A beloved historic school is reimagined with LEED Gold aspirations.
By Randolph R. Croxton, FAIA, LEED AP / President, Croxton Collaborative Architects
Photos © Tim Hursley
Total square footage:
21,850 square feetScope:
A gut renovation with 100% new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and air conditioning.Sustainability:
On track to achieve LEED Gold and designed to meet ARCHITECTURE 2030 guidelines (pathway to Net Carbon Zero).
Our firm, Croxton Collaborative Architects (CCA), a founder of the modern sustainability movement, recently completed the 21,000-square-foot international headquarters for Iredale Mineral Cosmetics (IMC)—manufacturers of jane iredale—in Great Barrington, Mass. A replacement for the company’s smaller home base nearby, the new structure represents the rehabilitation of the abandoned 1889 William Cullen Bryant School building (and its early 1900s addition), a Massachusetts Cultural Resource, as a 21st century center of operations.
The building, which preserves the historic context and original appearance of the school (vacant since its 2005 closing), was developed into a modern, humanistic workplace. The decision was made early on by president and founder of IMC, Jane Iredale, to restore the building under her ethos of preservation and environmental stewardship. Achieving sustainability goals beyond the objectives of its LEED Gold aspirations, the resulting project serves a central role in the revitalization of the town’s Special Business District, part of a four-acre downtown redevelopment plan.
This project represents an esteemed consumer company’s willingness to undertake leadership in environmental excellence while restoring a beloved historic structure within the community as its new headquarters. Divorced from an urban environment, yet inextricable to its town, the new IMC complex sets an example for the exceptional results possible when a client’s humanistic goals are aligned with its stated mission and the architect’s design principles.
The revitalized building is a high-performance structure with daylight in every regularly occupied space. Our firm went beyond the town’s stormwater runoff and flooding concerns (the site is located less than 400 feet from the Housatonic River) providing a comprehensive rain garden system integrated with a new stormwater detention tank. The project achieved a 93 percent diversion of waste from landfills (LEED requires 52 percent). The building itself will realize a 46 percent energy reduction over standard construction.
A new main entrance was created on the north facade’s central bay, adjacent to the parking lot. Inside, we maximized space in the two-story stone and shingle building in several ways. By creating a circulation tower comprising an elevator and staircases as a freestanding element, all of the historic facades retain their strong presence. By claiming the building’s attic and basement as functional space, the revitalized facility’s useable area was increased from 12,000 to 21,000 square feet without expanding its historic perimeter walls. The structure’s roofline was extended, and dormers were added to the attic floor to enhance light infiltration. A new outdoor space cut into the roof serves as an extension of the light-filled conference room, the floor-to-ceiling windows of which provide a soaring view of East Mountain and the verdant Berkshire mountains beyond.
Interior walls were removed to create ample, airy workspaces. Unused chimneys on the first and second floors were opened, proffering exposed brick details and passageways. Original maple flooring remains on the first and second floors, with school desk bolt marks still visible in some places, and acoustical ceiling tiles mitigate noise. New floors were installed on the third (attic) floor and on all of the building’s stairs.
Etched art glass featuring interpretations of lavender appears throughout the building, a visceral symbol of the jane iredale brand. IMC has included a sprig of lavender (originally cut from Jane’s own garden) in its customers’ packages since its founding in 1994. IMC worked with esteemed architectural color designer Carl Black of Liberty Design Consultants in Hudson, N.Y., on the building’s interior and exterior colors and furnishings, which add to the complex’s artisanal design qualities.
Addressing the Masonry
A handsome 1889 exemplar of the Arts and Crafts movement in America, the Bryant School provided a starting point of distinction in creating the headquarters for IMC. Originally an elementary school, the two-story, 10,000-square-foot building had been vacant for more than 10 years, but remained a familiar and beloved structure in downtown Great Barrington. Because it was both a local historic landmark and listed as a Massachusetts Cultural Resource, we knew that preserving the signature feature—the ground floor exterior wall composed of boulders and split stone from the region—would be essential to the success of the project.
Further challenges included the program of use by our client, which was almost double the usable area of the original school, as well as new seismic requirements from the State of Massachusetts that threatened the viability of reusing the unreinforced ground floor boulder wall. ADA deficiencies throughout the building, which was located on a steep cross-sloping site, topped off the list of issues, all of which seemed to point to major changes.
Jane Iredale shared the humanistic design values and environmental/sustainable approach we needed to embrace both the users of the building and the community at large. Little did we know that our objective of maximum preservation of the exterior envelope would of necessity incorporate two monumental brick chimneys that rise from basement level to top off the massive volume of the building’s roof. By the time we reached consensus on our conceptual approach to reuse, we knew that the contractor would need to have consummate skills in the areas of historic and contemporary stone, brick, marble, and pre-cast masonry workmanship.
The key to the preservation of the exterior envelope was finding a way to accommodate a near doubling of usable space within the structure’s historic walls. To accomplish this, we opened up the underused basement to daylight along the entire south perimeter and upgraded the large volume attic level to full occupancy standards with additional roof dormers to achieve a fully daylit upper level. However, we ultimately needed a doubly loaded central corridor running east to west at each level—a layout enhancement made possible by “gateways” through the chimneys at each level. These six dramatic masonry tunnels provide a tangible expression of the signature chimneys visible on the downtown skyline within the interior of the building.
Further preservation objectives were met through areaways at the perimeter stone walls to drop the emergency generator, transformer, and extensive condensers out of sight. When pulling earth away along the south perimeter to introduce daylight and dropping grade on the north to shield equipment, we knew that we (and the contractor) would need to restore, repair, and/or interpret uncovered conditions of the boulder wall.
An intertwined objective—the resourceful use of materials and the preservation of the embodied energy represented by the existing concrete, stone, and masonry—is both a preservation and a sustainability attribute of the project, not to mention the humanistic dimensions of a multi-generational asset being passed on to users and community. The opening up of the south perimeter at the lower level and the multiple dormers for full daylighting at the upper level are direct offsets of the energy for electric lighting and create a more resilient and safe occupancy in the event of power failure.
The introduction of the new precast pavers forming the south ground-level terrace that stretches the full length of the building combines with the newly exposed boulder wall to absorb and re-radiate heat in the spring and fall seasons of this cold climate. This creates extended seasonal use of this outdoor “room” adjoining the lunchroom/pantry area for employees. A line of deciduous trees provides shading for the terrace in the summer months. This passive use of the thermal properties of stone and masonry is the most fundamental of sustainable strategies.
Clarity between the building’s original historic fabric and new construction is achieved by the carving of a local marble for the ADA compliant walkway to the new main entry on the north and using pre-cast terra-cotta colored units for the retaining walls for the new parking area on the north as well as south terraces. The freestanding elevator tower and stair are reached via a slender bridge that generates minimum impact to the original stone and wood.
About Croxton Collaborative Architects
A founder of the modern sustainability movement, Croxton Collaborative Architects is now crafting the next generation of environmental design. Credited with establishing “the founding principles and practices of Green Architecture in America” by the U.S. Green Building Council, the firm is the recipient of the AIA National Honor Award for Design Excellence and two USGBC National Leadership Awards. Intellectual equity in sustainable design is the wellspring of the firm’s human-centered practice, leveraged to create places where we learn, work, and heal. CCA’s seminal work includes New York’s Natural Resources Defense Council Headquarters and National Audubon Society Headquarters, as well as the development of the 2004 World Trade Center Sustainable Design Guidelines for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s redevelopment of the site.