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Barry Svigals leaves his (artistic) mark on city architecture.

Posted by [email protected] on August 4, 2015 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (2)

The future of urban living in the Elm City is arriving daily in the “mixed-use” buildings going up at places like Chapel and Howe streets and College and Crown streets — affordably built complexes but with luxury touches and fewer parking spaces than were required two or three decades ago when car culture ruled.


The College and Crown building (opening soon) combines an unusual hybrid composition — steel on the first-floor retail level and wood frame covered by brick-look veneer on the top four levels — and a prominent art installation created by its chief architect. By hand.


“I think people will feel comfortable walking past this building,” Svigals said in an interview in the firm’s Orange Street offices. “The sculpture ... is made by hand. It’s made by a human being.”


That would be Svigals, founder and managing partner of Svigals + Partners, who said he doesn’t know of any other architects who actually make art like this for buildings they design.


The opportunity to adorn a building presents itself when your artist is also the guy who draws up the plans. But the art must serve the mission of the building and developers.


“The aspect of it that is important is the evidence of the human touch (which) is a humanizing influence,” he said. “It reminds us of who we are as human beings.”


The long underutilized corner property was first re-envisioned as a high-rise (before Svigals was brought in). But the economy tanked, and plans eventually morphed into a more accessible scale with below-ground parking, street-level retail and 160 apartments instead of the high-rise’s 272 condos.


Developer Centerplan came to Svigals in 2013, said Svigals partner Jay Brotman in a release. “We focused on creating a medium-size success, rather than a large-scale risk.”


The art’s vertical placeholders — two blank 6-foot-wide swaths running up the side, one on College and one on Crown — were awaiting the Svigals artwork last week as construction neared completion — art designed to have meaning to the community at large (not just those who live in the building),” said Svigals.


The Svigals website,, seeks to explore “the nature of community,” although its founder said the idea isn’t a new thing for architecture.


“During the early 1900s, there was a ... social movement for architecture, really, that wished to create a new social order with the architecture, and have it represent something that was more communal. The irony of it is that it actually didn’t speak as much to human nature as it might have. And so that impetus in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and into the ’50s when it was taken over by developers, that very spare style was dehumanizing. And we see the results of that architecture now being taken down, a lot of it.”


So here, Svigals and colleagues sought to satisfy the developer’s interest in community. They did research about the site (not far from the harbor in the city’s early days) and the city itself.


Svigals looked for “connectiveness” to the historical roots (and routes) of the community.


In the artwork, “we recall the elm leaf, which is, by the way, in the building across the street (Co-Op High School), abstracted in the glass. And at the same time the three rivers that come down into New Haven Harbor.”

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