Category Archives: Process

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.

Selecting the Right Synthetic Turf

Installation of FieldTurf at the QU soccer/lacrosse facility.

Few topics have recently trended higher in the athletic facility management world than synthetic turf, as both player safety and durability have been called into question. With two different playing fields featured in one of our active projects, we explored the latest and greatest options. Here’s what we found:


Construction is finishing up at Quinnipiac University for a new athletic complex we designed that features a field hockey facility and a dual-purpose soccer and lacrosse stadium. Both venues have begun hosting competitions.

AstroTurf was first used in the Houston Astrodome in 1966.

The first generation of synthetic turf was little more than a carpet (think of a Scotch-Brite pad) laid over a stone base. Then turf made up of longer tufts, spaced further apart, and with sand spread between them was introduced. Today’s state-of-the-art synthetic turf field is a sophisticated system made-up of the synthetic turf itself, which consists of fibers (grass blades) and a backing layer, an infill material which is spread between the fibers, and a shock-pad below the turf. This third generation of turf has the capacity for cleats to release which prevents soft-tissue injuries to knees and ankles, absorbs impact which helps prevent head injuries, and is a more playable surface.

Field Hockey Surface Selection

What to Consider

Choosing a playing surface for a field hockey pitch can be pretty straightforward. Ideally these fields are only used for field hockey. For this sport, the gold standard is knitted nylon turf, and only one major manufacturer makes it. Other manufacturers produce polyethylene tufted turfs at a significantly lower cost. Nylon is more durable than polyethylene. As a construction method, knitting is both more durable and provides a more uniform playing surface than tufting.

The Decision

Given the superiority in material and construction, Quinnipiac quickly chose AstroTurf A12, a knitted nylon carpet.

One of the first QU Field Hockey practice sessions on the new AstroTurf.

Soccer/Lacrosse Surface Selection

Selecting a playing surface for soccer and lacrosse was a far more complex decision. As you might expect, natural grass turf is the holy grail of athletic surfaces. However, natural turf is expensive to maintain, especially with multiple teams using it for daily practices and games. With this new stadium the home to both the men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse programs, we looked at synthetic surfaces from the outset.

Given its durability, synthetic turfs make good economic sense, and the turf industry is working hard to match the playability of real grass. Also driving the evolution of turf systems are player safety and environmental concerns. This segment of the synthetic turf industry is currently in a period of rapid change and advancement.

What to Consider – Type of Fiber

A primary decision for the turf system is the type of fiber. Fibers come in two forms: extruded monofilament fiber, which is like a strand of string; or slit-film, which is manufactured in sheets and cut into strips. Slit-film looks more like natural grass, and it holds the infill material in place better. Monofilament turf provides much better interaction between the field, athlete and ball.

The Decision

The key consideration for Quinnipiac was the playability of the soccer ball, so a monofilament turf was chosen.

An aerial view of the soccer/lacrosse playing surface shortly after installation. (courtesy FIP Construction)

What to Consider – Type of Infill

Infill materials are varied, and have become a flash-point for controversy. Infill is typically a material that has been ground up into small particles and is spread between the fibers of the turf. It helps the individual fibers to stand up and provides shock attenuation. It can be made from crumb rubber (ground-up tires), EPDM or TPE roofing, or from organic materials like cork and coconut.

Much has been made of an alleged increased health risk associated with crumb rubber use in playing fields and playgrounds, but research has yet to support that assertion. We continue to keep an eye on the progress of the EPA’s action plan as new information is made available.

The Decision

Quinnipiac makes every effort to be environmentally conscious, thus the decision to use organic infill was made very early in the process. To aid the school in deciding the type of organic infill, we had two 60’ x 15’ patches of turf mocked-up, and university staff and athletes were invited to test the surfaces.

What to Consider – Type of Shock Pad

Shock pads made up of polypropylene, or rubber, can make a field play better, safer, and last longer.  Before shock pads came into use, infill material alone was used to provide shock absorption, or attenuation. In order to be truly safe, a lot of infill material had to be used. This had a large effect on player performance. Think of running in sand; the softer the sand the slower you run, and the sooner you get tired. A shock pad provides additional impact attenuation, which allows the infill material to be better tuned for optimal performance.

In addition, a shock pad will protect the backing of the fiber, adding to the life of the turf. A shock pad can add significantly to the cost of the turf system versus a turf system with no pad. However, the safety of young athletes is a critical concern that – in Quinnipiac’s case – eclipsed cost.

QU women’s soccer preseason practice on the FieldTurf.

Decision Summary

For its new soccer/lacrosse stadium, Quinnipiac chose a FieldTurf Revolution 360 field – the same as Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots and New England Revolution – along with their proprietary organic infill product and a Brock Powerbase YSR 25mm shock pad.

How We Can Help

Keeping up with the latest developments, in any field we work in, is part of the job description of an architect. Whether it’s state-of-the-art advancements in educational pedagogy, laboratory design, or playing fields; it’s how we help our clients make critical decisions about complex issues.

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this article, the latest study conducted under EPA guidelines also concluded that recycled rubber infill in synthetic turf poses negligible risks to human health. The report also stated that cancer risk levels for users of synthetic turf field were comparable to or lower than those associated with natural soil fields.

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.

Science and Architecture: Back to the Future!

This anaglyph-style rendering of Demerec Laboratory was created for Harbor Transcript’s 3D summer issue. If you can find 3D glasses, give it a shot!

As advancements in 3D visualization push the boundaries of virtual and augmented realities, you can imagine our surprise when longtime client Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory asked if we could create a “retro” rendering for use with 3D glasses to feature in the Summer 2017 issue of the Harbor Transcript. This rendering style looks to the past as CSHL and our design team rediscover a 1950s building that has been occupied by some of the laboratory’s most notable scientists—including Nobel laureates Alfred Hershey, Barabara McClintock, Richard Roberts, and Carol Greider—and transform it into a modern research facility.

Anaglyph images, the kind intended for viewing with 3D glasses, were first used in the late 1800s and came to prominence in U.S. cinema in the 1920s. Mainstream use in newspapers, magazines, and comic books flourished into the 1950s and ‘60s, engraining the iconic red-and-blue-lensed glasses into the cultural zeitgeist. At that same time, future Nobel laureates McClintock and Hershey were conducting their research within the newly constructed Demerec Laboratory building. Completed in 1953 during the Brutalist architecture movement, the building is brought to life in the anaglyph image which highlights the strong repetitive vertical window patterning that defined a new era of architecture in the 1950s-70s.

Aaron Trahan (far right) presents the Demerec anaglyph rendering to the office during a “Friday Dessert” session.

The biannual Harbor Transcript publication highlights current research and news across campus about scientists at the forefront of their fields. In the most recent issue, CSHL saw an opportunity to create a more dynamic and immersive experience accessible to all recipients. The unique “3D Science” issue features anaglyph imagery from current cancer research as well as a rendering of the proposed renovations and addition to the Demerec Laboratory building that our firm is involved in. Construction is slated to begin this summer on a renovation and expansion to house the new Center for Therapeutics Research, a new $75 million initiative that aims to apply the Laboratory’s biomedical expertise toward advancing therapeutics for genetic diseases.

In our office, research and testing is ongoing to study how advancements in virtual and augmented reality can benefit our design process. These burgeoning technologies allow an immersive experience for clients to gain an understanding of the volume and form of a building design that cannot be achieved with traditional renderings and animations. With all of their promise, these technologies currently fall short in their feasibility for mass distribution due to the necessity of headsets, apps, or tethering to computers.

In contrast, anaglyph images pair perfectly with print media because the iconic red and blue glasses can be easily inserted into a publication. This realization of the simplicity of what is now a “retro” technology is a perfect metaphor for the Demerec Laboratory renovations that seek to bring back the simplicity and beauty of a building from the same era. Creation of this image was a reminder that with ever-evolving technology, the best means to convey a project to a large audience isn’t always the most advanced.

This story also appears at CSHL’s newsblog LabDish. Our Demerec design team includes: Todd Andrews, Reno Migani, Aaron Trahan, Ken Cleveland, Frank Giordano, Scott Allen, Justin Hedde and Hugo Fenaux.

The Idea Workshop

Come workshop your ideal learning environment with us this week at NAIS 2017.

It’s that time of year again. The 2017 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference (#NAISAC on Twitter) is on tap this week, and we’re looking forward to heading down to Baltimore.

If you’re attending, drop by Centerbrook’s Idea Workshop (Booth 315) or follow our conversation on Twitter at #WhatsYourVision. Tell us what you think makes for an ideal learning environment. We’ll be using a graffiti wall and a tabletop space planning exercise to interactively create and share ideas about learning space design.

So #WhatsYourVision for the ideal classroom? Maker labs? Collaborative spaces? Outdoor integration? Join the conversation. We’d love to hear from you.

If you stop by, you’ll meet Todd Andrews, Russell Learned and Katie Roden Symonds. Todd and Russell lead Centerbrook’s Pedagogy CoDE (Community of Design Expertise) and all three are at the forefront of research and practice in education design.

The NAIS Conference is an annual gathering of independent school administrators, trustees and teachers. This year’s conference will be held March 1-3 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland.

Centerbrook Independent School Portfolio

MICDS Robotics Laboratory.

Notes from the Cube: Is Biomass a Viable Fuel Source?

Hotchkiss School, Heating Plant, Location: Lakeville CT, Architect: Centerbrook Architects

At last Friday’s “Dessert in the Cube”, Mark Herter, one of our sustainable building experts, discussed the future of biomass as a renewable thermal energy source. Mark has addressed several industry groups on the topic, including the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Biomass Heat and Power Conference.

Mark described the pros and cons of wood chips and pellets as an energy source. The public often has the impression that wood fuel is not sensible given the environmental impact of harvesting, emissions from combustion, ready access to forestland, and the special equipment required. This has slowed acceptance of the industry.


However, when harvested using sustainable forest management, and if near to a fuel source, biomass energy can be an economically and environmentally viable alternative to fossil fuels. Mark demonstrated this in Centerbrook’s Biomass Heating Plant at The Hotchkiss School, whose wood chips displace more than 150,000 gallons of fuel oil annually. With its advanced electrostatic precipitator removing nearly all particulates from the combustion, it cuts sulphur dioxide emissions by more than 90 percent and provides fertilizer for the school’s organic farm.

Hotchkiss School, Heating Plant, Location: Lakeville CT, Architect: Centerbrook Architects

We never overlook a sustainable option here at Centerbrook.

How to Add a Maker Space to Your Museum

Hubert Robert - Projet d'aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre (1796).
Hubert Robert – Projet d’aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre (1796).

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.

Essential Elements
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)
• Lockers
• Audio/video cabinets
• Open shelving

It’s Hammer Time!

Far Brook School

We’ve been working with Far Brook School in Short Hills, New Jersey to design new buildings to house their arts and science programs. It’s a special place; clapboard-sided, mission-driven. Students there get to learn by making things with their hands. One of the buildings is fitted with a full wood shop featuring wheeled workbenches, hand tools, a short-throw projector, and ample space for kids to hammer, saw, drill, sand, rasp and shape.


Unknown One of our finishing touches will be a sign above the shop’s front door, tucked into a gable. But it’s not just any sign, it’s a half-moon shape adorned with eight claw hammers. Four facing left, four facing right. Designed by Centerbrook and custom fabricated in steel by a local company, Asterisk, it will be a whimsical reminder to all who enter that the tools of learning need not be high tech but still require skill and patience to use effectively. Pre-distressed using an eco-friendly, chemically-induced weathering process, its rustic patina fits the honest character of Far Brook School.

Thanks to Mary Lynn Radych for the computer model, and to Patrick McCauley, our craftsman extraordinaire, for giving endless advice and building the mockup. I’ll be installing the sign very soon.

Mystic Seaport Museum Progress


The new Thompson Exhibit Building at Mystic is advancing rib by curvaceous rib. The office recently had a chance to visit the site and see the progress.


This animation produced by the contractor, A/Z Corporation, shows the phases of construction.

More photos and recent coverage of the project:

Not just building ships at Mystic Seaport -The Day

The Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition

A team of seven designers from Centerbrook submitted an entry for an innovative, multidisciplinary museum of art and design in Helsinki, Finland. The Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition was organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and the city reserved a prominent waterfront site for the proposed museum at Eteläsatama, or South Harbor area, an urban space of great national and cultural significance that is close to the historic city center and immediately visible to visitors arriving by sea. The Foundation received 1,715 entries; ours is GH-6043427870. The jury selected six teams in October of 2014 to develop their designs and a winner was eventually announced in June.

The Centerbrook team consisted of Mark Simon, Jim Childress, Katie Roden, Justin Hedde, Caitlin Taylor, Elizabeth Hedde, and Aaron Emma


Slide28- Continue reading The Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition