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Builder, Designers Chosen For Science Center

Modified Plan Is Expected To Save 10 Percent Of Cost

April 22, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The team that will turn the idea of the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration into a 144,000-square-foot, $150 million reality was finalized Thursday, as the center's board selected a builder and the exhibit designers.

Also Friday, Cesar Pelli & Associates presented the trustees with the next generation of the building's architectural design - one that attempts to make a more efficient use of space while reducing the facility's cost by 10 percent.

The project is funded with $107 million from the state.

To date, another $19 million has been raised, leaving more than $22 million to be found, officials said. Henry McKinnell, co-chairman of the science center board, said that more than $12 million in funding requests are pending.

The project's builder will be the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., which recently built the Maryland Science Center expansion in Baltimore and the Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven.

The board then approved the exhibit design team made up of two companies: Thinc Design of New York and Jeff Kennedy Associates of Boston.

"This combination ... really floated to the top of our analysis," science center president and CEO Theodore S. Sergi said. He said both companies are "much sought after by many of the major science center expansions in the country."

Tom Hennes, founder and president of Thinc, started his career as a theater designer in New York and later moved to exhibit design. His first project was something called the "Green Slime Geiser," done for Nickelodeon Studios, he said.

"If I'm ever remembered for anything, it's probably going to be slime," Hennes said. He has since worked on projects including Mystic Aquarium, an IBM exhibit at Disney's Epcot Center, The Franklin Institute, and a Sony Playstation flagship store in San Francisco.

Theater and social engagement play major roles in his design, Hennes said, as he tries "to bring a very unfamiliar world to life for people, and giving them an opportunity to explore through a variety of means."

Jeff Kennedy Associates has worked for the New York Hall of Science, Boston's John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, and the public utility-sponsored Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco.

Next for the science center will come five to six months of work between the architect and the exhibit designers - what Sergi called the "most important part." That will be followed by 12 months of design and 12 months of exhibit fabrication, Sergi said.

A groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for October, with a tentative opening date sometime in late 2007 or early 2008, officials said.

Following the selection of the builder and exhibit designers, the board was briefed on the latest plans by Fred Clarke, a principal at Cesar Pelli & Associates.

Clarke said his job for the past few months has been to introduce "a healthy dose of reality and refinement to the project."

As a result, the architects didn't just reduce the gross area, Clarke said.

"We took this assignment to improve efficiency, to improve the functional characteristics of the building, and actually improve the architecture," he said.

For starters, Pelli moved the educational level down to the Columbus Boulevard level, he said.

"Cesar has always felt that Columbus Boulevard should be a very active front," Clarke said. "This is absolutely the right answer."

The architects have relocated exhibit space, a gift shop and the "Imaginarium" to the plaza level, one floor above the parking level. The Imaginarium, a smaller theater, used to be on the center's very top level, he said.

Relocating the Imaginarium allowed the designers to remove the entire top floor from the center's South Tower.

"This is a dramatic change in cost, a dramatic change in function, and we also think it's an improvement, architecturally," Clarke said.

He said the original design for the South Tower obstructed the view of the roof of the center's main structure.

"All of this has resulted in a building that is as beautiful, more beautiful - Cesar feels it's more handsome, to use his terms - than the competition when we started," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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