ARC / Connect

A Conversation with Philip Laird

03.09.12 / Boston/SF News / Philip Laird, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

ARC/Architectural Resources Cambridge is designing a new, three-rink facility for the Skating Club of Boston.

Boston SF recently caught up with ARC/Architectural Resources Cambridge to talk about trends in design, green building, some of the firm's current projects and the future of architecture.

Boston SF: What are some of the more notable recent trends in architecture?

Philip Laird: What we've noticed is there is more collaboration than ever before between the design teams, the consultant team, the client user groups, and the construction team. Part of this is because of the technology that's available, but I also think that the design teams, clients and construction managers are more sophisticated now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. We also see that there's more of a focus on sustainability and long-term life-cycle costs of maintaining and operating new buildings, and that has an impact on any of the design decisions that are made during the early part of the schematic design and design development of the project.

Boston SF: One of your personal specialties is design of academic facilities. What is new in that area?

Philip Laird: There is more of a focus at schools and colleges on collaborative spaces and spaces that are flexible to accommodate team-based learning experiences. There's also more of an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Many high schools are combining math, science and technology into a STEM-based curriculum -- STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math -- and we're seeing that at a lot of schools. We're seeing a more interdisciplinary approach even in the humanities and arts as well.

Technology is obviously another important driver in design. Many of our preparatory school clients are institutions where every student has a laptop. All the work in the classroom is done on smart boards. It's not every school, but many schools have really embraced that concept, and it is reflected in classroom design.

At colleges and graduate schools, and also with our corporate work, there has been a shift from mostly wet labs to more computational and dry lab spaces in research buildings -- the focus is really more on dry labs and less on traditional wet labs. We've also seen an increase in the amount of core facilities and space required for laboratory support and many of these spaces are now shared between researchers and departments where previously they might have been used solely by an individual researcher. In colleges and at graduate schools we're even seeing shared and group offices.

Boston SF: How about student dormitory facilities in particular? Would people who attended prep school or college 20 years ago notice a big change in student living areas?

Philip Laird: Student dorms have changed in a lot of different ways. At colleges, especially for upper-class dorms, we're seeing that most projects are arranging the student bedrooms into suites or apartments. There's been a shift from when college rooms were primarily double rooms and now we're seeing them go to a much higher percentage of singles. We just finished a project at the Rochester Institute of Technology -- the Global Village project -- which had about 450 beds. There was more of a focus on interior and exterior common spaces, along with a variety of connected retail and academic spaces. It was not just a residential hall -- it was much more of a mixed-use project.

At the high school level, at the boarding schools, we've seen a shift to slightly smaller dormitories with more visible faculty presence and support. The dorms themselves have moved to a more house-like feel in terms of finishes. We have not seen projects built with painted concrete block walls -- instead they really have the feel of a house. There's also a greater variety of common space for either group study rooms or game rooms for hanging out, and a trend toward providing common rooms that aren't necessarily dominated by a television.

In urban areas, and Boston in particular, there's a real push to keep a greater percentage of students on-campus and in residential halls run by the colleges, and not have as many students in apartments off-campus. I think providing more variety and more options in terms of the living situation students can have on campus is driving many of these changes in design.

Boston SF: One area in which you and ARC/ Architectural Resources Cambridge have been cutting-edge leaders is green, sustainable design. Tell us how far that field has evolved -- where we are today and what we can expect in the future.

Philip Laird: I think sustainability and sustainable design are something that all of our clients expect today. ARC and a few local firms have signed onto the AIA (American Institute of Architects) 2030 Commitment. Our goal as a firm is to be designing predominantly net-zero energy buildings by the year 2030. One project that we've worked on recently that's relevant to this topic is the recent completion of a biomass cogeneration facility at Colby College in Maine that has helped them to reduce their campus-wide use of heating oil by 90 percent, replacing it with wood waste product left over from local timbering operations. Their entire campus now has almost a zero-carbon footprint from an energy standpoint. We also have a couple of dormitories under construction at Deerfield Academy and Portsmouth Abbey that will have solar collectors for hot water and domestic water use and infrastructure in place for the future addition of photovoltaics. We also have a number of projects under way that are using geothermal for heating and cooling. It's something that's wide-ranging, it's impacting a lot of what we do with design and it's something all of our clients are very interested in.

A perfect example of this in the corporate world is right here in Boston and Cambridge where Genzyme has really been a leader in embracing sustainable design. Their headquarters in Boston was one of the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a program run by the U.S. Green Building Council) Platinum office buildings in the country. We've recently completed two large research buildings for Genzyme that are LEED Gold certified. It's something that their leadership is very committed to and interested in personally, and I think that's part of the Genzyme corporate culture.

Boston SF: What are some of the more significant projects on which ARC/ Architectural Resources Cambridge has worked recently?

Philip Laird: In the last year we completed the two major research buildings for Genzyme, one in Allston and one in Framingham. One is LEED Gold certified, while the other is in the process of pursuing LEED Gold certification. Both are support buildings for the adjacent manufacturing sites, so they're very important buildings for Genzyme -- very complicated programs -- and we're very proud of how those have turned out.

The vertical expansion of the Tufts Dental School on Kneeland Street in Boston is one of the more complicated projects that we've ever completed. It was five floors added on top of an existing, fully occupied 10-story building on a very tight, downtown urban site. We're very pleased with the transformation that we were able to achieve on that project.

We just finished the new Alumni Center at Boston College. We transformed the old Chancery Building of the Archdiocese into a modern home for the Office of University Advancement at BC. We also have recently finished a large academic building and performing arts project for Greenwich Country Day School in Connecticut. Those are all projects we've finished in the last year.

Right now we've got a number of great projects that are either in design or under construction, including the Albert Sherman Center at the UMass Medical Center in Worcester, which is one of the largest projects currently under construction in the state. We are also working on a new three-rink facility for the Skating Club of Boston, which is going to be a very exciting new venue for the club, which has been an important part of Boston for the past 100 years. And we have a number of other projects under way: an arts center at Deerfield Academy, a major renovation of an academic building at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and a new Squash Center at Middlebury College in Vermont. A rather interesting project that is also under construction is a new Thai Buddhist temple in Raynham, Mass. When it's completed it will be the largest Buddhist temple in the United States.

Boston SF: Please tell us about some of your personal design philosophies and how they've changed during your 30 years in the business?

Philip Laird: As our office has grown over the past 30 years, we have continually tried to improve the collaborative nature of design within the office. We see that desire for a collaborative approach to also be something that's important in business and academics and, really, with all of our clients. So we do place an emphasis on designing spaces that foster interaction and promote collaboration and we have done that with our own office and with the spaces we design for our clients.


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