The Castle Imagined and Real

By Ellen Watts, Dan Arons, and Daniel Bernstein, Principals of Architerra Inc. (architects for the Castle Project)Rendering of Castle

“Before the Castle Project was built, it was fully imagined, its form and details constructed in a three dimensional digital model.”  We’ve explained this countless times, yet the colored rendering depicting the view from home plate is still often mistaken for a photograph.

This rendering illustrates one of the most extensively debated aspects of the project—the roof color for the new addition.  “Slate Gray” was chosen, leaving the Castle’s traditional silhouette distinctly red.

This rendering also depicts the central design challenge—creating a sympathetic yet courageous addition.  It’s not easy adding onto a 25,000 square foot Castle.  If too assertive, the addition will clash.  If too tame, the addition will look puny and unfitting.

The hipped roof addition takes its cues from the Castle.  An estimated 2,400 granite blocks were used for the new addition, fireplace, and chimney, replicating the Castle granite’s unusual tawny color, wide size variation, and battered pitch (the exterior stone walls are not plumb so as to appear taller).   The original stone came from Quincy quarries, now closed.  Therefore, granite stockpiles throughout New England had to be culled and mixed for the best possible match.

Natural slate shingles of seven colors were mixed to give a richly colored yet distinctly heathery appearance to the new dining wing.  The slate was quarried in Vermont and the exact mix of colors proved to be another one of the most intensely debated aspects of the design.  Greens and purples, subdued with grays and browns, coordinate with dark green and dark red window trim.

The heavy timber colonnade and porch are the continuance of the main roof structure—comprised of over 600 wood columns, beams, purlins, and haunches.  The porch is deliberate visual reference to the stone arcade of the Castle.  Like the original Castle balcony, the new terrace is defined by red stone caps.

The first day we stood on the concrete slab for the terrace, we were transfixed.  The views were stunning.  Behind us, against a bright blue sky, the hip rafters were being raised, revealing the full size and shape of the wood framing for the new addition.  The digital model had confirmed every decision but the reality was much more intense and very memorable.

Inside, the interior space now flows freely around a former exterior stone wall which was erected during the 1931 addition to the Castle.  A narrow skylight joins the new and the old.  For us, this was one of the most exciting and technically challenging details of the project.   We were elated the day the slot in the roof was uncovered, restoring sunlight washing over the natural cleft of the granite.

“Don’t get too near the edge,” we said to one another, peering down into the abyss that was to become the elevator pit.   We felt very anxious that day.   The single hardest thing to design—and ultimately to construct—was the new elevator.  Its shaft rises from a stone pit, excavated by hand beneath the original slab of the Castle, slides between two brick bearing walls, and extends past complex structural headers supporting multiple fireplaces.  Two inches less on either side would have rendered the addition of the elevator impossible.

The Castle Project’s design required a total of 667 drawings—more than three times the typical number for a project of this size.  The complexity of the project, due to the functional requirements, site challenges, code issues, and the quirkiness of the Castle itself, was exacerbated by the lack of original construction drawings.  More than 250 design drawings were issued during construction to address unexpected field conditions.

Last week, the Castle Project earned a temporary Certificate of Occupancy, enabling residents to move in and preparations to be made for the first day of school.  The reality of achieving that milestone, 17,000 hours after starting first sketches, is one of those things that the digital model can’t capture.


This entry was posted in Architerra, Frederic Law Olmsted, H.H. Richarsdon, Nobles Castle. Bookmark the permalink.

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