East Hampton Town Hall - Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Forty years passed, and when these de-facto antique building collectors decided to sell their property, they sought to secure the fate of the collection. The couple offered to donate many of the historic structures to the Town of East Hampton, along with funding for their upkeep. But where to put the buildings, and how to use them?
At the time, East Hampton's town offices were scattered in a patchwork of several buildings, including several construction trailers. Instead of building anew, perhaps the town could use some of the donated buildings to house town offices and provide public meeting spaces. The town's historic-preservation advisor, Robert Hefner, enlisted Stern and RAMSA Project Partner Randy Correll to study what might be possible.
Because the old buildings had been restored and maintained, they were in remarkably good shape to be adapted to their new uses. The cellular arrangement of rooms in the two center-entry houses with their masonry-fireplace cores easily lent themselves to office space. The two barns, with their open interiors, would work well for public meeting space.
The architects developed an arrangement with the houses standing back to back about 24 feet (seven meters) apart, like contestants in a duel — one facing the old Montauk Highway to the south and the other facing north into the municipal compound. They are offset just a bit to suggest the hint of rural builder imprecision that one might expect to find on an old homestead.
The barns are pushed out from the center to the east and west, providing ample space for new connective building tissue between the four structures. The offset alignment allows each of the four to be seen from picturesque angles, a composition of crisp edges and textured planes.
After weeks of advance work — removing the buildings from their Further Lane foundations and carefully sliding them onto steel rails — the antique buildings made the trek to their new home, just under a mile as the crow flies, in a single morning. The trip was abbreviated by a shortcut across open farmland.
The four buildings now sit on a single foundation. Red brick paving visually connects them, weaving inside and outside through a double-paned glass enclosure with a low-slope glass roof that links the four, allowing visitors to pass from one to any of the others on the ground floor without having to go outside.
Each of the old buildings also has its own exterior entrance, which permits any of them to be used after hours — or locked and secured — independent of the others.
The second floor of the houses contains office space, while each of the barns offers a dramatic two-story meeting space — the larger one, to the west, is for town meetings; the smaller one, to the east, accommodates planning and zoning hearings.
Cedar-shingle exteriors are virtually unchanged; where an exterior wall is now enclosed by the glass atrium, fireproof shingles are installed.
According to the architects, very little was done to alter the layout or the details of the houses. Kitchens on the ground floor were transformed into reception areas, doorways were widened to comply with ADA requirements, and new doors, casing, and trim matching the originals were constructed.
New HVAC ducts and electrical outlets and switches were installed in the same chases that had been cut into the building fabric years earlier during the 1970s retrofit. Attic spaces are used to locate ductwork above second-floor ceilings.
One major insertion is a hydraulic elevator installed in the north house for accessibility.
A common basement links all four buildings as well; in fact, at the basement level, one is not even aware of the four structures being distinct. Approximately 15 people now have offices on this lower level, and the design attempts to make these spaces less basement-like.
For instance, the west foundation wall is partially excavated to allow outdoor access, and nearly all of the spaces have window wells to bring in natural light. A central open staircase from the glassy atrium delivers sunlight to the lower level, where surrounding offices have glass walls.
This project spanned two town administrations from opposing parties. The new government considered dumping the project as a boondoggle, but it moved forward and was eventually embraced by the new powers that be.
In fact, the new mayor moved into an office with a sunny southern exposure, where he now enjoys the view across a lawn toward the old Montauk Highway.
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Architect Michael J. Crosbie is chair of the University of Hartford's Department of Architecture, editor-in-chief of Faith & Form magazine, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. More by Michael J. Crosbie