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Dan Batt displays the chair he designed for the reception area at Centerbrook Architects, where he is an associate. The chair’s build reflects his designing philosophy: combining an efficient use of resources with comfort and a striking aesthetic. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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On a recent morning, a visitor to Centerbrook Architects stood with 3-D glasses, not simply viewing, but virtually walking through a meditation garden Dan Batt is in charge of designing for the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford. The 3-D experience, gravity-defying but also vertigo-inducing, was an introduction to the different ways 21st-century technology enables architects to work.
According to Dan, using the 3-D equipment can present clients with more realistic views of how a project will look and how it will function when finished, thus heading off problems that might not otherwise be obvious until far later in the construction cycle.
Dan, who lives in Deep River, has just been promoted to associate at Centerbrook Architects, the nationally known firm with local headquarters. In addition to the project in Stamford, he is working on project that will be a first for Connecticut, Rocky Corner, a cohousing development on 33-acres in Bethany. The cohousing concept includes energy-efficient houses on small plots grouped together in one area, leaving much of the land in the development open for a mix of recreation, farmland, and natural habitat.
“An architect is like a conductor,” putting together all the parts of a project from clients to the subcontractors, Dan says.
According to Dan, one of the ways to get clients to focus on what they really need in a building is to set up a shopping spree, giving clients imaginary dollars and have baskets each labeled with one of the design components they have said they would like. The clients then spend their dollars in the various baskets and it becomes obvious which ideas have the most backing.
“You can’t have everything,” Dan points out
At a Centerbrook Architects bi-annual review, Dan was asked, as is customary, about both professional and personal goals. Somewhat to his own surprise, he said that he would like to run a marathon.
Running was not the surprise. Dan has been doing that for some seven years ever since his brother died of a heart attack at the age of 42. What was unexpected was his ambition to run a 26-mile race. And so he did recently, in Narragansett, Rhode Island, with his wife Deb, who teaches art at Nathan Hale-Ray High School in East Haddam.
During the week, Dan trained by running four to five miles at lunch. On the weekends, he and Deb often ran a 20-mile route.
“I was the hardest thing I had ever done,” he says of the marathon. “But just finishing was a bucket list goal.”
He says his time was “in the four-hour range.”
Dan grew up in Newtown, Connecticut and attended a primary school that long after his time there achieved a tragic notoriety: Sandy Hook Elementary School. By college, he decided he wanted to see another part of the United States and went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Dan knew where he wanted to be, but had less of an idea of what he wanted to major in. His mother urged him to make up his mind.
“My mom said, ‘You can’t be undecided forever,’” he recalls.
Dan liked to build things—he had worked construction jobs during high school summers—and thought architecture might be a match. He admits to an ulterior motive: He wanted to update and remodel what had been a family vacation home in Rensselaer Falls, New York. In fact, Dan’s mother still lives in the updated home, where she runs a Christmas tree farm.
Dan says that at his family, which includes his two sons, 11-year old Kenneth and 8-year old Levi, goes up to Rensselaer Falls every year to help out at the beginning of the holiday season.
After college, Dan didn’t go straight into designing structures; he built them.
“You can’t be an architect if you don’t know how to build,” he says.
In fact, he worked in construction for a decade, running his own carpentry business. And then he had a break from business of any kind, taking a year and a half to travel around the world. He started out by driving his pick-up across the United States with a bed loaded in the back.
“Not such a good idea,” he recalls.
Often, he slept at hostels, trading carpentry work for a place to stay. In Alaska, when he ran out of money he worked on a fishing boat, a factory trawler, for 75 days in the Bering Sea.
“Backbreaking work,” he recalls.
He traveled through Europe, and went on to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.
When he returned, he worked on a design project with a mentor, an architecture professor from Miami University, before going to graduate school in architecture at Rhode Island School of Design.
In Deep River, Dan is a member of the Design Advisory Board, which reviews building plans prior to construction and gives non-binding design suggestions on potential projects. The goal of the board, Dan says, is to preserve the small-town atmosphere of Deep River.
For Dan, an important personal goal is making his home and his lifestyle as energy efficient as possible. That includes someday living in a net-zero house, all electric, but with power generated from onsite renewable energy like solar panels. He drives a Chevrolet Volt, a hybrid electric-gas car, and says he once used the vehicle for three months without having to fill it up. He even mows his lawn with an electric lawnmower with a rapid recharge battery.
“It’s simply the best thing ever; zero gas, no string to pull, no pollution; just press a button,” he says.
Efficiency was also important to Dan in an exercise that the members of Centerbrook’s architectural staff undertake: designing a chair for the office’s reception area. It is not a simple task, as the imaginative display of reception chairs makes clear.
“There are 1,000 decisions in making something,” Dan says.
In his own design, he wanted to minimize his use of materials while not sacrificing comfort. He used as thin a piece of wood as he could for the seat with a series of parallel cutouts that enable it to mold to the individual shape of the sitter.
“It is light, bouncy, comfortable, and efficient,” Dan says.
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