Infra Structures

A mong the heavy-hitting architectural firms that do their sketching, drafting and modeling here in New Haven, some focus on designing buildings far afield, in cities like New York, Chicago and Taipei. Others look nearer, tending more regularly to their own backyard.

Gregg Wies & Gardner—founded in 1987 by Richard Wies and later joined by principals Glenn Gregg and Sam Gardner, both of whom graduated from the Yale Architecture School—is decidedly the latter. While Wies studied architecture at North Carolina State University, he found some of his earliest and steadiest work under—and on—the arches of Yale.

His firm has touched various facets and facades of the famed university—though, by design, you wouldn’t necessarily notice. That’s because GWG has a knack for updating without upturning. A “leave no fingerprints” approach is vital for working with the university’s historic properties, many of which were designed by notable architects whose style the university wants to retain, while at the same time keeping them up-to-date functionally.

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GWG has worked on the law school’s auditorium, where it installed handicap-accessible ramps, trying to envision the way James Gamble Rogers—the architect of many of Yale’s most iconic structures—might have done it. (Think wood-engraved flourishes and gothic-inspired detailing.) Around the turn of the century, the firm did work for the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Yale Center for British Art. In 2010, GWG restored Mory’s Temple Bar, the 177-year-old Yale clubhouse, as part of a $3.1-million-dollar renovation. Expanding the building, they turned the men’s luxurious bathroom—then humorously called the “Harvard room”—into a dining area, added a new bathroom, created a space large enough to accommodate the Whiffenpoofs, made room for an elevator shaft and tagged on a new bar.

Once upon a time, college work was the firm’s “bread and butter,” Wies says. It’s also done work for UConn, Eastern Connecticut State, Central Connecticut State, Sacred Heart and Wesleyan.

In the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash, GWG’s work thinned. Its salvation, Wies says, was public infrastructure—specifically, railroad stations, many of which sorely needed renovating. GWG designed the new West Haven Station and Fairfield Metro Center, and it helped spruce up Union Station (Hartford) and New London Parade Plaza.

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The firm’s flagship project just “broke ground” in July, in the waters of the New Haven harbor: the Canal Dock Boathouse, with completion expected in late 2017, according to John Pescatore of the nonprofit Canal Dock Boathouse, Inc. Unlike most boathouses, this structure isn’t built beside the water but over it. It’ll rise atop a one-acre cement dock, constructed by Langan Engineering, that’s been sitting in the harbor for the past two years.

Plagued by delays, the project was actually conceived ten years ago, and GWG’s history with it goes back even further. For 13 years, the firm had its offices in Canal’s predecessor: the Adee Boathouse. The 100-year-old structure, designed for Yale by James Gamble Rogers, was only briefly used for the school’s athletics. When local harbor traffic became too complicated, the university built a new boathouse on the Housatonic River, which meets the Long Island Sound between Milford and Stratford, and Adee was converted to office space. In 2007, it was knocked down to make room for the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, forcing GWG to move. And yet, by a twist of fate, the firm has now designed the public boathouse meant to replace its former home.

GWG’s forward-looking and conservational impulses are working in tandem. While the building will look thoroughly modern from the outside, the firm has been salvaging various artifacts with which to decorate the interior of the new boathouse. Those include elements of Adee’s facade as well as a hulking terrazzo medallion, once embedded in the entryway of the long-closed Liggett’s drugstore, depicting New Haven’s legendary “phantom ship.”

Once the project is complete, regular citizens will be able to take rowing lessons, sail on the harbor, take out canoes or kayaks, form boating clubs and otherwise enjoy New Haven’s under-utilized bay—and Wies intends to be one of them. His own single scull rowboat hangs from a stretch of ceiling in the firm’s East Street office, looking parched. Through squalls and capsizes, he’s waited 10 years to see New Haven reclaim this piece of its waterfront, and as for the waters ahead?

They seem promisingly calm.

Gregg Wies & Gardner Architects
151 East St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-5pm
(203) 468-1967

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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