Designs of the Times (from the Daily Nutmeg)
Seinfeld character George Costanza often pretended he was an architect in order to impress women, a recurring feature on the path to his inevitable, hilarious downfall at episode’s end.
The ploy made sense amid the absurdity. “Architect” is one of those professions with an undeniable cool-factor: designing and modeling buildings is seriously awesome.
After some prodding on my part, the pros at Patriquin Architects agree with that assessment, albeit humbly. “At a party…you’re going to get some attention,” says Christopher Widmer, one of the two principals at the New Haven-based firm, along with Karin Patriquin, founder and owner. “We’re always imagining new things,” Patriquin adds, referring to what makes the job so interesting to others. “It’s fun to be in a constructive profession.”
The firm has worked on a variety of residential and commercial buildings all over the state, from modern homes to medical facilities to restaurants (like Kitchen Zinc), as well as “tent suites” for prime tennis watching at what is now the New Haven Open at Yale.
Both Patriquin and Widmer are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-accredited. The accreditation process provided “a tool kit for us to design in that direction,” says Widmer, and it’s one they frequently draw from. Green design finds its way into nearly all of their projects, whether required or not, from buildings with a few basic energy-saving features to “zero-energy” projects, where the building is conceived to generate as much energy as it uses. The team is currently designing such a residential project for the Guilford Housing Authority.
The firm is capable of tackling historic restorations, too. For example, Widmer drafted the transformation of New London’s historic Harris Building, once a shipping supply store, into artists’ galleries and housing, earning the 2000 Restoration Award from the non-profit New London Landmarks.
In the firm’s sunny office space, located on the eighth floor of a 1920s-era building on Church Street, walls are covered in bright, artistic depictions of current projects, and small-scale models, built to give clients an all-important three-dimensional preview, are displayed.
These aren’t just decorations or demonstrations—they’re also celebrations. The architects in this small but busy firm are enthusiastic about the work.
Patriquin seemed especially excited about The Friends Center for Children, a 9,500-square-foot daycare center attached to the Quaker Meeting House in Fair Haven scheduled for completion in 2013. The project, a natural wooden structure surrounded by large plots of grass and trees, is appealing enough in artistic renderings and even more so in the details. Specialized features will save energy and money, and range from the simple—like large windows placed along the main hallway, alleviating the need for artificial light—to the stuff of architecture-speak, like geothermal heat pumps and the locally harvested materials used for construction.
What’s more, the project is smartly suited for the young ones who will soon be inhabiting its halls; for example, a visible water collection system will irrigate a rooftop garden, providing wonderful opportunities for eyes- and hands-on learning.
The contractors the firm works with are chosen in part for their commitment to keeping things as sustainable and local as Patriquin Architects does. “It’s a really holistic approach to the whole project,” says Widmer. “It’s part of our philosophy.”
It speaks to joy and pride. These aren’t just buildings being churned out; they’re works of art and science and problem-solving, meant for the enjoyment of all who visit. Which can cast a pretty wide net, since “a lot of our projects are community-based,” Patriquin says.
Indeed, Patriquin and her colleagues are excited to advance their community-minded brand of architecture all over the state and particularly in New Haven itself. It’s a city they say they love for its walkability, rich architectural history and diversity—a city that this happening firm happily calls home.
Daily Nutmeg, Thursday, February 21, 2013