Posts tagged with "Massachusetts":
Innovation center's corrugated metal envelope evokes Boston's seagoing past.Commissioned to design District Hall, the centerpiece of Boston's emerging Innovation District, Hacin + Associates found themselves in a unique situation. "There was no context," recalled design team member Matthew Arnold. "We were one of the first buildings down there; we had to build our own story." To fill the gap, the architects looked to the site's history. "In the old days, goods came from around the world to the Boston seaport, then were distributed throughout the United States," said founding principal David Hacin. "We were thinking that this is analogous to an innovation center: ideas are born in this place, then distributed around the world." Wrapped in corrugated metal punctuated by strategic glazing, its two volumes informed by nautical and railroad architecture, District Hall captures both the glory of Boston's seagoing past and the promise of its high-tech future. "The big idea behind District Hall was this two-part building," explained Arnold. A bifurcated design served several purposes simultaneously. First, it allowed the architects to bring a different architectural expression to each side of the program. The larger, more sculptural volume, angled to define the edge of a planned park, acts more like a public space, housing an auditorium and restaurant. The lower, rectangular wing of the building, which is oriented to the existing street grid, contains the innovation center. Second, the two-part form complemented the project's tight budget. "The lower portion of the building didn't require the same level of ceiling heights" as did the auditorium/restaurant space, said Hacin. "We were trying to build volume where we needed it, and not where we didn't need it." On a conceptual level, the bifurcation taps into two elements of the city's past. The taller volume's swooping profile was inspired by nautical architecture, while the lower wing evokes the boxy order of a train yard. District Hall's corrugated metal facade further emphasizes the building's dual identity. "We found this corrugated material to be very intriguing," said Arnold. "It's related to nautical sheds and train cars." Other corrugated facades have begun popping up around Boston, noted Hacin. "But they've used it for the industrial aesthetic, with no real idea behind it. It was kind of cheap, industrial, and cool, but that's as far as it went." Hacin + Associates instead deployed the material as a storytelling device, choosing two different patterns and colors to continue the narrative embodied in the building's form. A shimmering silver metal extruded in a sine wave pattern encloses District Hall's multipurpose wing, while the innovation center is wrapped in matte black with a more squared-off profile. In addition, the architects used flat white trim material to suggest three-dimensionality. "We developed a rationale for how to treat the facade details," explained design team member Scott Thompson. "Where we cut into [the corrugated metal], we treated it as if it was a solid with a different center." The architects minimized glazing in part for budget reasons. "Rather than having lots of windows scattered around, we decided to concentrate them in key locations: at the restaurant, on the corner," said Hacin. "It really is a showcase of the facade material. Sometimes it's about the windows, but in this case the facade material is sculptural—you can see this especially on the silvery volume." The conservative approach to glazing also helps reduce thermal gain. The architects primarily relied on tried and true methods, such as placing few windows on the south-facing facade, and setting the west-side windows back several feet, to meet efficiency goals. "We were really just trying to get the most out of conventional technologies," said Thompson. Ultimately, said Hacin, the true environmental test for District Hall will be whether it is razed in a decade, as planned, or whether it proves its usefulness as a long-term fixture of Boston's Innovation District. "It was built to be a ten-year building," he said. "But my hope is that it will continue to be successful, and that it will become part of the character of this neighborhood—part of what people love about it—in which case there will be no reason to remove it. That would be the most sustainable outcome of all."
Architects update pre-Columbian building method with modern tools and materials.Matter Design's latest installation, Round Room (on display at MIT's Keller Gallery last fall) was born of a "marriage" between two of the firm's ongoing interests, explained co-founder Brandon Clifford. First, Clifford and partner Wes McGee had long hoped to work with Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC). Clifford, moreover, had been impressed during a trip to Cuzco by the Incan wedge method of masonry construction, in which precisely-carved stones are aligned on their front face, then backfilled with mortar. "This seemed like a tremendously rational way of building," he said. "Ever since then we had been wanting to do a project that translates that process into digital design." With Round Room, designed and fabricated in cooperation with Quarra Stone, Matter Design did just that. Though inspired by pre-Columbian building practices, the installation firmly situates the wedge method in the digital age. Clifford and McGee began by building a rough prototype, a six-component section resembling a half-dome. "We knew that we were going to build something that was round," said Clifford. "Not a sphere, but something that has slow changes in geometry." By focusing on curved spaces, the designers were already pushing the limits of the wedge method, historically limited to two-dimensional applications. With information gleaned from their prototyping session—including the general dimensions of individual units—they worked through a series of models in Grasshopper and Kangaroo, leaning on calculations developed for an earlier project, La Voûte de LeFevre. Clifford and McGee also visited Quarra Stone's Wisconsin facility. The trip "allowed us to get a feeling for where they were going to have problems with the geometry, and make changes," said McGee. "We were able to step in as consultant with respect to applying their tools." Using a water-fed robotic arm, Quarra Stone cut the AAC components—no simple feat. "One critical translation from the Incan technique was the fact that the front edge aligns, but the backwards taper allows for mortar to be packed in," explained McGee. "[The blocks] are machined on five sides." Round Room's components were then shipped to Cambridge and assembled on site by a team of students, including Myung Duk Chung, Sixto Cordero, Patrick Evan Little, Chris Martin, Dave Miranowski, David Moses, Alexis Sablone, and Luisel Mayas. (Austin Smith also assisted throughout the project; Simpson Gumpertz & Heger acted as structural consultants.) The installation team placed the blocks, used scrapers to remove any excess AAC from the front (interior) edge, then piped plaster into the wedge-shaped gap on the back (exterior) side. "Though it was a digital fabrication process, the assembly was quite a craft," observed Clifford. The collaboration with Quarra Stone was a first for Matter Design, which had both designed and built all of its earlier projects. "It was beneficial for us to understand the nuances of what they had to deal with on a daily basis," said Clifford. In fact, the relationship was so successful that Clifford and McGee are continuing it, with a fellowship that will send two researchers to the Wisconsin fabricators. "It's an area we're going to continue working in pretty heavily," said McGee. "It's an opportunity to interrogate this information exchange between designers and fabricators at a higher level."
Undulating birch walls create pockets of privacy in an apartment building lobby.When Boston design and fabrication firm Radlab began work on Clefs Moiré, the permanent installation in the lobby of One North of Boston in Chelsea, Massachusetts, they had relatively little to go on. They knew that the apartment building's developer wanted a pair of walls of a certain size to activate the lobby space, but that was about it. "Normally we get more information, so we can come up with a story—a concept based on the building and its requirement," said Radlab's Matt Trimble. "For this we pulled back and said, we have an opportunity to be a little more abstract about how we approach this conceptually." Inspired by moiré patterning and a harpsichord composition by J.S. Bach, the team designed and built two slatted birch walls whose undulating surfaces embody a dialog between transparency and opacity. The client's interest in achieving moments of privacy within a public space led Radlab to moiré patterning, the phenomenon in which a third pattern emerges when two other semi-transparent patterns are superimposed on one another. Trimble compares the moiré effect to standing in a cornfield. "It's not until that moment when you look at it from the perpendicular that you see the rows of corn," he said. "When you look to either side, the crossing prevents you from seeing depths." The designers decided to think about the two walls as a single volume that would later be split. "There's this potential for reading it as a single wall when you look at it from different perspectives," explained Trimble. "This made sense because the project is about viewpoint. If you're perpendicular to the wall, you see straight through it." Radlab began with a traditional approach to moiré patterning, playing with identical vertical components set askew to one another. Then they looked at J.S. Bach's Partita No. 2 in B-flat Major: Gigue. Bach's challenging composition requires the performer to cross his or her hands, the left hand playing the treble clef while the right hand plays the bass. "That became an inspiration for a way to structure and organize the two walls," said Trimble. "To think of one as being the result of a bass set of wavelengths, and the other as a treble set." The designers realized that they could modulate the metaphorical wavelengths across both the vertical and horizontal sections to create an interesting, and varied, third element. "That's where the Gigue became influential," said Trimble. "It gave us a way to create a rhythm in the wall that would pace itself." The team relied heavily on Rhino and Grasshopper both to design the installation and to plan fabrication. "We would create various iterations in 3D modeling software, then disassemble them into the flat XY plane and try to understand: how would we actually build this?" said Trimble. Simpson Gumpertz & Heger's Paul Kassabian provided crucial help with structural engineering, including designing a base plate that is invisible except when the wall is viewed from a 90-degree angle. Radlab CNC-milled the wood slats and spacers before coating them with varnish. "Fabrication was long and arduous, but it challenged us in really great ways," said Trimble. The group developed a hanging mechanism to efficiently apply fire retardant to the ribs. To prevent varnish from adhering to the points of connection between the ribs and spacers, they fabricated each spacer twice, once out of birch, and once out of chipboard. They affixed the chipboard templates to the ribs before spraying the varnish, leaving an untouched patch for the final spacer. "It was process-intensive, there was no getting around that," recalled Trimble. "But we embraced that process-intensive journey from the onset, to see if there were ways we could be creative about creating improvements to make fabrication more efficient." On site, Radlab laid down templates of the base plates to drill holes for the anchor bolts, then returned with the walls themselves. Each wall was prefabricated of four panels and assembled in the shop. "They tilted up almost like tilt-up concrete walls," said Trimble. In addition to having inspired the form of Clefs Moiré, Bach's Gigue works as a metaphor for how the finished walls perform in space. "It starts and stops abruptly," explained Trimble. "There's no crescendo or tapering of intensity. The walls do the exact same thing: there is no rising up from the ground or falling into it. They start and stop in a similar way."
A translucent polycarbonate skin transforms an early-19th century Massachusetts home.On a well-traveled street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about halfway between Harvard University and MIT, sits a house not like its neighbors. Its simple massing and pitched roof indicate old bones. But its skin is all 21st century. The house, recently renovated by Alessandro Armando and Manfredo di Robilant, is clad in translucent polycarbonate panels that reveal the structural and insulating layers beneath. For the architects, the project was an experiment in applying a cladding system designed for large-scale projects to a single-family home. “We thought this could be a possible test-bed for something more standard, something that could at least be thought of as a standard way of renovating and improving a typical American detached house,” said di Robilant. “This house is very small, but we’re now trying to fit it toward possible standardization of this approach.” When Armando and di Robilant first visited the house, its facade was in bad shape. Disintegrating wood topped by a layer of metal siding (from a 1960s update) failed to protect the home from Cambridge’s snowy winters and hot summers. The architects peeled away the old materials and thickened the facade’s profile, beginning with a layer of rigid Thermax insulating panels. Around this they built an external skeleton of TimberStrand with Parallam columns, to shore up the house’s structural system. To the timber frame they attached 40-millimeter polycarbonate panels by Rodeca. The Rodeca panels further insulate the house and offer UV protection, but they are transparent enough to provide a glimpse of what lies beneath. “The insulation panels are not directly exposed to the air, but you can see them from the outside,” said Armando. “You can see all the layers, this was one of the main features we expected to achieve, to reveal all the exterior coloring of the house.” The air gap between the inner and outer layers of insulation further boosts the home’s thermal performance, as it funnels hot air up and out before it reaches the interior. The most eye-catching feature of the renovation is a pair of floor-to-ceiling windows at the northeast corner of the house. Armando and di Robilant encased these in custom mahogany frames, then attached sliding aluminum shutters fabricated by Wisconsin contractors Bertram Corporation to the exterior of the house. The shutters are easy to slide manually along tracks attached to the house’s structural frame. Oversize wheels at the base of each shutter roll along the concrete base at the front of the house. “We made these big wheels to evoke something like a toy, a childish object,” said Armando. The slats of the shutters are spaced far apart near the top of each window to allow daylight to penetrate, and closer together near the bottom, to maximize privacy. In order to accommodate the shutters’ upper rails, Armando and di Robilant drilled holes in the adjacent Rodeca panels. The customization worked: the architects seamlessly integrated the window and panel systems without sacrificing watertightness. “The Rodeca system was born mostly thinking of big facades,” observed di Robilant. “It had been used in a number of cases with more surfaces. Here I think we tested, and I think this test was quite successful, the limits of Rodeca in terms of what is the minimum surface which is still okay for this system.” The architects analogize the facade system to a Russian samovar, or hot water boiler. Like a samovar, with its nested heating element and partly hidden hot-water pipe, the house’s facade reveals its own organizing principle to the knowing eye. “The idea was really to show the anatomy of the skin,” said di Robilant. “We focused our attention on the big window, but it’s also very much about the facade, and the discourse of the metaphor—the samovar.”