Cooking Light: The Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence at Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Designed by Tsoi/Kobus & Associates

Jeffrey Totaro

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Blame it on the popularity of cooking shows and foodie blogs; enrollment is way up in the culinary arts division at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. With the student body growing by a few hundred students to more than 3,300 this year, the prestigious cooking school set its sights on a new building, but not necessarily LEED® certification. Tsoi/Kobus & Associates of Boston showed the school's administration that sustainable design could also be affordable, and designed the Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence at the university's Harborside Campus to achieve Gold-level certification in the LEED for New Construction category.

Built on a former industrial site along the Narragansett Bay, the building brings new life to the waterfront. Because the building is built within a flood zone along the bay, the new five-story facility is supported on columns with a significant portion of the building cantilevered at least 12 feet above ground. An earthen berm—composed primarily of the ground-up former asphalt parking lot on the site •is both under a portion of the building and gently slopes away from it to complete a quadrangle between existing buildings and the Center.

A far cry from the retrofitted 1940s-era building that used to house the cooking school, the new 82,000-square-foot facility includes three distinctive dining rooms, 27 teaching classrooms, and specialized labs for charcuterie, chocolate, wine, micro-brewing, and drink mixology. Significant glazing allowing for abundant natural light was instrumental in expressing and celebrating Johnson & Wales's pedagogy through design.

Show and tell

Cooking school teaches more than slicing and sautéing. Safe food handling, quality practices, and cost control are also vital in culinary education. Prospective students and their parents preview these aspects without disrupting the instruction through large observation windows between classrooms and corridors. And ultimately, the copious daylight cuts the school's lighting load.

The semi-private spaces received a similar treatment. The Dean's Suite—which includes a conference room, small reception area, and offices for the dean and associate deans—features glazing for the conference-room portion that dramatically cantilevers out over the lobby. The hovering glass-enclosed box reveals racks of recycled wine bottles used here as a design element.

"We wanted to offer some privacy here, so the wine bottles act as a screen while also bringing in color," explains Rick Kobus, senior principal of Tsoi/Kobus & Associates. The glass-bottle palette, bustle of activity, and colorful corridor graphics delight the eye in early morning or late afternoon hours when the building glows like a lantern.

Going the extra (green) mile

LEED certification wasn't on the mind of the university's own project team initially, but fuel and water efficiency were. One innovation that significantly addresses this is the variable frequency drive (VFD) on range hoods. "Hoods used to run either 100 percent on or off," explains Raymond Way, project manager for Johnson & Wales. "The VFD has an optic sensor that gauges heat and smoke, and runs the device at the appropriate power. After the planning phase it made sense to go for LEED Gold." Every piece of equipment is controlled by VFD or is Energy Star–rated.

Other conservation and sustainable efforts naturally followed. Rainwater-capturing roof drains reroute water to a 20,000-gallon
storage tank. From there, water passes through a UV sterilizer and then becomes water for irrigation or toilet flushing. Low-flow fixtures help reduce water-waste, and heat-waste generated by compressors is diverted to preheat hot water. During construction itself, more than 90 percent of the project's waste was diverted from landfills, and over 20 percent of new materials were purchased or harvested locally.

Design elevates experience

Careful attention was paid to furnishings and finishes, making them as sustainable as possible and meeting the demands of food service,
while still injecting warmth into the environment. Instead of white ceramic and stainless steel, kitchens are seasoned with polychromatic ceramic wall tiles. Long discussions between the architect and the school were held about flooring materials, resulting in the selection of quarry tile for the kitchen labs and carpeting for dining areas. Specialty spaces like the wine tasting room and formal dining halls incorporate more upscale or unexpected finishes that one might encounter in a fine restaurant or bar, such as wengé paneling and cork flooring.

Stairwells are clad in floor-to-ceiling glass curtain walls, glass guardrails, and Portuguese limestone and brick, creating light and lofty avenues that invite en-route interaction and impromptu meetings. With their great views, the generous 5-foot-wide stairs also encourage students to eschew the elevators. "Administrators here don't worry about the'freshman 15,'" Kobus says, referring to the 15 pounds that college freshmen are known to gain. "They worry about the'freshman 50.'" Hopefully some extra steps will keep those pounds at bay.

Kobus and his team are proud to have created a sustainable building without a premium price tag, and an award-winning one to boot—the project received a Silver Brick in Architecture Award, as well as IIDA New England's Best Educational Design award. Careful cost modeling and monitoring keep the expenses down. "We will make any additional outlay back in less than five years," says Way. "And, for that, we have a unique and exciting building."  



Architect and interior designer: Tsoi/Kobus & Associates. Architecture project team: Richard Kobus, FAIA, FACHA, senior principal; Nicholas Koulbanis, AIA, LEED AP, project architect; Rick Powers, AIA, LEED AP, project manager. Interior design project team: Kate Wendt, IIDA, director of interiors; Jennifer Mango, interior designer; Laura Nathanson, graphic designer. Contractor: Bacon Construction. Engineering consultant: Odeh Engineers (structural); RDK Engineers (MEP); Woodard & Curran (civil). Kitchen: Paramount. Landscape: Stephen Stimson Associates. Graphics: Johnson & Wales University; Tsoi/Kobus & Associates. Furniture dealer: WB Mason.

Wallcoverings: Maya Romanoff (glass bead wallcovering); Modular Arts. Paint: Benjamin Moore; Scuffmaster. Laminate: Chemetal; Nevamar; Pionite; Wilsonart. Drywall: USG. Flooring: Ceres Cork; Dal-Tile; Garden State Tile; Roppe; Toli. Carpet: Bentley Prince Street; J&J Invision; Masland; Shaw. Ceiling: Armstrong; Certain Teed. Lighting: Capri Lighting & Omega Lighting (downlights); Day-Brite (lab fixture); Edge Lighting (conference room); Energie (stairwells); Finelite (corridor); Gardco (bollards); Insight (lobby); Hatco (heat lamp in senior dining); Lampa (freshman dining); Lightology (Brew Lab). Doors: Kawneer (interior storefront and curtain wall); VT Industries (wood doors). Glass: Old Castle Glass. Window treatments: Draper. Seating: Bernhardt (cafeteria, dining, auditorium seating); ERG (lounge); MTS; Versteel. Other seating: Stylex; HBF (conference). Upholstery: Architex; Arc Com Fabrics; Brentano; Carnegie; Designtex; KnollTextiles; Maharam; Momentum; Sina Pearson. Conference table: Nucraft. Cafeteria, dining, training tables: DuPont Zodiaq; MTS. Architectural woodworking: Bacon Veneer; DuPont Corian; DuPont Zodiaq; Light Blocks. Planters, accessories: Ideal Lockers.


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