In 2007, Ruhl Walker Architects was hired to design six faculty houses for St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA, prevailing over three architectural firms with much deeper portfolios of previous institutional work.  We may have been the most surprised of anyone, but our decades of experience designing environmentally responsible single family houses, our initial concept that attempted to design not just a few small houses but also a coherent landscape and campus strategy, and our unusual design team – which included the prefabricator, Empyrean, as well as our “green” mechanical engineer, Sergio Siani of Norian / Siani, whose practice was all about sustainable design before such a thing existed in the press – managed to win the day .  How else was someone going to meet St. Mark’s “impossible” schedule – less than a year for design and construction – and “impossible” budget, without a prefabricator on board from day one?  And sustainability is a key element of the Head of School’s mandate to transform the 150+ year old campus. We embarked on this “impossible” project with open minds, and thanks to our fabulous team as well as an excellent general contractor – Cutler Associates of Worcester, MA – a super Owner’s Rep – Lee Sollenberger of Design Technique of Newburyport, MA – and a decisive Building Committee, were able to finish the project (see on our portfolio website)under budget and several months early.

As the faculty houses were being completed, St. Mark’s was also embarking on an ambitious master planning process. The planning goals included further campus consolidation and sustainability initiatives, in particular upgrading their main campus building, a meandering structure dating back to 1866 that includes classroom and administrative space, a chapel, dining and cooking facilities, dorm rooms, and faculty apartments.  In order to be able to begin renovating and upgrading the existing living spaces without reducing the size of the student body or number of faculty, additional faculty and student housing had to be built elsewhere on campus.  A previously undeveloped site within an existing row of faculty houses was identified, and the decision was made to reassemble our team to design a new two-family faculty house.  Due to the small size of the project, the decision was made to do the mechanical design as a design/build effort, but Rebecca Bachand of UBLA joined us again for the landscape design.

The schedule we were presented was substantially tighter than the first project, along with an even more challenging budget.  So this time around, we decided to pursue custom modular construction rather than panelized construction, so that we could have the living spaces fabricated over the winter in a factory while site work was being completed, and this decision proved to be fortunate as we accumulated historic quantities of snow. Last week the eight modules were delivered to the site by Simplex Homes just as the local general contractor was putting the finishing touches on the foundation.  The modules came complete with all windows, interior wall finish and trim, rough and finish electrical and plumbing, kitchen and bath cabinetry, essentially everything except exterior siding and interior flooring. And we are on schedule to have the units ready for move-in by June.

Here are some images from the module “set”: