Platinum Kroon’s Builders

Chris Meyer, Turner Construction’s site manager, not only coordinated all the work of the contractors, but also enthusiastically, knowledgeably, and in plain English, explained what was happening and how each phase of construction fit into the building’s purpose. His descriptions enrich many of these photo captions. Here, Peter Otis photographs him from Kroon Hall's lowest point: the basement ejector pit.

The extraction team carefully tried to peel all the stones off of the power plant, so that they could be used to match existing stone around the construction area. Due to years of exposure, the stone turned out to be unusable.

The deck crew carpenters fashioned all the walls using fancy Finnish birch. This lumber provides a smooth surface for the architectural poured walls, giving them the look of polished marble. It was the carpenters who constructed the ladders that got folks between floors, before the real stairs were assembled. They also built all of the wooden fencing to prevent accidents, removing and reinstalling it as the project moved ahead.

Below this cat walk, on the northeast side of Kroon, lie all of Science Hill’s delicate internet, water, electrical and HVAC supply lines. The heavy equipment operators, working like surgeons, excavated and placed supporting beams that kept Science Hill’s sensitive utility cables and lines intact, never breaking these services. As one participant explains, “The footbridge was a lifeline...the hanging of all those utilities saved months of time, countless utility interruptions and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project. Many said it couldn't be done.”

“The form had to be perfectly clean or marks would telegraph into the concrete. If you look very carefully at the concrete you can often spot small markings, boot prints, tool marks and the like. Personally, I think they add character.”

“This was a huge feat. The two truss pieces were connected by a single pin at the top. If it were not for that specially engineered hoisting bar, the trusses would have folded up like a pair of scissors! Each one weighed in at 10,000 pounds.”

Workers traverse Kroon Hall's nearly completed roof in this bird's eye view of the emerging building.

"These were awkward surfaces to walk on." A worker installs bar and wire on the Service Node roof (now known as the South Courtyard green lawn).

As Kroon Hall takes shape, two construction workers are silhouetted against one of its distinctive walls of windows.

“Getting that metal to bend exactly to meet the contour of roof was challenging. After several test fittings we had it dialed in and the job progressed well.”

The Ducci Electric Contractors team installed all of the photovoltaic panels and the wiring throughout the building. “The panels had to be installed in a very specific order in order to work down the roof. Once the panels were installed it was very hard to get up above them!”

Construction workers share their history on their hard hats, as work begins on Kroon Hall's interior.

 

Kroon Hall, the newest building at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), has received the highest architectural accolades over the past five years, including a top ten green building award from the AIA Committee on the Environment, a design award from the Royal Institute of British Architects, and The Architects’ Journal selection as its 2010 Building of the Year. It is now time to honor the men and women who built it.  A number (perhaps many) of the builders working on site felt an affection for the building that projects don’t often receive.  Chris Meyer, who had been Turner Construction’s Project Manager, recently wrote this telling sentence: “Being involved with Kroon was a highlight to my career and I cannot remember any other project that exuded so much positive energy.”  That positive energy is still present today in Kroon.

When I began my time here at F&ES in 1994, my office in neighboring Sage Hall was in nearly the same spot as my current office.  As I look south across the courtyard to Kroon Hall, I am struck by the absolute beauty I now see.  No longer are there cars and trucks of all sizes, including gigantic heating oil delivery trucks, whose contents were periodically tracked into Sage by pedestrians walking across that area.  Now, there are maples and viburnums, daffodils, ferns, amsonia, oak leaf hydrangeas, footsteps and conversations.  What a perfect transformation for this space at Yale. Lucky me; lucky us! This is all the result of a vision to construct a livable and living home for the school and for Yale.

During my undergraduate days at Trinity College in Hartford, the college honored the builders of its beautiful chapel, making them members of the Chapel Builders’ Alumni Association.  This thoughtful activity took place annually until 1980, when the last stonemason died.  Since its completion, Kroon Hall, designed by London-based Hopkins Associates and Connecticut-based Centerbrook Architects and Planners, has been lauded over and over, receiving highest honors for its design and performance. But the builders of Kroon have mostly gone unheralded.  I want to use this article to acknowledge, in some small way, the men and women who actually constructed Kroon for us.

This January marks the fifth anniversary of the school’s move into Kroon.  I was privileged to capture the demolition of the old site and Kroon’s construction between the summer of 2006 and spring of 2009. My shots updating the monthly progress of the project were shared widely on the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ website.  Many of you reading this article are probably familiar with the actual building as users and occupants.  Others of you have no doubt toured the building.  Some of you may have read articles about Kroon and its technical performance aspects.  You may even have received one of the 30,000 handouts the school has distributed, or seen my images on the building’s two touch screen displays.  Most workers knew that I was photographing the work they were doing, some even posing for the camera. Some of the tradespersons asked me to add them to my 160 person Picasa album distribution list so that they could proudly share the work they were doing on Kroon to their kids and other loved ones.

Some key players in this project who are not the focus of this photo essay include: Professor Steve Kellert and our F&ES students who spent close to 10 years researching green building concepts and promoting them to Yale administrators; Dean Gus Speth, Deputy Dean Alan Brewster and many others at Yale who championed the green building concepts, lobbied decision makers and funders, and made the hard cost decisions for implementing various construction theories; and the work flow planners who, on any given day, orchestrated the carpenters, iron workers, and others so that they completed their work in time for another section of cement to be poured.  The planners, building and landscape architects, energy analysts, and engineers who devoted their best to the project were also critical to its success.

Peter Otis outside of Kroon Hall.

Peter Otis outside of Kroon Hall.

During the three years of site preparation and construction, the types of trades and skills changed depending on phases of the project.  Demolition and site prep workers started early, after a team had dug up and put in new HVAC and utility lines.  They were followed by others whose expertise took the project to completion.  Every one of these persons provided what was needed to create this LEED Platinum building – a functioning teaching and administrative center, and an educational and meeting place for F&ES, for Yale, and for the rest of our region and the world.

The pictures shown here highlight Kroon’s builders as a central part of each image.  This fifth anniversary has given me the opportunity to reflect on the building and what an outstanding example of architecture it is.  I also give thanks that I was fortunate to move our Career Development Office into Kroon, so that I could actually be a resident, admiring its wood and concrete, working in its magnificent natural lighting, and breathing its clean air each day while I was there.

The photographs presented here highlight a number of the builders and their skillful contributions.  My captions attempt to show the building in its raw and evolving phases, and explain what was happening in each shot.  The number of workers who started on the project was small, as it was at the end. At the peak, there were close to 130 people on site. For the purpose of this essay, let me say that I knew some of Kroon’s builders quite well and others by first name only.

As I conclude this article, let me suggest that visitors to Kroon look at our building in perhaps some new ways.  Walk around the outside of the building, especially on the north side, and see if you can notice what I call the distinctively pleasant “Kroon Hall smell” emanating from inside. Look closely at, and feel the marble-like concrete columns in the first and second floor hallways, noticing how smooth they are. This smoothness is thanks to special resins mixed in with the stone and sand aggregate, Portland cement and blast slag. The iron workers from Rhode Island Rebar, including Billy, who is seen in a number of my photos, hand-fabricated the metal cores of each column.  Then the concrete handlers skillfully crafted the special effect we see and feel today.

Admire the red oak walls and know that half of that wood was grown at our Yale-Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut, and that F&ES students measured and marked that wood before it was harvested, milled and returned to us in this beautiful form. Hold on to the railings inside and out.  Dale, Ricky and others from Capco Steel, Providence, RI, fashioned them for aesthetics and for our safety.  Take a look at the unique dual-functioning “Tilt Turn” windows in Kroon’s offices. Users can choose to open their windows like a door, or to tilt the top of the sash into the room.  Branford Lumber Company’s representative, at two different stages of the project, told me how honored he was to be providing the Marvin windows for this incredible building.

Kroon was designed to provide service for many years to come. After five years of occupancy, it is a wonderfully received and well-used central gathering spot for many of us at F&ES and in the wider Yale community.  It also provides a great landing place for people coming from farther afield for conferences, meetings, and lectures.  And it’s all thanks to the men and women who played a role in constructing this lovely, model, experimental, LEED Platinum center for F&ES and Yale University.

Peter Otis

Peter Otis is the recently retired Founding Director of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ Career Development Office; a linker of students, alumni and employers; a photographer (peterotisphotos.com); a gardener; an active church, land trust and “Guilford 375th” member; a train commuter; husband to Bobbe; and “Bumpa” to six young grandkids, parented by three Otis children. The Kroon Hall demolition and construction took place literally outside of Peter’s office in Sage Hall. His passionate interests in photography, architecture, careers and people-at-work drew him into documenting this project for over three years. As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of occupancy in Kroon, this is a good time to reflect back on its construction and its builders.

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5 Comments

  1. For probably 7 years this title and a rough article kicked around in my mind. I am thrilled to present it now in Sage Magazine with a few of my thousands of photos. Readers of this article, PLEASE share your comments and memories of the construction project and its builders or elements of its sustainability, livability and feng shui today.

    Peter

    • Jan Canavan says:

      Hi Peter,
      Thanks for sharing this. What a great tribute to Yale and everyone involved. I’d love a photo of the completed Kroon Hall (since not likely will I see it in person). Happy Spring to all you New Englanders. You surely deserve sunshine and flowers after your incredible winter! Hugs to you and Bobbe.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Peter! As one of the members of the first class to spend a full year in Kroon, your photos and descriptions of Kroon make me nostalgic. Kroon was a great place to work as a student and something about its peaceful environment lent itself to being productive. Congratulations on your article and retirement!

  3. Thank you for sharing, Peter! How nice to know more about our little F&ES nest. My fave description of Kroon Hall is from David Haskell, who was here a few weeks ago talking about biology, literature, and the contemplative practice. Were you there? He said that now, being in Kroon Hall, he finally knows what if feels like to be a bark beetle burrowed in a tree. Ha :)

  4. Jan’s question about seeing the completed Kroon Hall for someone far away from New Haven can be answered this way.
    Take a look at these 2 sites for example:
    http://environment.yale.edu/kroon/
    http://environment.yale.edu/magazine/spring2009/kroon-hall-rises/

    Enjoy! And then come to New Haven to experience it in person!
    Peter

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