Perry Dean Rogers Partners Architects
Standing before a judge or sitting down with a probation officer can test anyone’s stress level, especially in a place like Essex Probate and Family Court in Salem, Massachusetts, where the most sensitive of issues may be resolved to not everyone’s satisfaction.
But the anxieties there may be somewhat lessened by the consummation of extensive interior work resulting from the light hand of Perry Dean Rogers Partners Architects.
The venerable Boston firm recently finished a three-year gut renovation and addition of the 1909 courthouse—a $40 million project with general contractor W.T. Rich Co. Inc. of Newton, Massachusetts, that’s drawing high praise from a grand old New England community well- noted for its architectural heritage.
“The people who have business in there are usually at their most vulnerable,” explains Anne Brockelman, a Perry Dean Rogers senior associate of 12 years, who has a Masters of Architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
“They don’t need to be in a facility that’s depressing. What we hoped to accomplish was to elevate everyone’s sense of who they are by designing a place where they’ll feel they’re treated with dignity and respect.”
A nicer order to the court
The halls of justice should never be intimidating or foreboding, and the three-story granite and brick Classical Revival building on Federal Street always seemed inviting, at least from the outside. The same may now be said for the interior that seems to reinforce the high-handed standard that everyone is equal before the law.
Be they plaintiffs, defendants, judges, lawyers or witnesses, everyone who enters is greeted by brilliant gray-white carrara marble, natural light, open spaces and honey-colored woodwork. It’s a refreshing contrast to the dark mahogany and dim lighting that so characterizes other such buildings.
It also was five years in the making, with the first two years devoted to extensive design work that preceded the actual construction work.
Perry Dean Rogers can be said to balance aesthetics with practicality, its services encompassing master, precinct and multidisciplinary planning, feasibility studies and programming, building and interior design, renovation and adaptive reuse, and sustainability.
Such capability was essential for the Salem courthouse, with the project being built around two general strategies: The sustainable reuse and improvement of the century-plus building, and the replacement of a 1979 addition to more efficiently house the facility’s current and future hi-tech needs.
The project itself may have been considered inherently sustainable, Brockelman reminds, as it entailed extensive reuse of existing materials. However, in evaluating potential sustainable design strategies, the goals of energy efficiency had to be balanced with protection of the building’s historic character-defining features.
Many of the building’s original features were holding up quite well. Only clouds would obstruct sunlight from the large windows, and Salem isn’t Seattle. The heavy masonry walls had always been conducive to high thermal inertia. Such efficiency was enhanced with spray-foam insulation on the inside of existing exterior walls and the attic roof. Energy modeling fine-tuned insulation thickness, glazing and chiller options, and Brockelman believes the courthouse is on its way to LEED Gold certification.
In the meantime, Perry Dean Rogers can celebrate its Salem Historic Preservation award, just the latest of the many citations it has collected over its 87-year history.
Sometimes by the book
While Perry Dean Rogers has its stamp on other courthouses, including its 2007 work on the Plymouth, Massachusetts, Trial Court that earned the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance Award for Design Excellence, the bulk of the firm’s work is in higher education.
“We’re also academic library specialists,” says Brockelman, adding that the firm brings to colleges and universities the same welcoming atmosphere that’s now at the Salem courthouse.
First impressions may not be all-important, but they do matter, and Southern New Hampshire University enlisted Perry Dean Rogers to design its Gustafson Center, which opened in February across the street from the campus’ main entrance.
The first campus structure that an incoming student, visiting parent or lecturer may see, the center named for President Emeritus Richard Gustafson houses undergraduate admissions, the Dorothy S. Rogers Career Development Center and the Office of Alumni Engagement. No ivory tower, the new building is integrated in the scenic campus and bustles with the vibrancy of campus life.
“It marks the beginning and end of a student’s life,” Brockelman says. “It’s where you start your college tour, see the admissions officers and at the end of those four years, it’s where you depart—and return for alumni functions. It’s multipurpose—and always welcoming.”
SNHU had references aplenty when it sought the expertise of Perry Dean Rogers. As one of Boston’s oldest architectural firms, it might be expected that Perry Dean Rogers would handle projects at such prestigious New England institutions as Harvard, MIT, Rhode Island School of Design and Yale. But the firm’s expertise also graces campuses afar, the long list including Dickenson College, Agnes Scott College, SUNY Buffalo, Georgia Tech, the University of Arkansas, and Texas State University.
A reputation to uphold
Its roots tracing back to the 1923 founding of Perry Shaw and Hepburn Architects, the firm’s first major commission was the 1927 contract to master plan and restore Colonial Williamsburg. Such an immense assignment carried the firm through the Great Depression, and it figured prominently when times improved and much of New England was due for a renaissance.
Now in its fourth generation, the Perry Dean Rogers braintrust includes President Emeritus Martha Pilgreen FAIA, President and library specialist Mark Freeman RIBA, and Associate Principal Thomas McCarty.
While rightfully proud of its illustrious past, the firm emphasizes building on its history and accepting all the challenges that may entail.
“Today, architecture is a richer and subtler discipline,” the firm says on its website. “It is complex and inclusive, saturated with technology, and challenged with creating better environmental and human conditions.”
But some old values remain, mainly the conviction that the work of today is likely to long outlive the men and women whose ideas go into the design, and that’s well worth pondering between the drafting of the blueprints and the breaking of the ground.
Today’s verdict about Essex Probate and Family Court is likely to stand up under any future review: Perry Dean Rogers, as well as general contractor W.T. Rich, have acquitted themselves quite well.
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