Corrections or additions?
This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the August 7, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. A correction was made on September 10,
2002. All rights reserved.
Like an Old Barn, Built to Last
As any sidewalk superintendent would agree, you can
learn a lot just hanging around construction sites. If what’s being
built is a timber-framed, slate-roofed pavilion, and its construction
is lavished with the best classic materials by artists in their
fields, you can become freighted with facts. And admiration.
Traditional American barns are known to invite nostalgia because they
were built according to old values and they were built to last. Their
trademark timber frame construction showed off natural and indigenous
materials. And there was a way about the artisans who built them that
conveyed inherited knowledge, care for materials and tools, strength
Now meet the Carnegie Center’s "500 Series Greenway Pavilion,"
a modern-day "old barn," through the values it exemplifies:
hand-crafted to enjoy now, and to last indefinitely — if not
Located in the most recently developed, southern end of the Carnegie
Center, the pavilion sits in a greensward surrounded by five big
office buildings, one with a tall, illuminated clock tower visible
from Route 1. With the placement of a handsome hand-hammered spherical
copper finial atop its slate roof, the pavilion was essentially
in late May. At that point, with the replacement of the disturbed
sod, the sturdy pavilion — wired for light and handicap-accessible
— was ready for its debut: the Carnegie Center’s summer outdoor
concert series, scheduled every Thursday at noon, now through August
This striking pavilion was not in the center’s master plan, says Micky
Landis, brother of Alan Landis, the Carnegie Center developer. Micky
Landis is now senior vice president of Boston Properties, which bought
most of the center four years ago. "It was to be an open green
space, where workers would throw frisbees and read books," he
says. "Over time we realized that, maybe in Silicon Valley people
were doing that, but not here." In an effort to provide amenities
that will actually be used, Boston Properties added a sand volleyball
court and a basketball court, and now this pavilion.
Beyond the summer music series, the pavilion will probably serve as
a party and wedding venue, as has happened at other Carnegie Center
sites. Those who work in the Carnegie Center can book with Boston
Properties for its use.
Though it may not have been in the original plan, this structure has
been a gleam in the eye of landscape architect Robert Hanna for close
to 20 years, since his master plan for Carnegie Center was completed.
Since then, his designs have taken form elsewhere in the complex —
perhaps most notably in the 200 series, where a lakeside gazebo,
and water lilies have earned many devoted fans, some of whom try to
duplicate the flowers; others who keep maternal watch over each
Hanna, of R. M. Hanna Landscape Architects based in
center city Philadelphia, recently advised Boston Properties that
the most significant addition there might be construction of the
on hold since 1991 because of budget restraints. Advice given and
accepted, the search for artisans and builders commenced.
Once construction began, anyone in the vicinity could look and learn.
And at least one person, this writer, visited frequently to talk with
those doing the skilled work and note its progress. Even after hours,
someone who just happened by could readily infer what was going on
there — or rather, going up there — just from the detritus
that could be found on the ground at the end of most work days: wood
chips, staples, slices of copper sheeting, steel and copper nails,
slivers of slate. Clues to the building’s elements, if not its
have been there for the reading from the start (in between careful
clean-ups by construction workers).
So any strolling Sherlockian would have more reason to be successful
than the fabled six blind men describing the elephant, when each man,
in touch with a different part of the pachyderm, theorized a wildly
different kind of beast. Here, the hand-wrought pavilion stood right
there for instant corroboration.
It all began with an octagonal outline of concrete footings in which
poured concrete columns, close to 16 inches in diameter and nearly
14 feet apart, were anchored. Each column was topped with a
slab of "radiant red" granite quarried in North Dakota. Next
came a thin metal plate into which the building’s beams were bolted.
(Wiring runs through a conduit in the columns and into the beams.)
On a base of filler stone sits the pavilion’s floor of bluestone with
a white granite medallion design. A hand-laid, dry fit (that is,
mortar), Ashlar-cut limestone wall wide enough to sit on surrounds
the building, opening for entrances at the ends of two paths topped
with red quarry dust. A flat cap of custom-molded concrete slabs was
cemented on top of that.
Back in early March, Joseph Billingham, owner of Billingham Built,
a construction company based in Erwinna, Pennsylvania, and a key
for the pavilion, stood looking at one corner of the structure, by
then outlined in timber. Where the four-sided pyramid-shaped rooftop
flared into an eight-sided roof, the plane line was off, he said.
This necessitated the lifting and repairing of that corner.
Now picture an upside down "V" with a vertical center beam.
The top surface of the two corner pieces — the sides of the
— must be beveled, with each of two sides lining up with the roof
plane closest to it. Only then can the four-sided figure merge neatly
into eight sides. Done.
John MacFarland, owner of Tohickon Timber Frames, in Revere,
looks the part of a man who would work in timber. Smooth-skinned,
blue-eyed, with a long white beard, he’s pleased to talk about earlier
projects — starting in 1976, when he took his first barn down
— that surely contributed to this one. With that first barn, for
instance, he learned to deconstruct a structure in reverse order from
how it went up. "You have to know how it was built to take it
down," he says.
By the way, he adds, do you know why you always find Roman numerals
on barn wood, instead of Arabic numbers? Because the numbers are made
with a chisel, and straight strokes are much easier to produce.
Timber framing is a back-to-nature craft that enjoyed a resurgence
in the 1970s when people wanted to get back to hand-work, MacFarland
says, and it’s a craft that is once again gaining prestige and
In timber framing the spirit of the maker is in both the product and
the tools. "They become invested with the spirit of the
he says. Gesturing toward the graceful structure he adds,
but proudly too: "There’s not a stick here I haven’t touched many
"We make a jigsaw puzzle with no markings on the wood itself,
then bring it here and put it together," he explains. The
architect’s drawings had been re-drawn for the timbers, and an
consultation had resolved how to transfer loads and stress back to
the four columns that basically carry the weight, using braces and
In true timber framing, all connections are made with wooden pegs
— the traditional wood-to-wood joinery method. In this building,
the pegs themselves meet code requirements, Billingham notes,
that the metal bolts also used serve to tie the timbered upper
to the ground. No wind-precipitated "uplift" here.
Visitor’s note: To look closely at this structure is to heartily doubt
that anything could lift it, in whole or part. Those poured concrete
columns embedded below the floor, those granite caps, those massive
timbers. This building looks like it will outlast us all.
MacFarland readily distinguishes a conventionally-constructed home
from "timber frame" building. The later is often called
you live in" because the exposed wood on the inside can be seen
and enjoyed. In this area, he says, there are numerous examples of
timber frame roofs: old buildings on the Princeton campus and
Academy of Music are a few examples.
So popular did timber framing become, MacFarland says,
that by 1985, the Timber Framers Guild of North America was founded.
Describing the organization as unusual, he says to begin with, "We
were our own best resources." The group has been documenting its
craft through material posted on its website (www.TFGuild.org).
in an area encompassing Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Reading and
Pennsylvania, and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, MacFarland was looking
forward to his next project: designing a client’s barn and garage.
Once the Pavilion’s framing was finished, two carpenters from
operation took up full-time residence for a while. First John Cicak
and Jeremy Hayes covered the timbers with four-inch white cedar
(not the more usual red cedar, which comes from farther away). Their
stainless steel nails were then concealed by "blind nailing"
in the tongue and groove boards. Finally, they put up stripping, then
covered that surface with roofing felt. A little fillip: they added
an "ice and water shield" — a rubberized membrane to
the potentially vulnerable corners and the cedar below.
Thanks to these men, a visitor had learned (however briefly it might
be retained) about "hip rafters" — the beveled V-shaped
ones at the four corners of the pyramid; the "common rafter"
— the vertical one in the middle; and "jack rafters" —
shorter boards parallel to it. A "bird’s mouth" notch with
a specific angle permits one board to fit into another. And even
at first the ends of the rafters extended irregularly below the bottom
board they were notched into, Hayes and Cicak used a string line to
determine where to trim them — a step best taken once they were
all in place.
Of the pavilion’s Vermont slate roof, a hand-mixed blend of hues
a muted purple, landscape architect Hanna says, "It would have
been fitting to have a slate roof atop a timbered building,"
that "it’s a collegiate reference, as much as anything." The
slate shingles had pre-drilled holes for nailing through into the
felt and stripping on top of the cedar that covered the timber beams.
Copper nails were used here; they don’t rust and they complement the
copper flashing and "snow birds" that protrude decoratively
from the lower tiers of slate. Their job is to keep snow from sliding
off the roof by holding it in place to melt instead.
The Carnegie Center Pavilion is "intended to evoke an
sort of bandstand and contrast with the buildings around it,"
Hanna says. He adds, lightly, "It’s more of a `folly’ than
else," alluding to — depending on your dictionary — "a
whimsical or extravagant structure meant to serve as a conversation
piece" or "a garden building constructed mainly for visual
effect, that is, to fool the eye."
Originally, this green area in the master plan was meant to be a
common or a college quadrangle, Hanna recalls, and that second option
took on resonance once Educational Testing Service moved into the
500 series buildings. Because he was reading about the revival of
timber construction in New England at the time, that also played a
role in style decisions.
What Hanna calls "a Vermont guru" helped with a list of area
people who could do the timbering job, and MacFarland’s proposal won
the RFP process. RTCW (Ron Totten, Chris Wettstein), the landscape
contractors for much of the rest of Carnegie Center and general
for this job, returned to pick up where they had left off.
Most of Hanna’s work is in the Philadelphia region; the Carnegie
Center is this area’s most prominent example. He is currently involved
with landscape designs for Princeton’s Hun School. Years ago, his
designs for Johnson & Johnson Baby Products in Skillman led to work
for the J&J world headquarters in New Brunswick. A faculty member
at Penn for 33 years, Hanna now teaches urban studies.
The presence of Billingham Built is more often felt in the Upper Bucks
County and Frenchtown areas than in these parts, but Joe Billingham
took this job because it sounded so interesting. After all, his
specializes in unique projects, he says, agreeing that the Pavilion
is a model of old-time building. And Chris Wettstein can’t help but
ask a leading question, "Isn’t it a great building?"
— Pat Summers
502 Carnegie Center, 732-545-7200. In case of rain, performances are
the following day. Free. Thursday, August 15, noon.
August 22, noon.
Thursday, August 29, noon.
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