Category Archives: Beloved Buildings

UConn Chem at 20

One of the sayings we have around here about our approach to design is; “endearing is enduring.” As we found during a recent event, the UConn Chemistry Building is Example 1.a. of that catchphrase.

In the two decades since the ribbon was cut, the building has endeared itself so much so that the Chemistry Department organized two days’ worth of events to celebrate its 20th anniversary. We were honored to take part in the festivities. Principal-in-Charge Mark Simon and Project Manager Jim Coan led the Blueprint Architect Tour of the building, and Mark took part in an exclusive Q&A session, going behind the scenes of how the project came to fruition.

As with any anniversary event, it was a trip down memory lane for those involved from the beginning. The first of two guided building tours started with a look at our model, which prompted Art Dimock (then-department head, now-lecturer emeritus) to recall a tidbit from the original planning meeting where the lone request from UConn Facilities Management was that the building have a pitched roof. Apparently one less building they had to worry about a flat [leaky] roof was a high priority.

The tours elicited a number of questions and comments. During one chem lab stop, a guest mentioned that there is a noticeable lack of any chemical odor. “It smells good in here.” Art attributed that to the building’s robust ventilation system.

Another guest, who is a new professor in the department and joined the tour to learn more about the building, was impressed that the labs have whiteboards on three walls – providing ample space for class participation.

One of the main talking points across both tours was the considerable extent of building systems and services necessary for a chem lab – fire protection piping, supply air ductwork, power, water, lab gases, telecommunications, etc. – and how they were laid out in layers that rundown the hallway and split off to each lab. There are no suspended ceilings in the lab areas and corridors. The original intent was, as needs and wants change over time – say changing a dry lab to a wet lab, or vice versa – that conversion work would be minimal. Building manager Tyler Cardinal confirmed the ease of access is indeed as originally intended.

Special access to the attic was granted for our tours. The sheer size of the equipment housed there is quite impressive, with the massive air handlers needed to properly vent a 200,000-square-foot chemistry building. As Mark noted, it’s also defacto bonus storage space not found in a flat roof building.

Overall, there have been very few changes in the 20 years since the Chemistry Building opened. A small library was converted to a tutoring room since journals are now accessible online. A computer lab was also adapted to a research lab since dedicated desktop workstations are no longer a necessity. There are more student locker spaces in the labs since enrollment is up in the last 20 years. Naturally, the size of equipment and instrumentation has decreased over the years, so the way some spaces are utilized has changed a bit as a result. The nuclear magnetic resonance equipment, for one, has changed dramatically. But as Mark commented upon entering one of the general chemistry labs, which can be extrapolated to the building on the whole, it pretty much is as it was in 1999.

And as it became clear from the event’s planning stages through execution, the building has indeed endured as it has endeared itself to so many. Chemistry department head Dr. Christian Bruckner, a great champion of the building, noted that only one chem faculty member has chosen to leave UConn for another institution since the building opened. He added that it is likewise a great recruiting tool for prospective faculty.

In fact, the Chemistry Building is so revered, it was commemorated on a cake during the event’s luncheon. Two cakes, to be exact!

Fun Fact #1:

The 14 large stacks perched on the roof ridges (see above) are prominent feature of the Chemistry Building’s exterior. Each is fed by multiple exhaust ducts – some more than others (see below) – but they are uniform in their size at seven feet wide by 19 feet high. Wind studies determined the height that would safely disperse the exhaust and reduce the potential for reentrainment at air intakes at this and adjacent buildings. And to add to the stack discussion – one of the 14 is actually for aesthetic purposes to keep the uniformity, and has no exhaust function. We’re not telling you which one, though!

Fun Fact #2:

The floor tile in the hallways of the two lab wings have a feature that would likely go undetected by a guest, but is essential knowledge to lab users. The darker tiles designate where the emergency services are located. So if one accidentally gets chemicals in their face, perhaps resulting in impaired vision, they can trek toward the distinguished dark tiles for the wash station. And to answer a follow-up question from the tour, there is no drain at the emergency wash station since the chemicals have to be safely contained.

Fun Fact #3:

The Chemistry Building has its own machine shop in the basement, where instruments can be manufactured or modified as needs arise for different experiments. There was also originally a glass blowing shop next door to the machine shop, but that service has since been outsourced.

To see more about the 20th anniversary events, UConn Chemistry set up a webpage on their site to commemorate the milestone. You can also check out this preview of the events from the UConn student newspaper.

Peabody Project Progressing

A view of the Central Gallery from the new addition to historic Yale Peabody Museum. (credit: Centerbrook Architects)

Our extensive Yale Peabody Museum of Natural history renewal project has recently received approval from both the New Haven Board of Alders and the City Planning Commission. As part of the municipal approval process, a number of new renderings were made public for the first time.

Among these renderings are two images of the Central Gallery, the first interior views to be released. The Central Gallery is the centerpiece of the project’s new construction, a four-story infill addition between the Peabody Museum and neighboring Environmental Science Center.

Also included in this image update are six new exterior views featuring landscape designs by James Corner Field Operations, whose portfolio includes award-winning projects like the High Line in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Domino Park.

The multi-year project is currently targeted to commence construction in March 2020. More information can be found in this detailed update from the Yale Daily News.

A New Building, a New Campus Vibe

Kurt Schleunes is a mathematics teacher at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, MA.

Guest blogger Kurt Schleunes teaching a class in Berkshire School's new science and math building
Guest blogger Kurt Schleunes teaching a class in Berkshire School’s new science and math building

Our new academic building, the Bellas/Dixon Math and Science Center, has transformed the Berkshire School both educationally and culturally. It isn’t just a pretty façade with great facilities. The design incorporates the idea that change will occur rapidly in the 21st century and that a building must be optimally flexible, for now and for later. The science and math rooms meet not simply the needs of today’s students, but they also were designed with an eye towards the future as curriculum requirements, teachers, and students change.

Berkshire School

Our Advanced Math/Science Research Laboratory is a prime example. It is now a full-on microbiology research facility with ties to laboratories and professional researchers in Albany, Hartford, and the Berkshires. Under the direction of Dr. April Burch, director of the program, this lab has been able to grow and change according to the needs of the students.

Similarly, our Project Exploration Room has gone through several iterations in just a couple of years and is now home to our STEAM program. This Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics program continues to expand in scope, including an after school program and an interdisciplinary component. This allows classes to access the room and use it in a variety of ways. Current projects include a 20-foot-long suspension bridge, 3D printing in a variety of disciplines, and artistic pursuits. We never anticipated that one of our students would use the room to create a piece of art that was honored as one of the top 35 AP Studio Art pieces in the nation; we just made sure to leave enough room and provide the resources to help her succeed.


The science rooms are well laid out, with excellent adjacent storage that, again, allows for maximum flexibility in terms of the types of classes and manner of projects that can use the space. The math rooms are big! This enables lots of group work and the ability for students to present projects to the class without feeling any space limitations. Our students are much more relaxed in the new building because of the spaciousness of its classrooms and labs. They also are able to use the Center as a study space because of all the areas designed for that.


On the personal level, this new facility has rejuvenated my teaching. I can now incorporate technology into my classes like never before. For example, in Multivariable Calculus, we are creating mathematical surfaces in K3dSurf, a mathematical modeling program. Then we bring them into SketchUp and make buildings. Then we bring them into Meshmixer and distort them, a la Frank Gehry. Next we bring them into Cura and print them out on our Ultimaker2 3D printers. It’s Unbelievable.


The Bellas/Dixon Math and Science Center is a source of pride for everyone at the school and visiting tours are pretty amazed. The open and transparent interior design lets them look right into classrooms and walk into many of the rooms to get a feel for what we are doing. Its beautiful spaces also make it a very popular place for students to hang out and study at all hours of the day.



We constantly have representatives from schools that are looking to build their own STEM centers come through and they’ll say, enviously, “We really want a building like this.” I tell them, “Get Centerbrook.”

Kurt Schleunes is a mathematics teacher at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He created the school’s Advanced Math/Science Research Program and has assisted eight student semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, an annual program of the Society for Science & the Public. He also plays the vibraphone and marimba.

On Completing the Yale Bowl

 A model of the original plan for the Yale Bowl, 1914
A model of the original plan for the Yale Bowl, 1914

The original design of the iconic Yale Bowl, which in 1914 would become the largest stadium built since the Roman Coliseum, included an elaborate central entry gate, with three majestic entry arches between two towers, and outside of them a pair of monumental stairs. Such a grand place, set on 12-plus acres and seating 70,869 spectators, surely deserved a grand entrance for its crowds.

But the planned formal gateway to the gridiron pantheon was never built 100 years ago. The Bowl would have to wait for a proper front facade for 95 years, all the while sporting a yawning unfinished notch in its oval exterior. With the Bowl’s centennial looming, Yale decided that it was time to restore it, which it did from 2004 to 2006, although still without addressing the missing capstone.

Before our involvement: a 'temporary' team room was jammed into the notch.
Before our involvement: a ‘temporary’ team room was jammed into the notch.

After the restoration, Yale asked Centerbrook to design a building to fill the notch, and to create a welcoming and celebratory focus for its expanding athletic campus on Derby Avenue. Centerbrook’s solution was the three-story Kenney Center, Jensen Plaza leading up to it, and a bronze statue scanned from the taxidermied original Handsome Dan to stand guard over it all. Larger-than-life Dan and Jensen Plaza, where the names of all football letter winners since 1872 are now carved into the Mount Airy Granite paving, have become a pre-game destination for fans, old Blues, and young Blues, too.

The Yale Bowl turns 100 this fall. Happy Birthday!

Dan as Destination
Dan as Destination
View of the Bowl from the Kenney Center
View of the Bowl from the Kenney Center
Glory Days for varsity letter winners
Glory Days for varsity letter winners

Photos by Peter Aaron/Esto, Chris Volpe

For Me, Boathouses Rock

Boathouse Row, Philadelphia
Boathouse Row, Philadelphia

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.

Vesper and Malta, Philadelphia
Vesper and Malta, Philadephia

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.

Boathouse at Lakewood House
Boathouse at Lakewood House

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.

Mark Simon in the stern seat for a view of the completed Lakewood boathouse
Mark Simon in the stern seat for a view of the completed Lakewood boathouse
Over the years this Adirondack Guide Boat and its sheltering boathouse will settle naturally into the landscape
Over the years this Adirondack Guide Boat and its sheltering boathouse will settle naturally into the landscape

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.

Interior of Boldt boathouse
Interior of Boldt boathouse
Boldt boathouse 1000 Islands NY
Boldt boathouse 1000 Islands NY
Swallow Boathouse, Lake Winnipesaukee
Swallow Boathouse, Lake Winnipesaukee
Prospect Point Camp boathouse, Upper Saranac Lake, New York
Prospect Point Camp boathouse (Built by Mark Simon’s great-grandfather), Upper Saranac Lake, New York
Topridge Boathouse, New York
Topridge Boathouse, New York
Prospect Park Boathouse, Brooklyn
The Prospect Park boathouse was designed by Helmle & Huberty in the classical style. It’s going on my list for things to see in New York.

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.

Chesapeake Boathouse, Oklahoma City designed by Elliott + Associates Architects
Chesapeake Boathouse, Oklahoma City designed by Elliott + Associates Architects
The new Harry Parker Boathouse, the home of Cambridge Community Rowing designed by Anmahian Winton Architects
The new Harry Parker Boathouse, the home of Cambridge Community Rowing designed by Anmahian Winton Architects
WMS Boathouse, Studio Gang Architects, Chicago
Jeanne Gang’s boathouse in Chicago is getting tons of press lately. Boathouse design projects bring out the best in architects

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.

The author at the Catch
The author at the Catch

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.


Photos by Juan Torres, Michael W Murphy, Melanie Lukesh, dvs, Brandon Watts, Pam Miller, Ed Keagle, Peter Aaron/Esto

Reflections on Otaniemi Chapel

Photos by Molly Hubbs

Designed by Heikki and Kaija Siren in 1957, the Otaniemi Chapel is settled quietly among the pine and birch trees on the Aalto University Campus in Finland. The woodland clearing contrasts starkly with the hustle of the main campus. As this was my first trip above the Baltic, I found all Finnish architecture enchanting. And so it was with the Otaniemi Chapel. Its simplicity of form and material impressed upon me the ideals of early modernism. Continue reading Reflections on Otaniemi Chapel

Once You Saw it…Now You Don’t

A short while ago, when coming down Prospect Street in New Haven, you would have spied a sleek, one-story, silver classroom and office building with horizontal metal siding and long patterns of windows that seemed to race by each other. It was an intriguing curiosity, boldly announcing that it was having fun. And yet its demure profile let it nestle neatly into a residential neighborhood. Long and sinuous, it meandered around a flagstone-paved entry court with floor-to-ceiling glass under a short porch, welcoming academics to enter.

There was more than a hint of acceleration. Designed a decade ago and constructed in only 9 months (and at half the going cost), this was a temporary building to house Yale’s Political Science Department, which was homeless following the demolition of its old digs and before the establishment of a permanent base. Continue reading Once You Saw it…Now You Don’t

Really Scary Architecture

"Psycho" photo by Audrey

The headline above could reference brand new edifices that preternaturally swoop and sway, hither and thither, as if a tornado had been an integral part of the design team. Or perhaps the “Orange Cube,” a commercial apparition in Lyon, France that appears to be a giant pumpkin-carving project gone awry (it’s actually more fun than frightening).

But, no, I am writing about a classic residence that literally was as scary as the horror movie it starred in. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” came out in the summer of 1960, when I was 10 years old. Our parents refused to take us to such a disturbing film, so my older brother Steve and I skimmed some cash from our paper route earnings and rode our bikes to the Madison Theater for a matinee.

I was terrified that the man would not let us in, but equally terrified when he did. Ratings had yet to be invented. Continue reading Really Scary Architecture

Still High on the High Line

I touched on New York City’s High Line in my last post; now I am landing on it with both feet. Set atop an abandoned, elevated rail line, it is the planet’s longest green roof, stretching nearly a mile and a half. It is a remarkable, idiosyncratic pathway that commences in lower Manhattan’s West Side, at Gansevoort Street, and runs north to West 34th Street, augmenting an existing park system lining the Hudson River.

Along its merry way, the High Line provides city residents and visitors with an urban oasis as well as limitless perspectives on the surrounding natural and built landscape. For example, the Statue of Liberty, to the south in New York Harbor, is framed in one stretch, the Empire State Building looms to the north, while westward toward Chelsea is a Frank Gehry designed apparition. Its frankly amorphous and frosty facades fit the nondescript client, IAC (InterActiveCorp), to a tee. It’s hard to tell what either of them is supposed to be. Continue reading Still High on the High Line