The Legacy of Malcolm Wells, FAIA: The Father of Gentle Architecture

March 5, 2016

MalcolmWellsHeadShotAs part of The Wetlands Institute’s 2016 Winter Lecture Series, the Wetlands Institute will present a retrospect on the legacy of the award winning architect, Malcolm Wells, FAIA. The program will be held at The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ on March 18th, 2016 at 6:00PM. The presentation will be given by professor and planner, Reverend Wayne Conrad, as he reflects on how Malcolm’s work was inspired by the beauty of nature, and a need for a more sustainable world. This program will also be presented in cooperation with the members of The South Jersey Section of the American Institute of Architects and the group Between the Times.

After an initial presentation focusing on the architectural innovation and ecological sensitivity which characterized Well’s work, there will be responses provided by an architect, and ecologist, and a theologian, each familiar with Well’s work. The responders will be considering the renewed relevance of Malcolm’s early work.

Malcolm Wells was the designer of the iconic Wetlands Institute building. The Wetlands Institute, a nonprofit environmental organization, is located along the causeway into Stone Harbor, NJ. In fact, the Institute was a testing ground for many of the “gentle ideas” that were incorporated into subsequent projects. This was only after he had designed the 1964 RCA World’s Fair Pavilion.

Other notable structures of his design include his now famous underground office nestled at the edge of the Cooper River Parkway in Cherry Hill, the Law School Building at Rutgers Camden, the much admired (but also problematic) former Cherry Hill Library, three stunningly beautiful church sanctuaries, and his home office and art gallery on Cape Cod.Wells Building Drawing 1

At the time of his death, in 2009, the New York Times referred to Wells as the father of “gentle architecture”. In its obituary, the Philadelphia Inquirer related Wells reaction to the closing of the 1964 World’s Fair. “It was at this point that he abruptly changed course. With the realization that the pavilion would be torn down and that all his other buildings, along with their parking lots and concrete footprints had destroyed whatever had lived there before, he began to develop his theories of gentle architecture”. It was at this point that he resigned from RCA and set up his own shop.

The innovative features incorporated into Malcolm’s 1960’s and 70’s work included parking lots paved with oyster shells, the utilization of percolation troughs to return roof water runoff to the underground aquifer, interior gardens to create oxygen-rich air for breathing, the development of landscaped water retention lakes, the maximum utilization of south-facing windows to increase solar gain for heating and the incorporation of super insulated skylights for interior daylighting.

However, his best known, but most controversial, design feature was the practice of “earth sheltering” in which he waterproofed his gently sloping roofs by covering them with three to four feet of rich soil, and then planting them with native grasses and shrubs.

Wells Building 1William McDonough, FAIA, recipient of the first Presidential Award for Sustainable Development and one of the world’s most copied architect/planners in reflecting on Malcolm’s work suggested, “as a thinker, he was a hidden jewel. In the world of what has become known as green building, Malcolm Wells was seminal, actually inspirational, for some people including me. For a draftsman who started his career designing portable radios for RCA, Malcolm came a long way and now just beginning to recognize the importance of his journey”.

To make reservations for the presentation, please contact The Wetlands Institute at 609-368-1211. Cost of admission is $7 for Wetlands Institute members, $12 for nonmembers, and in the spirit of covered dish dinners, please bring an appetizer, entrée, salad or dessert to share with at least eight people. At time of RSVP, please notify the Wetland’s Institute front desk staff as to what dish you’ll be brining to the dinner. If you have any questions, please feel free to email the Wetlands Institute at admissions@wetlandsinstitute.org, or call them at 609-368-1211.

AIA South Jersey is a registered provider with the AIA Continuing Education System AIA/CES. This program is approved for (1) Learning Unit, which will be reported directly to the AIA/CES for AIA members.

By | Posted in AIA-NJ News, Architecture in NJ, Continuing Ed, Environment, Members & the Community, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Comments (0)

Categories

Archives

Upcoming Events

  1. 2018 ALNNJ INSTALLATION DINNER

    January 6, 2018 @ 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
  2. Awards Gala

    January 13, 2018
  3. Documenting Historic Buildings

    January 20, 2018 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Architects are skilled professionals who listen to you, interpret your wishes, help realize your building dreams, and add value at every stage of a project.

414 Riverview Plaza, Trenton, NJ 08611
(609) 393-5690
info@aia-nj.org