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Architects mix old, new to mold space for the enterprise 

  • Jody Baker, front, and Thomas Douglas, background, work Thursday at Thomas Douglas Architects in Northampton. The company's workspace is an open floor plan instead of individual offices.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jody Baker, front, and Thomas Douglas, background, work Thursday at Thomas Douglas Architects in Northampton. The company's workspace is an open floor plan instead of individual offices.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jody Baker, a designer at Thomas Douglas Architects, background, works Thursday in the company's office in Northampton. The workspace is an open floor plan instead of individual offices.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jody Baker, a designer at Thomas Douglas Architects, background, works Thursday in the company's office in Northampton. The workspace is an open floor plan instead of individual offices.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • D. A. Sullivan & Sons, Inc. General Contractors features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    D. A. Sullivan & Sons, Inc. General Contractors features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Juster Pope Frazier Architects features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Juster Pope Frazier Architects features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Juster Pope Frazier Architects features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Juster Pope Frazier Architects features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jody Baker, front, and Thomas Douglas, background, work Thursday at Thomas Douglas Architects in Northampton. The company's workspace is an open floor plan instead of individual offices.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jody Baker, a designer at Thomas Douglas Architects, background, works Thursday in the company's office in Northampton. The workspace is an open floor plan instead of individual offices.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • D. A. Sullivan & Sons, Inc. General Contractors features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Juster Pope Frazier Architects features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Juster Pope Frazier Architects features an open floor plan office, shown on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

— Inside the architecture firm Juster Pope Frazier on North Street, the lights are turned off. Sunlight illuminates the open-floored studio through the tall windows of the old mill building, built during a time when electricity wasn’t so accessible.

“We’re seeing these concepts that were prevalent in mill construction about day lighting and cross ventilation sort of come back,” said Kevin Chrobak, principal architect at the firm, which has its spacious office in a building it shares with the construction firm D.A. Sullivan & Sons in Northampton.

The six employees work in one large room. This way, Chrobak said, everybody can hear each other and share knowledge as they work. If someone gets sick, the other architects can fill in. Chrobak, who is the boss, has his space in the back row of computers.

“It doesn’t make sense to maintain that sort of rigid structure where you sit in an office and observe people working for you. I prefer to work with people rather than have them work for me,” Chrobak said.

Adaptive reuse, or the practice of adapting an existing structure — like an old mill building — for a new purpose, and designing spaces to reflect a collaborative environment are a few of the growing architectural trends in the area, Valley architects say. And with energy efficiency as an always-growing focus, architects are constantly looking at new ways to create and maintain sustainable designs.

Adaptive reuse

Staff at Thomas Douglas Architects at 196 Pleasant St., Northampton, said they more frequently redesign existing structures than build new ones. The architects’ office space, which is work space for six people and was designed by the architects themselves, is part of a well-insulated building with timbers showing on the inside. The building has undergone several renovations, but was originally a potato chip factory. Its open floor plan and tall windows are similar to the Juster Pope Frazier office.

Renovating old buildings for new purposes is the focus of upcoming projects, said Daniel Bonham, associate architectural designer at Thomas Douglas Architects. Among the firm’s reuse projects is transforming an historic building in Greenfield into a 60-room boutique hotel.

Emily Baillargeon, associate architectural and interior designer at Thomas Douglas Architects, said she has found that with limited construction budgets, interior architecture has also become increasingly important for residential clients.

“Most clients say, should we move or do we use what we have? And I think a lot of people are altering what they do have,” Baillargeon said. She noted the important role a good architect can play in terms of seeing the potential in a space.

Charles Roberts, a principal architect at the 15-person Kuhn Riddle Architects at 28 Amity St in Amherst, said adaptive reuse, often combined with new construction, is at play in close to half of the firm’s projects.

The firm is working on converting an Easthampton mill building into affordable housing. He said one of the key architectural concepts used in the design will be to maintain the interior artifact quality of the old building, such as saving the existing brick wall. In keeping with thermal efficiency standards, the project will use high-efficiency boilers for the heating units and the building will be well insulated.

Roberts said he values adaptive reuse for its ability to breathe life back into older parts of the town.

“The whole notion of taking an old building and restoring it for a new purpose is inherently sustainable,” Roberts said. “We can’t go on forever expanding out into the cornfields. It’s really good to go back in and resuscitate our towns.”

New construction

Peter Frothingham, owner and sole architect at the one-person firm Office of Peter Frothingham Registered Architect, at 181 Main St., Northampton, said recent winter storms and Hurricane Sandy have encouraged clients to build homes that are thermally efficient. Frothingham’s firm recently designed a home in Florence with south-facing windows and high insulation, allowing solar power to heat the space without fuel.

The family wanted a home, Frothingham said, “where they could lose power and be OK for several weeks in the winter.”

Another way architects and their clients are conserving both energy and design costs is to create spaces that can serve multiple purposes at different parts of the day. Chrobak, whose firm has recently been working on educational spaces, gave the example of the student center the firm designed at Nichols College in Dudley. During the day, the center functions as lounge space for students. In the evenings, it becomes an area for lectures and presentations.

Chrobak said designing a space to fit the function of the client takes a two-pronged approach. It includes the architects being on top of technology and recent trends, but also learning from the client.

He likened the process to making a movie. In talking to clients about their relationship to the architect, he suggests this analogy: “Consider me the director, but you’re the producer.”

Chrobak has found that some of the spaces his firm has designed reflect a growing focus on collaboration. As well as their own office, Juster Pope Frazier also designed the office of construction company D. A. Sullivan & Sons, Inc., housed in the same building at 82 North St. Like in the Juster Pope Frazier office, the people in charge are visible and accessible to the other employees.

Chrobak said one of the main concepts at work is designing a space that can withstand time.

“You’re designing something that’s supposed to be there and function well for a couple lifetimes,” he said.

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