Category Archives: Planning

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.

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.

Co-Designing Co-Housing

Photos by Sean O’Brien

If you ask people what is missing from contemporary life, what would they say? The answer in many cases, I believe, would be a sense of community. We often don’t know our neighbors, much less interact with them. We no longer raise barns together, swap tools, or lend a helping hand. It’s as if we live in parallel universes.

Green Haven Cohousing of Connecticut was formed by people who envision something different: a village where they can engage not only one another but a natural and bountiful environment as well. The concept embraces diversity, living in harmony with nature, and a multi-generational mix of residents.  Continue reading Co-Designing Co-Housing

Architecture for a Dream Client

Bill Grover and Jim Watson (Nobel Laureate Dr. James D. Watson to the world at large) are not exactly the odd couple, but they clearly are distinct from one another. One is an architect, the other a scientist. One is patient; one less so. Bill is calm and speaks softly; Jim can be a bit more flamboyant – albeit all in a good cause.

That cause, architecture in the service of science, is the subject the duo’s upcoming presentation for the Centerbrook Architecture Series hosted by the Essex Library on November 11.

Bill Grover, 1987
James D. Watson with double helix

Bill is a founding partner of Centerbrook, which the American Institute of Architects determined in 1998 was the best in the land. Bill captured dozens of awards for his work and was reviewed by The New York Times, among others. Jim co-discovered the architecture of DNA in 1953 at age 25, jumpstarting an entire new era of scientific inquiry that continues unabated today. The past Director of the Genome Project, Jim is arguably America’s greatest living scientist.

Together, starting in 1973, Bill and Jim transformed Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s 115-acre campus on Long Island, shaping it gradually over four decades like a couple of sculptors working in malleable clay. Once little more than a sleepy summer camp, today it is a bustling, internationally acclaimed research facility where thousands of scientists and students make an annual pilgrimage. More than 400 resident scientists are trying to find the causes and improved treatments for cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s etc. Continue reading Architecture for a Dream Client

An Architecture of Happy Accidents

View of Schaffhausen’s Altstadt from the canon fortress ‘Munot’

Owing to close family ties, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Switzerland.

Aside from the requisite sightseeing of astonishing alpine environs, the small city of Schaffhausen, first mentioned in the historical record in 1045, has served as my vacation base camp for more than 40 years.  Staying there so often has given me the opportunity to appreciate and study its urban fabric, architecture, and history in great detail.

Switzerland’s northernmost city, Schaffhausen is located on the bank of the river Rhein.  Its raison d’être lies just downriver.  The Rhein Falls, with its spectacular 75-foot drop, makes the river, once a major transportation route through central Europe, un-navigable.  Shipboard goods were unloaded at Schaffhausen – and stiff tariffs imposed – before they were carted a couple of miles to a point just below the falls (where additional duties were presumably levied).  This favorable situation made for a very vibrant and prosperous mercantile town, which grew dramatically between the 12th and 15th centuries, when its city “plan” (well, its non-plan, really) was shaped.  Its Altstadt, or medieval city core, has remained largely unchanged since.

The accompanying photos highlight one aspect of Schaffhausen’s built environment – the cheek-by-jowl density of buildings that over the centuries has produced countless collisions of assorted architectural styles, forms, and elements.  It is these oddities of juxtaposition – let’s call them Happy Accidents – that are the tastiest seasoning in its pot of bubbling architectural fondue. Continue reading An Architecture of Happy Accidents

Cell Phone Sellout a Faustian Bargain

Base station church tower Maasland, Holland

They have been with us for less than two decades and they are now a relentless necessity.  We’d sooner do without flush toilets than our cell phones.  If we can’t reach everyone from everywhere, or get the latest stock quotes while we’re on the treadmill, our business and personal lives are deeply compromised.

You’re in the Pet Food Aisle and you’re drawing a blank: does Whiskers distain Meow Mix or Little Friskies?  No problem, just pull your trusty cell out of its holster and call home.

To keep Whiskers purring, of course, the call HAS to go through.  And there’s the rub.  What we gave little thought to as our addiction grew was that total connectivity implied infrastructure, which isn’t always pretty – especially when it is given precious little forethought.  You can’t miss the sprawl: cell towers towering over pine forests, littering highways, atop pristine hills and ridges, sometimes “disguised” as trees-not-found-in-nature.  These fake trees are graphic testimony to the problem, but they are a sorry charade.  You stare at them longer than you do the silver blighters. Continue reading Cell Phone Sellout a Faustian Bargain

PLANNING at the Planning & Zoning Commission!

Main Street, Chester, CT

In his October 2, 2009 blog entry, “Zoning Out the Best Laid Plans,” Centerbrook Partner Chad Floyd tells us about the unfortunate ramifications for communities all across the country, including 23 towns in Connecticut, which have adopted boilerplate zoning codes provided decades ago by a Florida company.  Well, change does occur here in the “Land of Steady Habits,” but sometimes you need time-lapse photography to see it.  Little by little, however, we are planning our zoning better, at least in one Connecticut town.

For the past 16 months I have been serving on a subcommittee of the Planning & Zoning Commission in my hometown of Chester.  Our mission is to completely re-imagine the zoning regulations for the town’s much-loved Village District.  The hope is that the new regulations will reflect the actual context and character of our pocket-sized town center, rather than some generic, homogeneous vision imposed by those alien, boilerplate zoning codes.

For decades now, virtually every parcel in Chester’s Village District has been classified in zoning parlance as an “Existing, Non-conforming Use.”  What this means is that although the current eclectic mix of two- and three-story structures are more or less situated cheek-by-jowl and cover most, if not all, of their respective lots, the currently required 20-foot setbacks from front, side, and rear yards, and the maximum lot coverage requirement of just 25 percent, would not permit a new building of even remotely similar size to be constructed.  This is, of course, completely ridiculous.

Continue reading PLANNING at the Planning & Zoning Commission!

Zoning Out the Best Laid Plans

Essex, Connecticut, 1881
Essex, Connecticut, 1881

Newspaper editorial writers, generally on a tight deadline, often characterize architects – along with developers and engineers – as heavies overwhelming local land-use boards in pursuit of nefarious, land-gobbling sprawl.  We may be easy whipping boys, but the reality is that here in Connecticut, and in many places across the nation, architects would love to create sociable, dense urban communities with open space set aside in perpetuity, a practice generally known as New Urbanism.  Unfortunately there are many obstacles — the biggest, worst, and most entrenched being antiquated zoning codes that make sprawl all but inevitable.

Zoning codes began to appear in Connecticut in the boom years following World War II, a time when few questioned the American Dream of owning your own patch of land.  Writing zoning codes from scratch would have been a daunting undertaking for town volunteers at that time, so the codes were purchased lock, stock, and barrel from supplier companies eager to make money distributing zoning boiler plate.

One of the largest such suppliers is the perfectly respectable MuniCode, which since 1961 has supplied zoning codes to 23 Connecticut towns and cities.  Not bad for a company located in Tallahassee, Fl.  You might ask what a Tallahassee outfit knows about the special character of the New England village of Westbrook?  Probably not much.  So over time, Westbrook has taken on the suburban look of MuniCode’s 1,600 other client communities across the United States, which is a shame.

Continue reading Zoning Out the Best Laid Plans