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

respective

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

and permanence.

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

longer.

Located in the most recently developed, southern end of the Carnegie

Center, the pavilion sits in a greensward surrounded by five big

red-brick

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

completed

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

29.

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,

swans,

and water lilies have earned many devoted fans, some of whom try to

duplicate the flowers; others who keep maternal watch over each

spring’s

swan families.

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

Pavilion,

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

appearance,

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

six-inch-thick

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,

without

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

contractor

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

"V"

— 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,

Pennsylvania,

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

popularity.

In timber framing the spirit of the maker is in both the product and

the tools. "They become invested with the spirit of the

crafter,"

he says. Gesturing toward the graceful structure he adds,

matter-of-factly

but proudly too: "There’s not a stick here I haven’t touched many

times."

"We make a jigsaw puzzle with no markings on the wood itself,

then bring it here and put it together," he explains. The

landscape

architect’s drawings had been re-drawn for the timbers, and an

engineering

consultation had resolved how to transfer loads and stress back to

the four columns that basically carry the weight, using braces and

other mechanisms.

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,

explaining

that the metal bolts also used serve to tie the timbered upper

structure

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

"furniture

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

Philadelphia’s

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).

Working

in an area encompassing Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Reading and

Scranton,

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

Billingham’s

operation took up full-time residence for a while. First John Cicak

and Jeremy Hayes covered the timbers with four-inch white cedar

boards

(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

protect

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

though

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

including

a muted purple, landscape architect Hanna says, "It would have

been fitting to have a slate roof atop a timbered building,"

adding

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

old-fashioned

sort of bandstand and contrast with the buildings around it,"

Hanna says. He adds, lightly, "It’s more of a `folly’ than

anything

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

small-town

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

contractor

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

company

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

Random Test, Carnegie Center Concert, Greenway,

502 Carnegie Center, 732-545-7200. In case of rain, performances are

the following day. Free. Thursday, August 15, noon.

Country All Stars, Greenway, 502 Carnegie Center.

Thursday,

August 22, noon.

Afrique Musikal Ambassador, Greenway, 502 Carnegie Center.

Thursday, August 29, noon.


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