Category Archives: Around Centerbrook

Notes from The Cube: “Can Self-Checkout Really Work?”

Ryan Hansen presents during Friday Dessert in The Cube.

At a recent Friday dessert conclave, Ryan Hansen described his year-long thesis research about how grocery store self-checkout kiosks have changed the way customers and staff interact with technology and with each other.

Ryan considered how cities spur civic engagement, and applied urban design principles to his analysis, with the goal of improving the customer experience. He surveyed new models for full automation like Amazon Go as well as Japan’s flourishing vending machine culture, necessitated by an aging population and dearth of low-cost labor.

Ryan’s research focused on Minnesota’s Lunds & Byerlys grocery store chain, which broadly implements self-checkout in its stores. He spent time in the St. Paul flagship studying how customers interacted with the kiosks; exploring demographic and design issues with an in-house architect, interior designer, and financial analyst; and interviewing cashiers and attendants to learn how self-checkout affected their daily tasks. He also visited Target and Walmart to see how their checkout areas were organized.

The foot traffic flow of a Lunds & Byerlys grocery store checkout area.

Ryan found that self-checkout has broad ergonomic, social, spatial, and organizational implications that all can be influenced by design. How intuitive is the self-checkout screen? What is the best pitch and volume of a warning buzzer? How can the checkout area be organized to enhance security and improve worker satisfaction? What visual cues can ease traffic flow? How can lighting and color induce calm?

Ryan’s hope is that careful planning and design can promote healthy human interactions, even when we’re picking up milk and eggs on the way home.

Ryan’s drawing comparing self and traditional checkout lines.

Committee on Design Reunion

A reunion of past Committee on Design chairs at the committee’s 2019 Spring Conference in San Francisco. Centerbrook was the only firm present with two past chairs: Mark Simon (first row, second from right) and Jim Childress (third row, third from left).

The national American Institute of Architects has a number of member interest groups, called ‘Knowledge Communities.’ These range from committees focusing on particular types of projects to practice and technical issues. They began 50 years ago with the establishment of a ‘Committee on Aesthetics,’ now the ‘Committee on Design,’ that was fostered by the late Jean-Paul Carlhian, a partner in Shepley Bullfinch, the Boston firm that evolved out of HH Richardson’s office. Jean-Paul felt that design was too often overlooked by the business oriented AIA as well as the American public, and that the institute needed an ‘ombudsman’ group that would promote good design within and without the AIA.

Over the past 50 years, the Committee on Design has thrived. It does important work for the AIA as a whole, selecting awards juries and finding candidates for special institute honors. When it began in 1969, it met at AIA headquarters to discuss issues and to organize the AIA’s design awards and then visit an American city to focus on a particular issue. By the time I joined in 1980, the Committee was visiting two cities as well as Washington, and the visits included extensive tours as well as discussions. This grew out of Jean-Paul’s (and others’) strong conviction that to be truly comprehended, architecture must be seen in place, not through photographs. And that led as well to the requirement that annual national awards finalist buildings be visited by a jury member.

All past Committee on Design chairs were asked to compile a slideshow representing their year for the 2019 reunion. Here are two from Mark Simon’s show.

Recently, Jim Childress and I joined past chairs of the committee in San Francisco to celebrate its 50th birthday at a Committee on Design conference on innovation. It was wonderful to reconnect with many old distinguished friends and see the latest and greatest work arising out of Silicon Valley and San Francisco’s tech culture.

Jim and I are very proud to come from one of only three firms in the country (Pei and Partners has had three) that provided more than one chairman in the Committee’s history. I was mildly horrified that my chairmanship tenure (1986) was the oldest represented at the reunion, but time passes quickly when you are having fun! Jim’s was 2015 and even that seems long ago now.

The program cover and introduction from the 2015 Committee on Design Spring Conference in Providence, R.I., led by Jim.

The Fishway is on its Way

The fishway behind our studio will allow migratory fish to gradually ascend 18 feet to Mill Pond. (Centerbrook Architects)

An effort years in the making, it was officially announced that a fishway will be installed on our campus this summer. The following is a news release from The Nature Conservancy that details this exciting project:

Falls River to Benefit from Fishway Construction this Summer

CENTERBROOK, CT (March 12, 2019) – Migratory alewife and blueback herring will soon be able to reach additional high-quality habitat—including the 59-acre Mill Pond in Centerbrook—with The Nature Conservancy’s construction of two fishways on the Falls River this summer.

To be built at the Mill Pond and Dolan Pond dams, the fishways also will benefit migratory American eel and other resident fish and improving overall river health.

The building of a fishway around the 18-foot tall Mill Pond dam, which is slated to begin in late summer, is supported by a generous $250,000 grant from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation. The Nature Conservancy continues to raise money to round out support for the project.

The Dolan Pond dam fishway project—expected to kick off as early as July—is supported by the Audubon Connecticut In-Lieu Fee Program and Tom’s of Maine. Tom’s of Maine’s support for the Mill Pond dam project is part of a larger contribution of $1.8 million to TNC to help restore and revitalize waterways in need.

There are more than 4,000 dams in Connecticut. Most of these dams were built during the Colonial and Industrial periods and no longer serve the purposes for which they were built. They do, however, block fish migration and impact river health.

“Migratory fish like alewife and blueback herring need access to upstream freshwater habitat to reproduce and rebuild their own populations,” said Sally Harold, director of river restoration and fish passage for TNC in Connecticut. “These dams keep them from getting to that critical habitat.”

Without a robust population of fish like alewife, an entire host of creatures including turtles, otters, racoons, eagles and many marine fish lose a critical food source.

In cases where dams can’t be taken down, fishways—sometimes called fish ladders—provide an alternate approach to opening access to habitat.

Fishways are made up of a series of ascending pools or a roughened chute that allows fish to get over or around a dam. Migrating fish swim upstream through the flowing water that connects the pools, resting in the pools along the way.

At 18-feet tall, the Mill Pond dam—which is only a half-mile upstream from the Dolan Pond dam—is the larger of two projects.

For that project, The Nature Conservancy is working with Centerbrook Architects, the dam’s owner, to develop opportunities for the public to view alewife on their journey upstream through a viewing window that will be incorporated into the fishway wall

The Mill Pond and Dolan Pond fishways will be TNC’s second and third fishways on the Falls River. In 2014, TNC and partners built a fishway downriver at the Tiley-Pratt dam.

2018 Review: Project Images

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History addition and renovation. (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

We worked on 70 different projects in one capacity or another in 2018. While some have garnered their fair share of attention, others 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 featuring some of our work from the past year. Also included are a few frames from recently completed projects that were photographed for the first time in 2018.

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.

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.

The Steward of the Sluice

Our resident craftsman, Ron Campbell, recently installed two new sluice gates and restored the lifting and lowering mechanisms on our hydro-turbine’s head race. Let’s break that down.

About 10 percent of our power at Centerbrook is generated by a low-head hydropower turbine. Installed in 1982, the turbine in the basement of our mill building uses the infrastructure that once harnessed waterpower to run machinery that manufactured drill bits. A “head race” diverts water from our pond to the turbine, through which it flows before exiting the “tail race” into the Falls River below. The diverted water collects in a concrete tank with a hydraulically-actuated control switch.

We clean the tank and a screen that catches debris (and the occasional northern water snake) before it enters the turbine. That’s where the upstream gates come in–they shut the inlets, stopping the water flow so we can drain the tank and do the maintenance. Problem was, the long-submerged gates leaked.

Enter Ron.

He planned to remove the gates by hand and rigged up a brace to hold them in place as they came out. Concerns about safety led him to instead enlist arborist Town Burns, who brought in a crane mounted on a flat-bed truck. Lashed to a harness, the gates came out in short order.

Using the old gates as templates, Ron fabricated new ones out of sturdy white oak, fastened together with stainless steel hardware. He restored the rack-and-pinion lifting and lowering mechanisms, which involved welding a broken toggle and fabricating new pinion gears. Asterisk, Inc. helped with this, cutting steel with a water jet. Ron sandblasted all the parts and finished them with a two-part epoxy-based blue/gray paint.

Installation was the reverse of removal.

Photos by Derek Hayn and Patrick McCauley

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has officially sprung at Centerbrook. Our mill compound here is capped with a rooftop garden where we gather for cookouts and camraderie when weather permits. We’re treated to expansive views of the Falls River and our dam and spillway, and shaded by a cedar trellis topped with wisteria. Its fragrant blossoms called our architect-gardeners to action, who at lunch today filled teak planters with flowers and herbs procured by Matt Montana from nearby Acer Gardens. Each contains the same varieties, blended together in a pleasing composition that complements our green roof of sedum. Up next, a moss garden at the base of the wisteria’s twined stem, which will be watered with air handler condensate. Waste not, want not.

Kudos and thanks to architect-gardeners Matt Montana, Jim Childress, Ted Tolis, Anna Shakun, Mark Herter, David O’Connor, and Pete Cornell. Photos by Derek Hayn

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.