Centerbrook Wins AIA Design Award

Published on December 15th, 2010

Centerbrook Architects was honored by the American Institute of Architects’ Rhode Island chapter this month for its resurrection of the Ocean House, the historic resort hotel in Watch Hill, RI that re-opened in May. Led by Partner Jefferson B. Riley, FAIA, the firm replicated the architectural core of the oceanfront landmark as it existed in its heyday, circa 1908, while adding some modern additions and myriad amenities, such as a spa, fitness center, club room, indoor lap pool, and privately owned residential suites.

In describing why Centerbrook was chosen for the design award in the commercial development category, the jurors wrote that the architects harvested “original architectural elements such as railings, fireplaces, reception desk, and fan light doors for reuse in a new building … and [employed] the placement of original artifacts to evoke a period. The architect skillfully used this strategy to provide a wonderful replica of an important regional icon [that] carries on the historic tradition of Watch Hill’s seaside resort hotels.” The jury also commended the efforts of the investment group for their dedication and desire for excellence.

The original Ocean House was one of the grand hotels of its time. Dating from 1868, the building was a shoreline destination for vacationers and a welcoming beacon for mariners plying the coastline. Closed in 2003 and torn down in 2005, the hotel was slated to be replaced by a number of large private residences before local resident Charles M. Royce and others purchased the property from developers and set about recreating the old Ocean House to its former heyday. Centerbrook was involved in the project from 2005 until its completion in 2010 and was responsible for the interior architectural details and finishes as well as the exterior.

The hotel features 49 hotel rooms and 23 residences, gourmet cuisine in the main dining room, a bar with casual fare, banquet halls, new decks with broad ocean views, a private club room, a corporate board room, underground parking, and an international croquet court. It has drawn praise from architectural critics and preservationists, as well as the local community and the general public.

David Brussat of the Providence Journal wrote: “Few tours of buildings have astonished me as much as [my] tour of Ocean House. The diligence of Centerbrook … was brilliant … just as amazing was the equally faithful-to-the-past use of the building’s historical style in the additions that transform it from an old to a new building. In every corner of the new Ocean House the spirit of the old Ocean House lives on.

In addition to the design accolade, the AIA gave an “ArchiStar Award” to Royce, whose nomination by Centerbrook was seconded by many others in the community. The nomination letter read, in part: “He recognized the Ocean House’s iconic place in the community and stepped in to rescue it, preserving public access to the site and its incomparable views of harbor and sea … His ability to get the best from every member of the team and his dedication to quality and authenticity were remarkable. These are palpable to all who enjoy the hotel today.