Walk a mile in Sam Batchelor's shoes—they're New Balance, no doubt, where his wife works as a senior product manager—and it's unclear when, exactly, you'd actually find time to sleep. Aside from his day job as partner at Boston's Design Lab Architects, Batchelor, the top Young Guns nomination from Young Guns panelist and fellow Boston architect Gretchen Schneider, also teaches two days a week at the Community/Build Studio at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, a program he founded in 2009, co-leads a furniture-design class at the Boston Architectural College, sits on the Board of Directors for the Community Design Resource Center (CDRC), and co-chairs the Membership Committee for the Boston Society of Architects. On any given morning, Batchelor, who lives in Cambridge, rows eight miles, changes at least one diaper (he has a three-and-a-half-year-old and twins turning 2 in December), walks Batman, the family's three-legged poodle, and checks in on what's happening in his MassArt class—all by 8 a.m.
Yet one of the things Batchelor enjoys most about Design Lab, which he joined in 2006 in its early days after studying architecture at Yale and the University of Washington and working for a small residential-design firm for a couple of years, is its emphasis on work-life balance. "It makes us better designers and better thinkers when we're able to take a break," he says. "When you're fulfilled outside of work, you do more creative things at work." For Batchelor, generally that means large-scale institutional and municipal projects ranging from arts centers (University of Maine Farmington, Bard College at Simon's Rock, the Arkell Arts Center in Montgomery County, N.Y.) and college libraries (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Lafayette College) to observatories (Wellesley College) and classrooms (Berklee College of Music). An environmental center in Amherst, Mass., and a blackbox theater for a private high school in Natick, Mass., are two of the projects currently in schematics.
Meanwhile, Design Lab just soft-launched a sister site, dLAb Studio, showcasing smaller-scale projects such as furniture and residential work. "I really enjoy the scale of residential work—you can work at a level of detail not afforded in some of the larger projects, and it becomes such a personal design process," Batchelor says. "While it lacks the socio-political context of institutional work, I'd love to re-integrate residential work into the practice in a way that would supplement (but not eclipse) the institutional work."
Yet even in the cases of Design Lab's huge and highly visible commissions, Batchelor's creative process is very much about returning ever-so-humbly to a site's core roots. "My work and Design Lab's work really centers around matters of craft and community," he explains. "Though our buildings are distinctly contemporary, we try to shape them using materials and assemblies that tell the story of the history of their region, and to create spaces that reflect the values of the people who use them." A bit more about what that means, right here:
? Design Labs' LEED-gold headquarters for the International Fund for Animal Welfare earned a bunch of awards in 2009, including ones from the AIA, the Boston Society of Architects, and Architectural Record. The structure "was built on a brownfield site in Yarmouthport, Mass., on Cape Cod," Batchelor explains by email. "Taking cues from nearby Jenkins Farm—the oldest continually operated farm in Massachusetts—the design drew from the traditional Cape Cod vernacular, using simple shed volumes to maximize daylight and sun exposure around a recreated drumlin. The building also integrated critical aspects of the organization's culture and mission through an integrated exhibit trail, and super-graphic installations of key campaigns at conference rooms throughout the building."
? For the $30M renovation and addition to Paul Rudolph's Claire T. Carney Library at UMass Dartmouth—"a million square feet of raw concrete dropped into a clearing in a forest," as the project page describes it, and "a striking example of the experimental utopian ideal of the 1960s Brutalist movement"—Design Lab weighed respect for architectural tradition with modern-day needs. "There will always be design purists," says Batchelor, joking that he may not be in the best graces of, say, the Paul Rudolph Foundation; ultimately, though, "our job was to go in there and see what the architect did right, and then see where it needed to be updated." In this case, that meant a 27,000-square-foot glassy addition (with a new entrance and stainless-steel fins that act as sun shades for the LEED-certified project); attractive group study spaces and lounges; a cafe; and a light-filled lecture hall. The experience of sensitively renovating a midcentury building will surely come in handy if Design Lab is selected to renovate the Walter Gropius-designed U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece—they're one of four finalists for that project.
? The Hitchcock Center for the Environment, planned for a grassy site in Amherst, Mass., and currently in schematics, pays tribute to the region's agrarian roots. Batchelor breaks down the details: "The butterfly-shaped roof draws cool air from the courtyards and pulls it through the building to promote summer cooling, while also capturing rainwater to be used in the center's teaching gardens. The pair of courtyards"—one's called the "Den," the other, the "Nest"—each create a different microclimate for ecology lessons and experiential learning." Finally, he remarks, "The building technology and learning environments support the culture of the institution and the Pioneer Valley climate."