Gray Organschi Architecture
New Haven, CT
The husband-and-wife team behind Gray Organschi Architecture aims to instill the robust traditions of design-build with a lighter but no less hands-on approach. Using expressions such as “pre-staged,” “lightly pinned,” and “on the site as little as possible,” Elizabeth Gray explained the firm’s philosophy of developing low-impact building practices in tandem with innovative technologies in the service of an architecture of elegant simplicity. A near state-of-the-art fabrication shop at their New Haven studio has helped them undertake ambitious prefabrication efforts, from a 75-foot footbridge in a hilly forest to the glue-laminated arches for an acoustical plywood shell within a brick firehouse turned recording space and auditorium.
Gray and her husband Alan met at the Yale School of Architecture (where the barn-raising approach to design-build has a long history), graduating in 1994. Following a grand tour of sorts with stints in Indonesia, London, and Berlin, they returned to New Haven in 2000 and set up their practice in the Ninth Square, a notoriously seedy quarter but also home to many sturdy 19th-century brick warehouses ideal for an expanding design practice with a need for heavy machinery.
More than half of the firm’s built work so far has been residential, including a guest cottage in Guilford completed in 2008 for a couple with expanding space needs but a desire not to disturb their gardens. Gray Organschi responded with a discreet structure (it had to pass zoning as an “accessory building”) that combines the camouflaging effects of a sedum green roof with the bursting energy of dematerialized glass seams and bamboo-clad folding planes. A storage barn for a landscape contractor turns a simple shed into a thing of beauty by simply stacking materials—with dimensions derived from the size of a pallet—around a void determined by the turnaround space needed for a loading tractor. Ground-source heat pumps and electricity are powered by rooftop photovoltaic panels, with surplus energy to spare.
Moving on to a larger scale, the architects are now working on a residence and chapel for a community of Jesuits at Fairfield University. The 20,000-square-foot center, which includes an administrative wing and student dining room, needs to be both publicly active as well as a serene place of meditation and privacy. The architects tucked the building into the shoulder of a sloping hill, with a garden green roof and a public porch facing east and the Jesuits’ own rooms gathered around a courtyard facing south. “Our goal is to first analyze the program as honestly and as in-depth as possible, and then honor it,” said Gray.
Julie V. Iovine