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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
For many of us, basements are an afterthought, their contents hidden from view. Not here at Centerbrook. We cut holes in the floor just to see what’s down there.
Granted, we have a pretty neat basement. It houses our 10-kW low-head hydropower turbine and its supporting infrastructure. Since 1982, whenever water flows over our dam, it produces power. A constant thrum under the Cube’s floor was our only reminder of its operation, until now.
Our facilities manager extraordinaire, Ron Campbell, recently installed a portal that brings the hydro-gear into full view. Ever precise in his work, Ron centered it on the turbine, its holding tank, and the tail race beneath where the water exits.
Hovering 14 feet above the turbine, the portal’s glass cover –fabricated by Lucid Glass Studio of East Providence –is a three-layer sandwich topped with an anti-skid frit. A full 1 ¼” thick, its tempered low-iron glass is plenty sturdy and provides a dramatic, though slightly vertiginous view of the happenings below. Cold-formed and secured to oak floor joists, a circular maple frame supports the glass, which is protected by a neoprene pad in between.
Up next: the turbine, tank, and flowing water will be lit under the theatrical lighting direction of Partner Chad Floyd.
Last Friday our “Dessert in The Cube” series hosted our friend and collaborator Phil Williams. Phil is an engineer who found his calling with Delos, whose modest goal is to infuse human health and wellness into the built environment.
Centerbrook designed the 7,500-square-foot Well Living Laboratory, which Delos and the Mayo Clinic use to measure how the interior environment affects us. Our own Mark Simon and Jim Coan then joined Phil on Saturday to describe its design and the results of the first round of experiments at the inaugural Northeast Summit for a Sustainable Built Environment at Yale (following image).
Phil reminded us that humans evolved to hunt and gather, not to sit in front of a computer screen. Amazingly, while modern homo sapiens spend 90 percent of our time indoors, until the Well Living Laboratory, there was no effort to quantify how that impacts our short and long term health and wellbeing.
The lab’s first experiments simulated an office environment for eight Mayo Clinic digital medical records workers. For 18 weeks, they completed their usual tasks while researchers measured the impacts of lighting, temperature, acoustics, and other variables. The lab’s systems and sensors performed as advertised, and the data showed clear and measurable impacts of different environmental conditions. The next experiments will focus on how lighting quality affects cognitive ability.
Delos, making no small plans, will open another Well Living lab in China that is four times larger, and envisions a network of studies with developers, architects, and owners all around the world. We’re honored to be part of it.