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Sketch Up

Architectural Record recently held its annual Cocktail Napkin Sketch Contest. This year we thought it would be fun to throw a few napkins into the ring.

Although – in my opinion – we had some championship-caliber entries, they ultimately were not among the magazine’s featured winners. They’re too good not to see the light of day though, so we’ll give them life here.

So here are the sketches, described by the architects in their own words.

“I have always admired the simplicity, elegance, engineering and ingenuity of Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch. The stainless steel catenary curve has a purity that exudes the notion that less is more. Traveling to St. Louis for the MICDS STEM and Center for Community Building enabled me to visit the Arch at different times of the year and day. I found that the simplistic form is amazingly dynamic; the arch gracefully reflects the light and the seasonal qualities of sun-soaked vibrant summer day or a cool crisp autumnal evening.”Todd Andrews

“This is a program diagram, illustrating the design process and how it’s about relationships between different elements. It’s also about how the process is not a linear process – it goes forward, goes back – and we’re always thinking about a million different things in creating a solution to a problem.”Elizabeth Hedde

“This is nature inside and city outside. So you’re surrounded by the city but you’re visiting nature indoors instead of outdoors.”Justin Hedde

“This is a house from Japanese architect Terunobu Fujimori, one of my favorite architects. He’s a historian and an architect, and he does houses with these little tea houses up top.” – Justin Hedde

“This is the view of a historic European city from an airplane.” – Justin Hedde

Notes from the Cube


This is the first in what we hope will be regular missives on happenings in Centerbrook’s Cube, our newly-minted collaboration and inspiration zone. It is quickly becoming our firm’s physical and metaphorical heart and is bringing us together in new and surprising ways.

Since its “ribbon cutting” in May we’ve used the Cube for meetings, design sessions, lectures, vendor demonstrations, mock-ups, and lunches. Of particular interest are Friday post-lunch “Dessert in the Cube” presentations that gives staff an open forum to present on a topic of their choice. Limited to 15 minutes, it’s a TED Talk Centerbrook-style, which means free-wheeling discussion.

Jay Klebeck

Among the folks we’ve heard from so far are Ted Tolis on the intricacies of the underground utilities and materials management facilities on Yale University’s Science Hill, Brian Adams on the similarities between dance choreography and campus circulation, Derek Hayn about photographing the New York City street grid from a helicopter, Jay Klebeck on the indigenous architecture of Nova Scotia, Chuck Mueller on Swiss villages, Todd Andrews on how we involved a local parish in the design of their new church, and, this week, Russell Learned on the Guinness Storehouse visitor center in Dublin.

"The Empire"
Derek Hayn
Guinness Tour Image
Russell Learned

From time to time we’ll post a Note from the Cube, with the hope of showcasing the myriad inspirations that enrich our practice of architecture and connect us to each other.

What in the Daylights?


True to our Connecticut Yankee roots, Centerbrook sees itself as a place that marries thrift with ingenuity. Our factory building made drill bits before we converted it to ply our craft, we use water and sun to make electricity, desks are made from recycled solid-core doors; the permutations are many. We also test new building technologies here, with the theory that they’d better work for us before we suggest them to our clients.

Our latest experiment is a SunShine Daylighting System that was installed, gratis, by our friends at Ameri Energy Group. It’s a clever unit that looks like a standard skylight but captures and diffuses “natural” daylight more efficiently and evenly and promises energy savings from reduced electricity use. During the day, its skylight, diffusion lens, and reflective panels shed light on the proverbial subject, while at night LEDs add so-called “artificial” light if its needed.

The daylighting system joins many other newfangled materials and products that heat, cool, power, and light our office, which include: flooring made of recycled tires, window film that reduces solar glare, propane-fired high efficiency boilers, and a green roof of sedum. All of it, we hope, demonstrates our commitment to being good stewards of our resources and making ours a humane and productive place to work.

Richard Stebbins and Anthony Chirico of Ameri Energy Group
Richard Stebbins and Anthony Chirico of Ameri Energy Group

Collaboration on the Way to a Synagogue


The completion of our additions to The Temple-Tifereth Israel has just been heralded by the results of a unique four-way collaboration in the reconstruction of an old Ark as the central focus of the Temple’s new Chapel.

The Ark has made its way to the newly expanded and renovated Beachwood, Ohio, building from its original home at the University Heights synagogue in Cleveland. Built almost a century ago to house the congregation’s cherished Torah Scrolls, the Ark desperately need refurbishing, but remained an emotional touchstone for its congregation.

The collaboration began with a concept from The Temple’s Senior Rabbi Richard Block, which I integrated with the Chapel design. Engaging two groups of artistic craftsmen, we comingled our ideas in a series of conversations to bring the historic piece back to life in a new manifestation.

The wooden Ark was carefully restored and refinished by Cleveland’s Norbert Koehn, who also made a new Chapel reading table. The Ark doors, which were previously all solid wood, have new, illuminated stained glass designed by ‘Plachte-Zuieback Art Glass,’ the northern California firm of David and Michelle Pachte-Zuilback. Their blue and white glass glows from LED panels behind, transforming the Ark into a luminous presence. The glass is made to look like folded drapes, the traditional cover for the Torah Scrolls inside an ark.

In the new domed space, the ark sits beneath a huge bimah archway. While small in its setting, the Ark’s glow, and that of historic stained glass windows that also moved to Beachwood from the old downtown chapel, shines in the daylight and warms the space at night. It evokes the Rabbi’s vision of a living faith that regenerates through the ages.



Three “helio-spires” are being installed atop the main entrance to the Southern Connecticut State University’s New Science and Academic Laboratory. Inspired by 16th century models of heliospheres that placed the sun, not the earth, at the center of the universe, these kinetic helio-spires are meant to spark the imagination and mark the threshold into the newly formed science quad.


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The “Cube” is Taking Shape


Centerbrook is renovating while respecting our roots and old factory complex on the Falls River. After years of dispersion among our multiple buildings, we are creating a central town square to encourage teamwork and the serendipity of chance meetings to stir more innovation. The square double-height space will be our new metaphorical heart. Framed by sturdy chestnut columns, the old floor hums with the hydropower turbine underfoot, a reminder of our industrial roots and sustainable present.

This space –called the “cube” for obvious reasons –has over the years housed a ping pong table, our products library, a turret-shaped nine-sided conference space affectionately called the “obstruct-agon,” and our kitchen. Cleared of all that in its latest incarnation, it’ll be a creative playground to flexibly welcome 6 or 60 people for formal and spontaneous discussion and collaboration. Ringed with building libraries, it’ll be a place for sharing information and solving problems. A relocated kitchen, with donated fixtures and hand-crafted cabinets, sits modestly in a nook, with tea and coffee at hand to inspire sharp thinking.

IMG_6776 Continue reading The “Cube” is Taking Shape

A Breath of Fresh Air from Winnipeg


Last Friday Johanna Hurme from 5468796 Architecture spoke at the Centerbrook Architects Lecture Series at the Essex Library, with support from her partner Sasa Radulovic. It was a very entertaining talk full of ideas, inspiration, and humor.

They are from Winnipeg: who knew such fantastic architecture was coming out of central Canada. They are finding ways to make simple things, such as a bandstand, modest housing, special.


If you have not heard of them, you will. Their work is tremendous, and their advocacy for good design is making a difference. We were honored to learn from them.

Check them out at

Fall on the Falls River


I have a compulsion to take photographs that develops (pun intended) about this time every year when the leaves change. I need to document it. Although let’s be honest, it’s not just the fall; it’s the egret that just flew by my office window, the wisteria on the roof in spring, the snow falling on the solar panels, the hockey game on the pond … all of it. If I were to ask you to picture Connecticut in your mind, it would probably look a lot like the view out my window. You can’t get much more Connecticut than Centerbrook.


The light, color, and feel of fall seem to amplify this Connecticuty effect. Maybe I’m getting old, but I’m starting to understand why people drive north to see the leaves change. It may be a cliché, but I don’t tire of capturing it.


Some of my coworkers have been kind enough to share their compulsive images in this post too. We’re all trying to capture a piece of this place and take it with us. I don’t think there are many people who feel that way about where they work (Well, except for this guy).

So as with most of my posts, I’ll keep my rambling short and get to the pictures. Besides, there are still leaves left on the trees.

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.

Organ Transplant

When duty calls, I answer. If it means travelling to Quebec to visit the renowned Casavant Frères, foremost facteur d’orgues in the world, c’est la vie. The exquisite pipe organ that I and two others came to examine was assembled at the Casavant factory in Saint-Hyacinthe, and following our inspection it would be carefully disassembled for its journey to St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. It will be installed in September, replacing an outdated organ.

The massive instrument is roughly 18-feet by 18-feet by 20-feet tall and has more pipes than I could count; there is less than two inches of clearance on either side of the space that we have designed for it. The organ will be the centerpiece of the expansion and renovations to the historic church that Centerbrook, led by Partner Jim Childress, designed.

I was joined on the tour by Reverend David J. Ware, Rector of St. John’s Church, and church organist Dr. Carol Weitner, who sat down and – in a wonderful, impromptu concert – put l’orgue through its paces. It is the 3,897th organ that the firm has crafted since 1879. They can be found all around the world.

I could ramble on, but this video will do a better job of characterizing the magnificent artistry and grandeur of this complex musical machine – not to mention the considerable talents of Dr. Weitner. She is performing Charles-Marie Widor’s Toccata Symphony No. 5. Enjoy!