President Lash’s vision to initiate a more sustainable future for Hampshire College inspires us. Constructing a Living Building admissions center at its campus core is a clear call to action—an indication that the college is ready to lead by example and attract students dedicated to positive change. Hampshire’s ethos aligns with the tenets of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the most rigorous environmental building design standard in the world. The LBC is a philosophy, an advocacy tool, and a certification program designed to yield new models for a sustainable future in the built environment. The LBC is made up of 20 simple but profound imperatives, each requisite for project certification. Some of these are part of design, while some of them are based on a full year of actual performance data. The LBC challenges us to stop focusing on making buildings that are merely less bad and to ask instead,
[bctt tweet=”What does good look like?” username=”brunercott”]
Good design starts with net positive energy, net positive water, materials that are safe for humans, designs that favor people (not cars), healthy indoor environments, human-scaled spaces, and innate connections to nature. Responding to Hampshire’s call to action through design is the kind of work that stirs passion. This is why we became architects.
With enthusiasm, nimble creativity, critical thinking, technical expertise, and humor we began our design journey for the Kern Center in the summer of 2013. Through spirited discussion, tables full of sketches, and collaboration with the Hampshire community, we explored the far realms of the possible, stretched our imaginations, and arrived at a plan that transforms the center of their 1960’s era vehicle-dominated campus into a striking, welcoming, and ecologically rich setting for interaction, experimentation, and enjoyment. The result is a structure that will make its own energy, catch its own water, handle its own waste, and be constructed of familiar materials that are not harmful to occupants or factory workers. It is made from stone quarried from 25 miles away, has a timber frame designed to adapt to future needs, and will be full of natural light and air. The soaring roof draws people in while collecting energy and harvesting rainwater.In addition to a high level of technical performance, the project also embodies the college’s aspirational values, engaging Hampshire more directly with the land and the larger community.
We agree with the authors of the Living Building Challenge: We have but a few decades to really change the way we build buildings. A warming planet, scarcity of good water, human inequality, and the destruction of a fragile environment call us to action. The Kern Center is an ideal vehicle for Hampshire College’s response.
The sleek structures of the International Style, symbols of corporate America’s innovative modernity, are turning 50. These buildings are favored by the real estate community and accepted by the public. But the same is not true for the architecturally aggressive Brutalist style of the 1960s and ’70s, more typically understood as symbols of America’s institutional durability. At the time they were designed and constructed, colleges and universities—as well as municipal, state, and federal governments–viewed poured-in-place concrete as a symbol of permanence and institutional longevity. The sculptural possibilities of the material seemed unlimited for a new generation of designers, but the public’s perception of concrete as an unfriendly architectural finish has outlasted its once perceived aesthetic benefits. Today, there are escalating appeals for the demolition and removal of many of these buildings, and battle lines have been drawn between building owners, occupants, and preservationists. [bctt tweet=”Brutalist buildings are important legacies of an era #brutalcriticism” username=”brunercott”] We think these buildings are important legacies of an era, so we’re looking for ways to find effective design solutions acceptable to all stakeholders, transforming these “out-of-date” structures into useful, up-to-date, state-of-the-art environments.
Here are the key issues we typically face and examples of how we address them:
[tabgroup][tab title=”Building owner/clients” icon=””]Building owner/clients frequently find themselves overwhelmed with the ongoing maintenance and operations difficulties inherent in their 1960s and ’70s Brutalist buildings. Ironically, in New England, where we do most of our work, concrete has not proven to be durable, and the physical erosion of this material seems to further erode support for the building style itself. This was the case at Harvard University’s Peabody Terrace Apartments,where we carried out extensive concrete restoration efforts in 1995 to cover exposed reinforcing rods and to patch spalling (material fragments). The first stage of our work at theBoston University (BU) School of Law this summer (designed by Josep Lluis Sert) will be of a similar nature to prevent spalling concrete from falling to the ground.[/tab][tab title=”Building users & tenants” icon=””]Building users and tenants complain of the inflexibility inherent in a concrete building in which walls and columns are not easily removed or replaced to allow for the reallocation of space for growing and changing academic environments. At MIT in 1988, we renovated theStratton Student Center, removing over 300 tons of concrete in the process in order to make the interior spaces flow more evenly and to “unclog” the central atrium space. At the BU School of Law, we are designing a new classroom building alongside its existing tower to achieve the additional space required for the growth of the school. User discomfort resulting from obsolete HVAC systems and inadequate 1960s building envelope technology remains a source of ongoing occupant complaint, one that we are working to solve in this particular project now.[/tab][tab title=”Preservationists” icon=””]Preservationists prefer to see restoration efforts that are faithful to the original building fabric, but they appear to be more receptive to architectural additions as a necessary compromise to save original structures.[/tab][/tabgroup]
We feel that architects willing to step into the fray to mitigate the differences among building owners, users, and preservationists can be effective mediators in what is about to become a ubiquitous discussion. Our next post will begin to explore these issues in more detail.
Leland Cott, FAIA, LEED, is a founding principal of Bruner/Cott & Associates, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, architecture and planning firm. This is the second in a series of Metropolis blogs written by members of Bruner/Cott’s restoration team that will focus on the challenges and solutions for converting, rehabilitating, or reusing mid-century buildings. Upcoming posts will explore issues associated with this conservation, drawing on the firm’s long-term experience working on the repair, enhancement, and continued use of this architecture. Mini-case studies of buildings will include the MIT Stratton Student Center by Eduardo Catalano; Harvard University’s Peabody Terrace Apartments and Holyoke Center and its Gund Hall for the Graduate School of Design by John Andrews; and Boston University’s School of Law and Law Library by Josep Lluis Sert. Design and technical problems associated with these projects as well as user/owner issues inherent to mid-century modern design will be explored. This post is part of the series, Icon or Eyesore?
Modernist buildings have been under attack in the U.S. for years now. We’re reminded of this fact every day as our team at Bruner/Cott & Associates works to keep an entire period of architecture from being lost in Boston, our hometown.
News of the recent thwarted attempt–for the moment, at least—to demolish Paul Rudolph’sBrutalist masterwork, the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York, underscored for us the fact that important works of mid-twentieth century modern building design is, often, only one vote away from oblivion. [bctt tweet=”Important works of mid-century modern design are often one vote away from oblivion #BrutalCriticism” username=”brunercott”] We consider ourselves pioneers in adaptive use and aficionados of modernism, so we understand the plusses and minuses of these buildings and how to turn them to current user advantage. Therefore, for us, this trend toward destruction is particularly painful to watch. For the past quarter of a century, we have worked to repair, enhance, and extend the use of this architecture, trying to, in our own way, stem the tide of threat. But the reasons for this tendency to destroy modernism are abundantly clear to us.
It’s obvious that Americans have never loved modern architecture in the same way we adore attempts at twentieth century colonial or Georgian revival. So, we are more apt to want to remove modernism rather than repair it. In addition to our emotional difficulties with protecting good mid-twentieth century buildings, there are also technical difficulties. But most people don’t stop to intellectualize these—they just find most of these buildings unsightly and ugly. In this hostile context, as these buildings age or deteriorate from lack of maintenance, it becomes easy to argue for their removal. We have found this to be particularly evident with cast-in-place or pre-cast concrete buildings of the 1960s and 70s. Informed by the architectural press, an unconvinced public hurls back the term “Brutalist” as if it were an enemy weapon.
Examples of Brutalist design are present throughout most of our fifty states, but it is in New England and particularly in Boston, where these aggressive concrete buildings are sufficiently plentiful to be considered a local vernacular. Outstanding examples of this muscular style abound throughout the city, touching all people in walks of life. Public sector exemplars include Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles’s (now Kallmann McKinnell & Wood, or KMW) Boston City Hall (1969), Paul Rudolph’s incomplete Erich Lindemann Mental Health Center (1966-1971), and the I.M.Pei /Araldo Cossutta Christian Science Center (1968-1974). MIT has early examples of related buildings by Pei and Eduardo Catalano. Josep Lluis Sert’s work is prominent at Boston University, Harvard, and MIT. At Boston University, Sert’s five-building central campus group, begun in 1962, with its School of Law, Law Library, and undergraduate commons, continues to be the iconic visual marker for its campus along the Charles River. Harvard has four major Sert buildings: Holyoke Center (1958-1965), the Undergraduate Science Center (1969-1972), the Center for the Study of World Religions (1959-1961), and the Peabody Terrace Apartments (1962–64). We have worked on or will be working on three of these projects.
Comparable but derivative building designs began to proliferate and remained popular throughout the 1960s and 70s in our city and beyond. These buildings are now approaching their senior years, and most are showing problems that are judged or misjudged as being difficult and costly to mitigate. The repair and maintenance of mid-twentieth century architecture produces difficult and worsening problems for owners and users of its major buildings nationwide. Masonry and concrete deterioration, un-insulated curtain walls, glazing failures, and vulnerability to rocketing energy costs are characteristic shortcomings of this generation of modern buildings. Structural concrete has its own accelerating inventory of difficulties. Ineffective exterior envelope designs and construction has resulted in poor thermal performance, unsustainable levels of energy consumption, and reduced occupant comfort.
As they approach fifty years of age, many of these buildings are being judged worthy of pristinepreservation, making the acceptable solutions of today less condoned. One certain outcome is that the preservation criteria that were appropriate for craft-laden buildings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries need to be carefully re-evaluated for their mid-century modern successors.
Leland Cott,FAIA, LEED, is a founding principal of Bruner/Cott & Associates, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, architecture and planning firm.
Henry Moss, AIA, LEED, is a preservation expert and principal at the firm. This is the first in a series of Metropolis blogs written by members of Bruner/Cott’s restoration team that will focus on the challenges and solutions for converting, rehabilitating, or reusing mid-century buildings. Upcoming posts will explore issues associated with this conservation, drawing on the firm’s long-term experience working on the repair, enhancement, and continued use of this architecture. Mini-case studies of buildings will include the MIT Stratton Student Center by Eduardo Catalano; Harvard University’s Peabody Terrace Apartments and Holyoke Center and its Gund Hall for the Graduate School of Design by John Andrews; and Boston University’s School of Law and Law Library. Design and technical problems associated with these projects as well as user/owner issues inherent to mid-century modern design will be explored. This post is part of the series, Icon or Eyesore?
Why is anyone interested in being a designer anyway? There are certainly many other well-paying professions to pursue with shorter hours and less anxiety. Speaking for myself and my colleagues in our 55-member architecture firm, we believe that design makes people’s lives better. [bctt tweet=”Design makes peoples lives better #ImprovingTheHumanCondition” username=”brunercott”] We focus on improving the human condition in three ways — shaping the urban environment, making places for lifelong learning, and designing for a sustainable future. Whether transforming an existing structure or designing a new one, our buildings communicate with their unique surroundings, responding to program, place, and time—and our process engages community. In this blog series, we will share our obstacles and triumphs as our firm pursues its overarching goal. First, let’s consider an of-the-moment topic — expanding urban environments.
As cities around the world continue to experience rapid growth, designers have new opportunities to shape them. According to a United Nations report, the global percentage of population living in urban areas is expected to rise from 54 percent in 2014 to 66 percent in 2050. In the United States, urban population will rise from 81 to 87 percent. Our firm has designed thousands of urban living units and we know that embracing smart planning, affordability, sustainability, and resilience are crucial in how thoughtful design can make cities liveable and beautiful. Layering old and new keeps them unique and interesting while homogenization swells. [bctt tweet=”Layering old and new keeps cities interesting #ReinventingThePast” username=”brunercott”]
With new growth, our cities need the design community more than ever. Cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle are growing and now have historically low vacancy rates. Our city of Boston needs 60,000 units of housing by 2030 to keep up with current growth, according to officials at City Hall. Developers and Designers need to use this challenge and growth period to improve America’s cities and advance the issues of our time: Smart Planning, Affordability, Sustainability, Resilience, and Beauty. We have the tools and skills to leverage the presence of our existing cities and make people’s lives better — let’s not waste the opportunity!
An excellent example of harnessing an urban opportunity is our recent Viridian apartment building across from Fenway Park. Driven by support from the local community, the 342-unit live-work-play building responds to Boston’s ‘Urban Village Plan’ by replacing a one story strip of automobile and fast-food oriented businesses, with a lively and animated residential tower. It is a sustainably designed ‘urban village’ of mixed-use and mixed-income, giving more people the opportunity to live near Olmstead’s Emerald necklace, walk to work at one of the area hospitals or universities, enjoy the Museum of Fine Arts or Symphony Hall, or catch a baseball game.
One of the primary barriers to living in growing cities is the cost of real estate. When demand is high and supply is short, rents and home prices soar, decreasing the opportunities for city living. Designers must focus on some of these issues — just like getting a phone, camera, music player, and web browser all into the small case of an iPhone — small, well-designed units, not just micro-studios, can pack the same program into less area, costing less to build. While designing kitchens in the Viridian we used high-tech appliances integrated with flexible cabinetry to get the same function as a conventional kitchen in a smaller, more versatile, and less energy-intensive footprint. Technological advances in construction coordination also helped to speed up schedules, reduce total construction costs, and maximize allowable height by threading services through the structure. These cost and space saving opportunities, along with nearly 40 designated affordable units, allowed the owners to promote lower rental rates and income diversity in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
We also need to leapfrog current practices of sustainable design and respond more deeply to climate change. We have the skills and technology needed to radically lower the energy footprint of residential architecture. The Living Building Challenge has demonstrated that we can build buildings powered only by the sun using materials we know are free of harmful chemicals. Can we design net-zero neighborhoods? With Yale University and McLennan Design, our firm is studying the potential of a 150 unit ‘Living Village’ for the Divinity School. Can we reduce the costs of sprawl by harnessing our existing urban environments? With density and efficiency, a unit in the Viridian uses less than half the energy and 40% of the water consumed by the average household in our state, all while being constructed below market costs.
[bctt tweet=”American cities deserve to be beautiful #ImprovingTheHumanCondition” username=”brunercott”]
American cities deserve to be beautiful. Most of them started that way. If buildings only resolve program and provide function, we’re wasting opportunity. In a recent speech Boston’s mayor Marty Walsh explained, “Boston is home to the world’s most innovative thinkers — in science and technology, and in business, art, and architecture. Our city’s built environment should reflect this culture of imagination … Our historic buildings reflect our unique past. New buildings should project the values and aspirations of our growing city.” This holds true for all of America’s cities — it is precisely this layering of old and new that makes cities great. But it will only work when the newest layers respond to their surroundings with the relevance, longevity, and delight they need to converse with the historic layers. This is why we do what we do.
Our next two posts will explore two important aspects of a sustainable future. First, we will share our thoughts on the billions of square feet of existing building that already exists. We believe in reuse and the power of Preservation through transformation. Following that we will reflect on the transformational experience working with the Living Building Challenge as the construction of our first LBC project wraps up.
This blog series, written by the staff ofBruner/Cott & Associates, a Cambridge, MA, architecture and planning firm, focuses on the practice’s mission to improve the human condition through design by shaping the urban environment, forwarding lifelong learning, and looking toward a sustainable future. Follow Bruner/Cott on Twitter: @BrunerCott.