Design Awards 2011 Highlights – Part 1

August 21, 2012

Leading up to the 2012 Design Awards we will begin highlighting the 2011 winners.  This is part 1 of a multiple articles over the next week that will showcase the awardees.  The deadline for 2012 submissions is August 29, 2012.  Find out how to submit your project for 2012’s Design Awards.

Farewell Mills Gatsch Receives Two AIA-NJ Design Awards

Princeton Firm Honored for Work on Landmark Buildings

The Princeton, N.J., architecture firm of Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects was the winner of two of the nine architectural design awards presented this year by AIA-NJ.

In both cases, Farewell Mills Gatsch won the awards for the restoration of landmark mid-century modernist buildings. The firm received Honor Awards in the Historic Preservation category for the preservation of the Louis I. Kahn Bath House and Day Pavilions in Ewing Township, N.J., and in the Non-Residential Built category for the Aspen Institute Walter Paepcke Memorial in Aspen, Colorado, originally designed by Herbert Bayer a Bauhaus designer/Architect who worked under Walter Gropius.

Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects is recognized nationally for its work in architectural design, historic preservation, renovation and the adaptive reuse of existing structures.

“It is with great pride that we recognize and honor this architectural firm that has breathed life back into these structures that are a notable part of our architectural history and landscape,” said Laurence E. Parisi, AIA, president of AIA-NJ.  “Farewell Mills Gatsch’s outstanding work on these buildings of important cultural, historical and social significance is an excellent service to society.”

The Louis I. Kahn Bath House was a seminal work in the master architect’s career and an influence on many of his later buildings, including the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif.  The bath house, pool and day camp, designed in 1955 for the Jewish Community Center of Ewing Township, located just outside Trenton, N.J., is now owned by Ewing Township.

The bath house consists of four pavilions in the shape of a cruciform enclosing an atrium that is open to the sky. Each is topped by a pyramidal roof that floats on top of the supporting walls, allowing light to enter above the sidewalls and through an opening at the roof’s apex. Kahn himself said that the geometrically simple, but elegant building evoking ancient monuments was a turning point in his career.

“I discovered myself after designing the little concrete block bathhouse in Trenton,” he told the New York Times in 1970.

But the condition of the bath house pavilions, as well as pavilions for the day camp located a short distance away, had deteriorated as a result of weather, but also because of what Michael J. Mills, FAIA, the Farewell Mills Gatsch partner in charge of  preservation, has called “the poetry of the buildings.” Kahn intended for water to run over the masonry surfaces, but the aesthetic was very damaging to the masonry.

In the restoration, Farewell Mills Gatsch refrained from using gutters, which would have violated Kahn’s original intentions, but restored the masonry to make it more impervious to moisture penetration. Such an approach was typical of the restoration in general, in which the goal was to achieve longer lasting, safer and more practical improvements while still preserving the original design.

“This was a very exciting project,” said Mills, who had visited the buildings as an architecture student, “but it was also a little daunting; every architect who has worked with Kahn or has been influenced by Kahn was interested in what we would do, so we had to take great care in studying the site and making the plans for its restoration.”

Farewell Mills Gatsch also dealt with a landmark building at the Aspen Institute — in this case a memorial to Walter Paepcke, the Institute’s founder, designed in 1963 by Bauhaus-trained architect Herbert Bayer, along with Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Fritz Benedict. The goal of the original design was to reflect Paepcke’s vision for a place “where the human spirit can flourish.”

The Paepcke Memorial Building quickly became the centerpiece of the campus of the Institute, an international nonprofit focused on fostering enlightened leadership. But, as with the Kahn bath house, little had been done to maintain the building. In addition to preserving and expanding the building, the project also focused on making it more energy efficient and updating its mechanical and audio-visual systems.

“We definitely tried to respect and protect the spirit of Bayer and Benedict,” said Michael Schnoering, AIA, of Farewell Mills Gatsch. “We could clearly feel them looking over our shoulders. We wanted the new features to be introduced to the building in innovative ways that preserved the spirit of the building, but that also accommodated the space and technology needs of the future.”

Farewell Mills Gatsch also won two merit awards in the Historic Preservation category from AIA-NJ in 2010 — for Princeton University’s Whig Hall in Princeton, N.J., and for the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, N.J., both located in Mercer County.

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