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A Commitment to Community

Goody Clancy takes a rigorous approach to designing buildings and neighborhoods that have a strong sense of history and urbanism.
By Kim A. O'Connell

As a work of architecture, the Monsanto House of the Future was about as non-traditional as it gets. Designed by two professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and displayed at Disneyland from 1957 to 1967, this futuristic house was made almost entirely of plastic, with four curvy modules radiating out from a central column. The house drew more than seven million visitors, who marveled at its then-innovative microwave oven, molded one-piece bathrooms and video telephone system.

Of the million dollars that went into the house, reported The New York Times, 90 percent was devoted to research into plastics technology and construction. "The house is not a model home meant for mass copying," the Times wrote, "but a composite of advanced ideas intended to challenge the thinking of homeowners, designers, builders and equipment suppliers." Somewhat ironically, the two architects responsible for the house's ultra-modern look – the late Marvin Goody and the late Richard Hamilton – formed a partnership that would eventually become Goody Clancy, a Boston-based firm that is known for its work in historic preservation and traditional design.

"The House of the Future was quite a fascinating building, and some of the components are part of the normal building technology of today, such as the prefab bathrooms," says firm principal Joan Goody, FAIA, who visited the building with Marvin Goody after it was built and later married him. "What's fascinating to me was this interest on the firm's part in a sensible way to build, and how to make a building material viable, which led us to appreciate traditional building in the New England area. Although we do a lot of contemporary work, studying traditional buildings has given us a more skeptical way of looking at new systems. Just because it's different doesn't mean it's better."

Today, more than a half-century later, Goody Clancy is a multifaceted firm that employs more than 100 architects, preservationists and urban designers. Their work has ranged from large new civic buildings like courthouses to the restoration of nationally significant landmarks like Faneuil Hall and Trinity Church in Boston. They often design and restore academic buildings and work with scientists to create state-of-the-art research facilities and laboratories. The firm's planning practice has developed strategic visions for dozens of communities stretching from Maine to Texas and is currently leading efforts to create a comprehensive plan and zoning for New Orleans. Sustainability continues to be a deep focus for the firm, which employs more than three-dozen people who have become certified as LEED-accredited professionals by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"We're rarely asked to build something brand new on a greenfield site with no context," says Goody. "A building is often in a historic district, or it's on a college campus that has its own tradition. It might even be a contemporary building, but it's part of a larger complex of buildings and spaces. We're always sensitive to context."

Civic Pride
Until relatively recently, a city block in downtown Wheeling, WV, resembled countless others across the country: Located in an older part of town, the buildings were sound and retained a strong sense of place, yet the block was littered with vacant lots and lacked vitality. The most prominent structure was the Wheeling Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, dating to 1905 and designed in the Beaux Arts style. In the mid-1990s, Congress had appropriated funds to restore the historic building and construct an annex, but the funding was partially rescinded in ongoing budget negotiations and the project languished.

Eventually, the U.S. General Services Administration revived the project and hired Goody Clancy to head up the design team under the auspices of its Design Excellence Program. Working in association with HLM Design, the firm designed an 87,000-sq.ft. annex that complements the massing and proportions of the historic building while offering a vibrant new façade to the streetscape. A four-story, glass-enclosed atrium links the 1905 structure to the addition and serves as the new entrance for the entire complex. The most visually arresting aspect is a wall of glass etched with a repeating pattern of the Great Seal of the United States.

"We as an office are very much committed to urban values, to the city, to public spaces, to common meeting grounds for all aspects of the citizenry," says Goody. "This naturally leads to projects like courthouses, which are one of the meeting places between the public and the government. You want these buildings to project authority and dignity and you also want them to feel open and accessible and transparent, because what goes on in there has to be transparent."

In Boston, the firm designed an addition to the circa-1920s Dorchester District Courthouse that reinterprets the traditional design of the original building. For the portico, the firm worked with sculptor Ann Sperry to create a series of column capitals that emulate the classical Corinthian order in a stylish and more streamlined way. Brick and granite masonry lend suitable heft to the building, but ample windows allow in natural light as well. "We purposely designed it in a way to feel like it belonged in the neighborhood," says Goody. "At the same time, with the interpretation of the Corinthian column, to the person who walks by and sits on the steps, it feels like a courthouse."

Learning Spaces
Given the firm's roots in MIT, it is perhaps not surprising that much of Goody Clancy's work takes place in academic settings. The firm has designed new classroom buildings or additions, as well as numerous residence halls and dining facilities, on such campuses as Georgetown University, Harvard University, Washington University at St. Louis and Dartmouth College, among many others. Although the buildings vary from site to site, the firm always finds subtle ways to inflect toward a campus's historic core while remaining utterly contemporary and technologically advanced. At Georgetown, for example, the new McDonough School of Business features a large, glassy, light-filled atrium flanked by two more traditional volumes that recall the Gothic verticality and Georgian symmetry of the rest of the campus.

At Harvard's Austin Hall, an 1882 law school building designed by the iconic architect H.H. Richardson, Goody Clancy was tasked with a major rehabilitation and restoration, which would provide improved accessibility. The challenge was that, in addition to the inherent mandate to protect Richardson's classic Romanesque design, the firm had to maneuver around an existing tunnel system and rigid egress points. "It was a very tricky building," says principal Roger Goldstein, FAIA, LEED. "We explored lots of options with the Cambridge Historical Commission." Among other interventions, Goldstein adds, the firm ultimately developed an exterior lift system in which an elevator drops into a pit in the ground, virtually disappearing from view and preserving the historic appearance of the building.

Research facilities may pose the greatest challenges of all. In addition to the normal constraints of designing contemporary buildings that honor their historic contexts, research facilities and laboratories must also adhere to very strict technical and scientific demands. The firm has designed several labs and research centers at MIT, as well as other universities. This work ranges from a careful renovation of a Brutalist I.M. Pei-designed chemistry lab at MIT and the David Koch Biology Building there, which was built with MIT's signature limestone but updated with large glass and metal panels. Among other features, the biology building's interior is designed to be flexible, so that spaces can be shifted to accommodate laboratory needs. Energy conservation was also a major objective, and the building includes several green features such as occupancy sensors to control lighting. The latest project at MIT is the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex, a world-class center for brain science. The building, which straddles an active rail and transit corridor, has been certified as LEED Silver.

"With research buildings, what's fun is you're working with really smart people, some of whom are very challenging to work with – they know exactly what they want or don't want," says Goldstein. "The technical complexities also make them interesting, and the overlay of the increased emphasis on sustainable design has rejuvenated this work even more."

Enhancing History
In addition to its work in such historic contexts as college campuses and urban downtowns, Goody Clancy has worked on several iconic historic structures that are regionally and nationally significant. Projects have involved assessments, restorations and rehabilitations, and the firm is often tasked with updating historic buildings with modern mechanical systems or new technology.

In the early 1990s at Boston's famed Faneuil Hall, for instance, the firm developed a restoration plan that made new allowances for accessibility while preserving the original fabric of the 1742 building. The mammoth effort included the repair and replacement of deteriorating plasterwork, the restoration of historic lighting, and the removal of inappropriate interventions. The firm also restored the building's beloved windows, installing interior storm panels with laminated glass to protect interior spaces and provide a thermal barrier.

With a building as old and sensitive as Faneuil, sometimes the best move is to simply protect the structure from further decline, says Goody. "Although it's mostly brick, there's a belt of brownstone around the middle of Faneuil Hall and it had really deteriorated," she says. "There was really no good brownstone repair methodology, and we came to the conclusion that the best approach was to just stabilize the material and then wait until someone would come up with a repair system that works. Basically, to do no harm."

But Goody Clancy's preservation practice is not simply waiting for the development of new technology; its employees are also actively involved in creating new approaches to historic preservation, working with such groups as the Association for Preservation Technology International (APTI), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and U.S. ICOMOS. "I feel very strongly that part of the responsibility of our practice or any practice is the sharing of information and a dialogue with other professionals," says Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED, the firm's principal for preservation, who has been prominent in the growing effort to achieve greater alignment between the green building industry – and particularly the LEED system – and historic preservation.

"I'm pretty confident that the greenest thing we can do is reuse our existing buildings," say Carroon. "There is a cultural memory that even mediocre buildings provide that I find very interesting and reassuring. It's my touchstone when I get discouraged, when I think the green world is too much about achieving a platinum rating." The firm strives to achieve a balance between environmental sustainability and historically accurate and sensitive preservation, whether the solution fits handily into the LEED checklist or not. Few projects express this commitment so elegantly as the firm's restoration and addition to Trinity Church in Boston, a national historic landmark designed by H.H. Richardson.

Built in the late 1870s, the church is known for its remarkable collection of stained-glass windows and murals, designed by artists such as William Morris and John LaFarge. In addition to restoring the church's historic features – including stained glass, paint and statuary – the firm designed a 13,000-sq.ft. addition below the main church that transformed a basement crawlspace into the Undercroft, a vibrant new space for meetings and gatherings. To provide air conditioning for this new space and the restored church, the firm installed a geothermal cooling system with six wells driven 1,500 ft. into the ground next to the building. Geothermal systems are energy efficient methods of heating and cooling that rely on the earth's relatively stable temperature to maintain comfortable interior spaces.

More recently, the firm completed a sustainable restoration of the 1930s Byerly Hall at Harvard that also relies on a geothermal heating and cooling system. Although the historic exterior has been preserved, the interior has been thoroughly updated with low-flow water fixtures, low-E glazing in the windows, paints and carpeting with low volatile organic compounds, and occupancy sensors connected to the lighting system.

"It's an interesting and exciting time in preservation and architecture," Carroon says. "There's a lot of 'greenwashing' out there, but the U.S. Green Building Council and the LEED system have jump-started a lot of technological changes. We have more sophisticated conversations with engineers and manufacturers and more choices in how we're caring for and updating buildings."

Planning for the Future
Every Monday morning, the employees of Goody Clancy gather together for coffee and muffins, listening to their colleagues give brief presentations about new and ongoing projects. "One week we may hear about a particular laboratory or historic building, and the next week it's a discussion of our citywide plan in New Orleans," says David Spillane, AICP, RIBA, the firm's director of planning and urban design. "But these presentations always highlight the common themes that link every aspect of our practice."

One of those themes is maintaining a strong sense of civic engagement and community, whether through the restoration of a landmark building or the development of a comprehensive plan. In the last 15 years, Goody Clancy's planning practice has grown from two or three people to nearly two dozen. The firm has worked on a wide variety of planning projects, from neighborhood master plans to mammoth citywide vision documents.

Recent efforts include the UrbanRiver Visions project in Massachusetts, a statewide initiative that engaged citizens in the development of plans for 14 downtowns and urban riverfronts ranging in population from 1,500 to 150,000. The plans grew out of one-day workshops that brought together a range of stakeholders. "Some plans have involved big initiatives," Spillane says, "but sometimes these workshops helped people discover that if they just talked to Joe from Public Works and trimmed three branches from the tree across the street, people would have a view toward the river. Very often the barriers to progress are people's inability to talk to each other, and doing that built the confidence to take the next steps. These are now empowered communities."

The firm is now engaged in the development of the New Orleans Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, which is building on post-Katrina recovery planning to establish a 20-year citywide framework for preservation, growth and resilience in an era of climate change. This project represents the first time that new zoning districts and regulations will be developed to reflect the policies of the master plan, making it easier to implement the changes needed to revitalize this unique city. "Our projects most typically engage a very diverse range of people," Spillane says. "That's essential to our success. We bring ideas and understanding and knowledge about place-making with us, but our process relies heavily on learning from the community."

At first glance, it may be hard to understand how the firm that once designed the Monsanto House of the Future can now be installing geothermal wells at Trinity Church, or to discern what a Brutalist laboratory building has in common with the 9th Ward in New Orleans. Carroon speaks for her colleagues when she says they all have a common thread. "On the surface it looks like we do wildly different projects," she admits, "but they all have this commitment to community. It's all about making spaces where you can interact and bring pleasure to people. I think we're all hopeless idealists at heart." TB

 

 

 
 

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