Category Archives: History

Historical Context

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

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.

Peabody Museum plans, dated March 21, 1923 (Yale University)

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.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh (Don Burkett/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

The Palestra, University of Pennsylvania (Peetlesnumber1/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Center for Community and Wolf Law School, University of Colorado (Jeff Goldberg/ESTO)

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.

Addition, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (Centerbrook Architects/James Corner Field Operations)

Big Apple Book Event

Centerbrook 4 Author Event at Rizzoli Bookstore in New York City. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook Architects)

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.

Centerbrook 4 Goes on the Road

L to R: Chad Floyd, Jeff Riley, Jim Childress and Mark Simon participated in an author event at the Madison R.J. Julia bookstore. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

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.

Jim Childress talks about his approach to Centerbrook 4. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

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 four principals channel H.H. Richardson. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

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.

The wonderful, intimate Madison R.J. Julia location. (Derek Hayn/Centerbrook)

Centerbrook 4 is available for purchase on R.J. Julia’s online store.

Cracking the Cover on Centerbrook 4

Taken from the pages of the new book, Centerbrook 4,  principal Chad Floyd provides a descriptive synopsis of what readers will learn from our fourth volume.

Centerbrook 4 Introduction, by Chad Floyd

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.

The Upper Drafting Room of our studio in Centerbrook.

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.

A staff cookout (a.k.a. “burn”) on the roof of our office overlooking Mill Pond.

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.

Patrick McCauley models an asteroid for the wall mural in our Southern Connecticut State University project.

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.

Centerbrook 4 is available for purchase at Amazon and Images Publishing.

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

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

Building (Moore) Castles in the Sand


It was a damp and cloudy day and the Centerbrook quartet ⎯ Russell Learned, Melissa Kops, Aaron Emma, and I, plus assorted spouses and children ⎯ was putting the finishing touches on our eclectic Sand Castle à la Moore when disaster struck. The cookie crumbled, so to speak.

With just two minutes left before the judging in the prestigious, first annual “SandStruction Competition,” a design/build beach exercise sponsored by AIA Connecticut, a portion of said sand castle collapsed.

Our first reaction was utter despair. But then we asked ourselves, “What would the late Charles W. Moore, the man whose sketches inspired our design, have done at a time like this?” And the answer was clear: “Get all kinds of collaborative, and fast!”

So we did ⎯ and we made the necessary repairs with 30 seconds to spare!

Despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered by our competitors, our team captured first prize, a decidedly off-the-rack plastic spray-painted “Gold Bucket.”

This damp drama (the drizzle actually helped solidify our monument to Moore) was part of the recent Savin Rock Festival at West Haven Beach. It is not often that architects have an audience, and we showed off our penchant for using indigenous sustainably-sourced materials (to wit: sand and seashells by the seashore).

A big “shout out” to Frank Russo of our longtime client Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Frank gave us numerous helpful tips.

Finding Your Place in History

Helping visitors find their place in history is part of the mission of Lancaster’s Museum and Library, and actress Zooey Deschanel is one of many who have taken full advantage. Earlier this year, the star of “Elf” and “(500) Days of Summer” paid a visit to Lancaster to research one of her ancestors who supported the 19th century Abolition Movement. And she did it on national television for an episode of The Learning Channel program “Who Do You Think You Are?”

2013A46.453 Following celebrities as they delve into their genealogy, the show provides a compelling and personal window into history and often delivers surprising revelations for the researchers and viewers alike. Part of a Campus of History that includes the home of President James Buchanan, Lancaster (LHO) has a national reputation for its museum exhibits, library, and archives that document, among other things, the genealogy of early settlers heading west. Lancaster was the end of the road during the early 1800s for many pioneers before trekking beyond the frontier. In fact, they often rolled west in Conestoga wagons built in Lancaster County.

Centerbrook recently completed a new building for LHO, and I was a member of the design team led by Partner Mark Simon, FAIA. Previously we had developed a Master Plan for the campus, which also encompasses an arboretum. The organization’s president, Tom Ryan, Ph.D., emphasized from the beginning his wish to create a contemporary, dramatic building as a way of communicating the excitement and relevancy of history. The curved lines of the roof recall the Conestoga wagon, while the stepped series of north clerestory windows are a nod to Lancaster’s significant industrial history.


The building – which features a number of large exhibit spaces, a dramatic lobby, and an auditorium – allows more of the collection to be shown and enables LHO to host major events and lectures. Many of the artifacts not formally on display are located in a glass-walled archive that presents glimpses of individual items as well as a sense of the breadth of the collection.

Television audiences across the country got to see the building for themselves during the episode, which featured an extended discussion with Ms. Deschanel in the new Rare Book Room, bookended by exterior footage of the building. LHO even arranged for a live screening in the new 225-seat auditorium. They already have received calls from Genealogy and Presidential buffs across the country, expressing interest in visiting.

Photo Nov 05, 10 35 08 AM copy

Ms. Deschanel also appears to have an affinity for another Centerbrook project. In the TV show she currently stars in, “New Girl,” the refrigerator in her apartment is adorned with a photograph of the Seneca Lake Pier at Watkins Glen. It was designed by partner Chad Floyd, FAIA.

Drawing from the Past


Here is a drawing that we recently unearthed while moving files to our archives. It was done by Bill Hersey, a great renderer who did lots of drawings for the office and Charles Moore in the 1970’s. It takes us back to the beginnings of the office here in our mill buildings, showing plans for a mews to the rear of the office around the tail race filled with shops and offices. Though the mews was never built that way and we have far fewer rented spaces now, in some ways this foretold the great activity and many uses that we find around our place. Bill Grover, who was here at the time comments:

This was a sketch, by Bill Hersey, that was made for a little 8-1/2″ square brochure printed on brown charcoal paper, that was used to attract potential tenants to the building. It was done about 1970 while Tom Rapp was the manager of Charles W. Moore Associates and also Mainstreet, Inc. which Rapp figured would earn Moore enough money to support his architectural practice.

It attracted a strange collection of artists, sculptors, graphic designers: a guy who made moccasins, a saw sharpener, a furniture stripper, John Furness (woodworker and shipwright), Charlie Thill (antiques), Gail Miller’s “Yellow Daffodil” gift shop.

Since that time, Mainstreet, Inc. has slowly evolved into Mainstream, Inc. All of the tenants have left or passed away. Centerbrook has grown substantially and now inhabits 95% of the premises. And the lower site was substantially destroyed in the Great Flood of 1982 and rebuilt by Centerbrook. The place is different but remains as charming as ever, a great place to work.


Charles W. Moore on Architecture

Several years ago Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel gave Duke University her catalog of videotaped interviews with artists, architects, and other cultural figures from the 1970s and 80s. They are now available on the web. Among them is a wonderful interview with Charles W. Moore, Centerbrook’s company forefather (or ancestor, perhaps).

Charles Moore is at his best. Bright, amusing, and slyly serious between wisecracks, he addresses his favorite topics – populist culture and architecture, participatory design, the “choreography of the familiar and surprising,” and the revolution of lively architecture that he led. The recording reveals his quiet demeanor (filled with “ums” and “ubs”) and at the same time his intention to turn the world of architecture in which he grew up upside down. He likes rooms over endless modern space. He promotes human comfort over beauty, which still must drive mainstream architects mad. And he says that buildings “speak” and should use all the colors of feeling available to them, not just the single minded aesthetics of the moderns.

It is a powerful reminder of the values that continue at Centerbrook.