In the first installment of our Building Business series, we take a look at the design inspirations—both architectural and mathematical—behind the new home of Hutker Architects
The experience of entering the town of Falmouth, either from the north via Route 28, or after crossing Vineyard Sound on a ferry, is fresh and new thanks to the impressive new home of Hutker Architects. “It’s the gateway to Falmouth, regardless of which way you approach,” says Mark Hutker, FAIA, the company’s founder and principal. “I like to think this building provides a ‘handshake’ for the town.”
After more than a decade in an impressive building overlooking Falmouth Harbor, the growing business needed a new space. Associate Tom McNeill was enlisted as project manager, a big responsibility for the young architect, who is in his seventh year at the firm. “We experienced client empathy, [since] we were both client and designer,” McNeill says. “One of the invaluable assets of our firm is that we have committed, passionate professionals who are very good at what they do. And everyone has their own perspective and their own way of working. Balancing and acknowledging those strong opinions to create a space that worked for all was probably the biggest challenge.” A challenge that clearly became a success, since the new Falmouth office for Hutker Architects has earned several awards, including two presented at the 2016 Building & Remodeling Industry of Cape Cod (BRICC) Awards in the categories of Best Commercial Project, and a Shooting Star BRICC award for McNeill.
The search for a new space started with sites upon which to build a new structure, as well as existing spaces that could be transformed into the creative backdrop they envisioned. “We wanted a building that identifies our brand, as well as who we are as architects, and represents that in the architecture itself,” says McNeill. After viewing and considering several sites in Falmouth, Hutker learned of an exciting possibility during a casual conversation with a landlord, who suggested the team look at the former Colonial Candle Factory on Palmer Avenue. While the factory had originally been one large open warehouse-styled facility, years of retail use had sectioned the space into what might have been described as a small strip mall. But a site visit with the team uncovered the first happy surprise. Hidden by drop ceiling tiles were massive trusses of long leaf pine that are rumored to have been sourced from a previous structure on Otis Air Force Base in the middle of the 20th century. Suddenly the creative powers of the scouting team—Hutker, McNeill and firm principal, Charles Orr—began to consider the possibilities.
As the project commenced, McNeill tackled the goal of fulfilling the basic needs of the organization that were either lacking or in short supply at their previous office—necessities like parking, storage, a functional kitchen, indoor and outdoor gathering spaces for the staff, and flexible meeting spaces for clients and project groups. Construction by The Valle Group of Falmouth revealed the next happy surprise: uninterrupted oak flooring that ran end to end, the length of the building, despite decades of altering the space for a changing roster of tenants. The well-worn patina, inflicted by years of use when candles were not only being produced but also warehoused and sold to retail customers, provided the ideal color palette to influence the paint and fixture choices, largely chosen by Carla Hutker.
Next came the puzzle of how to best use this unique space and design the individual workspaces, referred to collectively as “The Studio.” “Just as we do with our clients,” McNeill says, “I asked the employees, ‘What do you need exactly?’” Taking into account how each person worked was critical, since their previous home had traditional offices and other partitioning; the firm’s new space now finds employees open to the rest of the office. The corrugated metal sheeting with small acoustical holes chosen to line the ceiling served a dual purpose of form and function, two design considerations at the forefront of any architect’s endeavor. In terms of form, the material accents the industrial feel of the hefty wooden trusses with their new steel brackets; functionally, it diffuses the din resulting from an open work environment.
“The staff has been remarkably successful at ‘self-policing,’” notes Julia Bangert, Hutker’s director of marketing. “We all seem to be self-aware of our overall contribution and extraction in terms of the space. I think we all really love our new home.”
Another innovative contribution to the overall design of the space is “The Spine,” a linear workspace that runs down the center of the office. Purposely built at counter height, it encourages an interactive energy as colleagues discuss projects, share insights and recommendations, or simply gather at the space for informal, brief meetings. McNeill says, “We went through more schemes than letters in the alphabet. Ultimately what we ended up landing on was creating a central nerve center within an open environment where information is shared daily. It’s a collision space for collaboration.”
It’s no surprise that an architectural design firm embraced the opportunity to inject layered meaning and subtle influence into every element of the design. “Like many clients, we had a budget,” states McNeill. “And staying within that budget was non-negotiable. So when it came to choices for our roofing materials, we knew that asphalt shingles were the only sensible option. We decided we would acknowledge it for the material it was, but also explore ways to be creative with it.”
Growing up in the Midwest, Mark Hutker learned something from a friend who was a crop duster that would stay with him for years to come. “I asked him how he knew which farms were which from an aerial perspective,” Hutker recalls, “and he related how the roof patterns are all different due to a long history of roof repairs.” The design team decided to deliberately vary shingle colors and stripe widths to create a distinctive pattern for the new building’s roof. Hutker explained that the classic mathematical principal of Fibonacci sequence is reflected in the optical illusion this design generates, as the thinner stripes on the top seem to be farther away.
Other happy surprises emerged as the project progressed. McNeill marvels at how the bark of the birch trees chosen to soften the building’s front facade mimics the pale gray shingles and the bronze metal frame color of the Marvin windows. The new Hutker logo on the monument stone at the entrance, another BRICC award winner for Best Logo, underwent a bit of a facelift. What used to be lowercase letters are now all capitals in a typeface that creates a sense of forward movement, exemplifying one of the firm’s design tenets: acknowledging history and heritage as it evolves. “Even the soft graphite gray color acknowledges the pencil sketches that begin our process with our clients,” says Bangert. “The form of the letters, and the way they branch to fill the gap between history and the design we create today, for tomorrow, is represented in our ‘H’ brandmark,” the backlit, orange art piece displayed on the front of the building.
As Mark Hutker sat in his new office reflecting on the success of the design, the history of the firm, and the close relationships found amongst his employees and clients, he spoke again about the sequencing and frequency found in Fibonacci numbers. The same math formula that rendered the captivating shingle pattern on the roof is also abundantly found in nature, he explains. “It is evident in the petals of flowers, and in the leaves and branches of a tree. It explains the spirals found in shells, pinecones and pineapples. We subliminally take these cues and file them away. The influence of our environment, and how we interpret it, and then incorporate it into the things we create, subtly speaks a language familiar to our souls, the part of us that has been passed down from generation to generation.”
Hutker Architects creates heirlooms; the firm’s new home, handed down from the past, and thoughtfully transformed, is ready for its future.