, France, and ending with the paintings of Frank Stella.
I later took Scully’s course on the history of architecture, which focused on the Shingle Style, a term he coined to describe the uniquely American resort architecture that emerged in places like Fenwick.
Years later, as a graduate student, I monitored his course on American architecture once again and had my eyes opened to the emerging work of a then young Robert Venturi.
There were many, many Yale undergraduates who were entranced by Scully’s lectures. I’m in the sizable subset of those who got so fired up that we sallied forth, flags flying, into an architecture career.
I am the 2015 Chair of the American Institute of Architects Committee On Design (AIA-COD). COD’s mission is to promote design excellence among our members, the broader design community, and the public at large, both nationally and internationally. Every year we organize two conferences, one inside the United States and one internationally, to discover new design in different places. Our itineraries include visiting historical structures, looking at details such as furniture, landscapes and learning about urban planning, although we mostly visit buildings–all kinds of buildings because COD members design everything from houses to skyscrapers, churches, museums, universities, hospitals and airports, to name a few.
In June we held a nine-day ‘sold-out’ conference to visit and explore Norwegian architecture designed by Norwegian architects. Through our own research, and help from Norske Arkitekters Landsforbund, we set an itinerary to visit some the most influential architecture in Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger. We visited highlights of historical architecture, (the Hedmark Museum, a Stave Church, the Oslo Town Hall, a preserved farm with Jæren houses) but our primary aim was to learn from local architects by visiting their new projects.
I had a chance to see Peter Halley’s exhibition: Big Paintings at the Florence Griswold Museum (a Centerbrook client) over the weekend. Though the exhibit is only 9 paintings, I highly recommend it if you’re in the area.
You can read more about Peter and the exhibit on Architectural Digest’s blog:
We’ve enjoyed renovating and expanding the fabled Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, where the likes of Meryl Streep, August Wilson, and Michael Douglas got their start. Founded in 1964, the Tony Award-winning Center is the “Launchpad of American Theater,” developing and nurturing aspiring artists and new works for the stage. It is home to six distinct programs, among them the annual O’Neill Playwrights Conference, Music Theater Conference, and Puppetry Conference.
The existing campus was a collection of Victorian, Federal, and rustic farm buildings set amidst stone walls and expansive pastures leading down to Long Island Sound.
Our charge was to develop a master plan for additions and improvements such as housing for 65 students, a rehearsal facility, a new 400-seat theater, a dining hall, a production studio, improved parking, reorganization of visitor access, and renovations to several existing buildings. Our challenge was to do all this while preserving and even enhancing the O’Neill’s special character.
We feared that a 65-bed dormitory might overwhelm the place. So we decided to tap into America’s 19th century Methodist Camp tradition. The camps were built in woodsy locales under shady trees and consisted of tiny Victorian cottages surrounding a big central pavilion where daily prayer and community gatherings took place. The camps eventually lost their religious focus and morphed into cultural “cottage camps,” some of them, like Chautauqua in New York State, centering on the performing arts.
We thought a group of charming small cottages might minimize the impact of so much new construction on the campus’s lovely open space. We also liked the idea of a socially inviting village for the many actors, playwrights, and directors who visit throughout the year, and we hoped the comfortable porches and intricate Victorian detailing would create an atmosphere of a simpler time.
Advances in durable composite building materials allowed us to select elaborate gingerbread trim pieces out of catalogs and to rely on them to hold paint and withstand the elements. Otherwise our Victorian cottages would have posed insurmountable maintenance issues in this seashore environment.
The O’Neill’s staff, along with Centerbrook Project Manager Dan Batt, joined me in mixing and matching a diverse pallet of colors. We took particular pleasure in the fantastic names paint manufacturers conjure, for example: Mega Greige, Rhapsody Lilac, and Something Blue (not to be confused with Sorta Blue).
We are thrilled that our efforts at the O’Neill are indeed making this hotbed of American theater an ever more memorable place. Maybe our little cottages will house yet another Lee Blessing or Wendy Wasserstein, honing their craft and readying their artistic vision for the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.