Big Bend Studio has been commissioned to develop a multi-phase master plan for a second client on Turkey Hill in Arlington. The project calls for a phased approach to a renovation and addition to an early 20th century Dutch gambrel house on a dramatically sloping and wooded property. The addition contains a mudroom, full bath, guest room, and one-car garage on the first floor and master suite on the second. The renovation primarily re-imagines the first floor as a more open plan that has a more direct connection with the outdoors, optimizing views into the woodland.
Soft Infrastructure in Fall River
The conception and production of architecture requires a generosity of spirit toward fellow residents of the planet. And because the built environment shares the crust of the earth with all other biomes, architects are, by definition, stewards. To deny this profound truth is to waive a foundational ethic of the profession. But this is at times at odds with, the prevailing mode of economic and political thought, neoliberalism, whose policies are characterized by, among others, privatization, free trade, deregulation, reduced government spending/increased role of the private sphere, etc., a way of thinking which has come to define much about our everyday lives. How does this conflict get resolved?
This studio is premised on the observation that as wealth has become more concentrated in fewer individuals, the quality of the public realm has suffered as public investment in the commons has diminished and responsibility for its maintenance and determination of its highest and best use, transferred to private interests. The neoliberal ethos has left its mark on every biome (indeed outer space is the next frontier for profiteering). A fetishistic consumerism, fueled by the distraction of ‘marketing’ and the imperative of quarterly growth, has shaped our cities. ROI has become the primary driver of the quality of the urban experience.
The underlying question of the studio, then, is ‘What do we want from our cities?’, which are ours to conceive, to build, to live in. What are the places that invite us into the public realm, that let us linger, rather than move us along, allowing us to be in the company of our neighbors, in the broadest sense of that word? Often referred to as social, or soft, infrastructure (distinguished from hard infrastructure: roads, bridges, sewer systems, the power grid, etc.), these are the places that allow a city to be perceived beyond its functions, yet whose function is critical to a democratic society in their ability to teach empathy, leading to trust, the enemy of fear. They engender a culture, not mere civilization.
Despite its headiest slogans (“Architecture ou Rèvolution!”), architecture alone cannot solve society’s ills. But neither can they be cured without it. It is the armature on which we build the meaning of our lives. Our studio will explore soft infrastructure as a prerequisite for a sustainable and resilient culture. Sited across Mount Hope Bay in Fall River, a city that, like many in the country, has present day challenges and a rich history of contributions, the project will be a collection of a number of types of soft infrastructure, interfacing with two existing buildings: the main branch of the public library and the Bank Street Armory, a derelict structure awaiting its next incarnation.
With the boat barn and garage under construction on Drift Road in Westport, Big Bend Studio is beginning a second phase of design work there on an addition to the main house. The addition will accommodate a first floor master suite for a couple who plan to ‘age in place’, a trend we are seeing among potential clients. Putting a bedroom suite on the first floor of the house will allow life to be lived at ground level and for the second floor to be occupied by live-in caregivers, when the need arises.
We are pleased to announce that the Sage School (Foxborough, Massachusetts) has approved BBSA’s master plan for the campus. Conceived with the input of the school community, including two committees of administrators, teachers, parents, students, and outside advisors, the master plan provides the school with a road map to prioritize projects over the next fifteen years. Among the projects it will consider is a new maker space, the GIFTED Lab, which will aim to provide an experiential learning platform for students in kindergarten through grade eight, as one component of the school's STEAM initiative. BBSA's collaborators on the project were Hedlund Design Group, BR+A, and Building FIre & Access. According to Head of School, Marie Leary, "Big Bend Studio Architects shared The Sage School's vision right from the start! Jim Moses and his team of talented architects understood what our project had to accomplish and what it had to inspire. They are careful listeners who connect with a school community and its leadership to create a beautiful and yet still budget-minded plan that reflects our mission. Big Bend's was the best 'first step' our school made in helping us create a next-generation school facility for our gifted learners."
BBSA has been commissioned to design an addition and renovation to an early 1940s Cape style house, owned by a young family of four and their large and friendly dog, in a leafy neighborhood in Melrose, an inner suburb of Boston. The addition will contain a rumpus room, gym, kitchen and living room extensions, and a master suite, as well as a front porch and rear patio.
Jim Moses and Adam Mitchell are teaching a History and Theory seminar, titled The Architect’s Text, at the Boston Architectural College this Fall. Mitchell and Moses, who are classmates from the University of Texas School of Architecture, are in their twenty-first year at the BAC. Below is the course description for this semester’s offering:
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. (Elvis Costello, or Martin Mull)
The book will kill the edifice. (Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Will the computer kill the book as Hugo believed print would kill architecture? While it is probably too soon to know, our use of emojis could be cause for concern. The relationship between the word and the building is fraught as anyone who has tried to read Peter Eisenman or John Ruskin will surely know. Good writing, like good design, needs little explanation, and for this reason is essential to architects if we want to tell our own stories. But why should this matter, why should we as architects want to tell our own stories? Why should writing matter to us, as architects?
One way to answer this is to say that If we believed it did not, this course would not exist. But why does it, given that architectural production is so enmeshed with material culture? For Hugo, the cathedral was the essential artifact that described a complete culture signifying shared values, traditions and political and religious life to an illiterate citizenry. Today’s analog might be the football stadium with its hall of fame, pro-shop and vast parking lot for the pre-game tailgate. Hugo was likely premature in predicting the irrelevance of the edifice as a communicative medium; likewise surely the text message will not kill the book. Perhaps the most basic reason that writing remains essential is that, even for the architect, it can be an effective mode of communication. It can serve as an efficient way to construct an argument as a means of convincing an audience. At the same time, it is an important tool for explaining ideas - first to oneself and then to a broader constituency. Writing and thinking are intertwined activities in much the same way that drawing and thinking are. Indeed, one need only consider the cave paintings of Lascaux, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or Chinese calligraphy to understand how closely related drawing and writing are. Far from being a mere instrument of documentation, writing IS thinking.
The type of writing we will consider is not architectural historiography, theory, or criticism (or hagiography, for that matter). These are disciplines that are in many ways detached from the real work of the architect and are often, in fact, enacted by non-practitioners. This is not to say that they are not useful, even essential, modes. In this course, though, we will explore mainly the writing of architects, that, unlike marketing propaganda, represents exploration and explication of architectural ideas and, where possible, its translation into the stuff of the world. Intentionality is the quality that our selections share. That is, the texts themselves are designed, relating verbal and graphic content in particular and mutually enhancing ways. These are not all manifestoes, although some are. Few make grand claims. Instead they are more modest pieces, at times poetic, that speak to specific themes or motifs that the architect may be exploring in his or her own work, or that of others.
The primary, if not sole, work of the course is the architect’s text, where the student is the architect. A variety of approaches will be possible, but the goal is to prepare a thoughtful, coherent, and engaging piece of writing. The process will be iterative, with multiple drafts and mock-ups. The end result, we hope, will be beautiful and significant, an artifact in its own right.
The latest issue of High Performance Buildings magazine features a piece on the John J. Sbrega Health and Science Building at Bristol Community College. The article focuses on the design process and the design team's holistic approach toward energy efficiency and the goal of zero energy performance, still considered a tall order for a building of this type, normally a significant consumer.
The building in fact performed better, or more efficiently, with a lower energy use intensity (EUI) than predicted by the energy model, producing more energy than it used and putting it in the net positive range for the first year of operation. The New Buildings Institute, which monitors the performance of buildings pursuing zero energy goals, has verified the Sbrega Building's status in its 2018 report.
This Spring, Jim Moses will be teaching one of two Integrative Design Studios at Roger Williams University School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation. The studio will be sited in the South Coast region of Massachusetts, exploring comparative opportunities in New Bedford (urban) and Dartmouth (rural-exurban). This is the course description:
The south coast of Massachusetts, as with many colonial regions, has moved through numerous socio-economic incarnations. Starting in the 1700s, it was one of the centers of the whaling industry, the Big Oil of its day. During the 1900s, the country's largest textile production center was located here. The region has persevered through the decline and demise of those juggernauts. Today it is home to an increasingly diverse economy of leisure, higher education, healthcare, agriculture, viticulture, commercial fishing, and now is poised to become a key piece of the sustainable energy industry, as New Bedford will serve as the launching point for construction of a wind farm to be built off of Martha’s Vineyard. Many infrastructural and architectonic remnants of those earlier systems abide, making it a particularly beguiling landscape to consider.
This studio will offer the opportunity to operate in either an urban (New Bedford) or a rural (Dartmouth) milieu to develop proposals accommodating an institution, The Foundation for Fine Human Beings. The precise nature of the foundation, its mission, will be determined by each designer, as a way of developing a compelling narrative. A minimum space program will be provided with the expectation that additional components will be added to fit that narrative and the characteristics of each site.
This is Integrative Design Studio. The studio merges several areas of your education thus far in the elaborated design of a building. In this studio, you will develop a conceptual framework for the design that fully integrates the many systems that comprise architecture: cultural/contextual systems, site systems, environmental systems, material systems, structural systems, mechanical systems, program etc.
The technical requirements will include the research, integration and representation of the many technical systems inherent in this, and every, building project.
We're moving our offices to Cambridge! Visit us at 156 Mt. Auburn Street, Third Floor.
The Sbrega Health and Science Building is featured, among other projects, in an article in this month's Metropolis exploring the role of architecture on community college campuses in the US. Among the topics explored are experiential learning, place-making, and identity. Read more here.
Big Bend Studio is disheartened by Mr. Trump’s recent decision to abandon the Paris Agreement, a complex one that the United States played a key role in drafting in 2015, and that, as of today, 148 of 197 parties have ratified. Despite this extraordinarily dubious move, we do not intend to change our way of doing things. As we have seen since the Rose Garden announcement, numerous states, cities, organizations, and individuals have denounced the decision while reaffirming their commitment to the accord. The EU and China appear ready to work with states and cities to do the critical work necessary to stay below the two degree celsius threshold. In the absence of leadership at the federal level, we will continue to promote low and zero energy architecture, encouraging our clients to keep carbon in the ground. The livability of our shared home is at stake.
Net Zero Buildings is featuring the Sbrega Health and Science Building at Bristol Community College in its May 2017 issue, which focuses on design and construction of ZNE buildings in Massachusetts. Read more here.
Jim Moses and Adam Mitchell, who have taught advanced design studios together at the Boston Architectural College since 1998, will teach an advanced workshop, 'Exploring Architectural Themes through Case Study' in the Fall 2017 semester. The course will focus on exploring a particular architectural theme using the case study method to analyze existing, but less studied, buildings by well known architects. Here is an excerpt from the course description:
The word ‘innovation’ derives from the Latin innovationem, which according to the Etymology Dictionary dates to 1540, and stems from innovatus, past participle of innovare "to change; to renew," from in- "into" + novus "new". It means "a novel change, experimental variation, new thing introduced in an established arrangement". A specific relationship to what came before, a precedent, is implicit in the word. Innovation does not occur in a vacuum, but in context, in this case, a history.
This course takes aim at ‘an established arrangement’, while at the same time understanding that that arrangement may itself represent an innovation. In it, each student will be asked to do a deep exploration, a case study, of a single work of architecture - a building and its attendant landscape - from a list of important, thematically related pieces. The goals are:
- to luxuriate in getting to know a work of architecture extremely well;
- to hone analytical skills through curiosity, close observation, and critique;
- to present findings in a clear, concise, and confident way;
- to contribute to the collective knowledge of your colleagues and, perhaps, the discipline.
The basis of the case studies will be primary (to the extent available) and secondary documentation (drawings, models, photographs, text). Deliverables will include the range of descriptive/interpretive products that will serve as a kind of de- and reconstruction, and culminating in a final report. Class meetings will take the form of seminars and pin-ups.
While the case study will quite readily, and purposefully, expose the ‘how’ of a particular work, at the same time the operative question will be ‘why?’. Issues inherent to context, intent, construction, and occupation will be unavoidable.
Tradeline has published an article on the use of ground source heat pump technology as a means of reducing or eliminating carbon-based heating and cooling in laboratory buildings. Bristol Community College's Sbrega Health and Science Building is featured as an example of projects that have recently employed the technology successfully as one aspect of a comprehensive set of strategies aimed at achieving zero net energy (ZNE). Tradeline is an organization the promotes innovation in the planning, design and operation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) buildings and environments in both academic and corporate sectors. Read the article here.
On 4 and 5 May, Jim Moses visited the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, to sit on juries of undergraduate design studios taught by John Blood, Dean Almy, and Judy Birdsong and a graduate studio taught by Michael Garrison.
Bristol Sbrega has been honored this year with an American Institute of Architects COTE Top Ten Award. According to the AIA, "the COTE (Committee on the Environment) Top Ten Awards is the industry’s best-known awards program for sustainable design excellence. Each year, ten innovative projects earn the prize for setting the standard in design and sustainability." Presentation of the award will take place in Orlando at the annual convention of the AIA, the Conference on Architecture. Read more about the project here: COTE Top Ten 2017.
The Sbrega Health and Science Building at Bristol Community College has been shortlisted for the S-Lab Sustainable Science Building Award. S-Lab is a UK non-profit organization, akin to I2SL (formerly Labs21) in the US, which promotes "improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of laboratories, and especially in universities and research institutes".
The Sbrega Health and Science Building will be presented 5 April 2017 at the annual MED|Ed Facilities conference at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. In a session entitled "A Zero Net Energy Teaching Laboratory - The First 6 Months", Jacob Knowles, Tony Petone, and Chris Widzinski from BR+A and Nathan Butt from Sasaki will discuss the design process, strategies for achieving zero net energy, and performance over the first six months of occupancy using data gathered for the enhanced monitoring and verification systems. MED|Ed Facilities Boston describes itself as "the premier conference for healthcare and educational facilities in New England."