THROUGHOUT HIS FOUR-DECADE career as one of Connecticut’s most soughtafter architects, few things have contributed more to Rick Wies’s success than his ability to stay open and adaptable to each project that comes across his drawing board.
At any given time, he might be designing a new apartment complex, overseeing the renovations of a major commuter rail station, or helping reinvent a former local Sicilian puppet theater—sometimes simultaneously. “Our team has developed expertise in a few core areas, which gives us a lot of variety. Things never get boring or routine,” says Wies, Class of ’71.
Already interested in design while at Taft, Wies eventually earned a master’s degree in architecture from North Carolina State University. From there, he worked for a handful of prominent firms, including with preeminent classical architect Allan Greenberg, and in 1986, he established his own private practice. With the addition of two partners, he ultimately grew the firm into Gregg Wies & Gardner Architects in the early 1990s.
Starting out, Wies focused largely on renovations of historic buildings. “The language and discipline of historic preservation benefits from having a firm grounding in traditional architecture,” he explains. “And because my roots revolved around classical architecture, that’s where I started my career.”
But far from sidetracking him from new design, this early experience further developed his architectural education. “It’s a very good learning lab to be in that vein of architectural discipline. It’s a nice challenge working on buildings that are really well built and finding clever, architecturally compatible ways to extend their life,” says Wies, who serves on the board of Preservation Connecticut. “You have to get familiar with the building practices used a hundred years ago while also applying today’s technology.”
“Of course, we like creating new things too, and our work slowly morphed to be more balanced between renovation and new construction,” he adds. “But we would be less technically competent if all we had to do was build new buildings from the beginning.”
One recently completed project gave Wies a perfect opportunity to integrate new construction with historic preservation. When the construction of the new Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge required demolition of New Haven’s Adee Boathouse (originally built by Yale University in 1911), the city called on Gregg Wies & Gardner to develop possible replacement plans. “At first, they asked us to do two feasibility studies,” he says. “One, to replicate the building in a new location, and one to come up with a new design.” It took another six years of logistical hurdles before the firm was officially selected to design the new Canal Dock Boathouse.
And even then, it was far from smooth sailing. “It was a very long process in the design because it was a complicated building,” Wies points out. “At its core, it’s a harborside community house that supports sliding-seat rowing, small-boat sailing, and paddling. But it also required facilities for special events and a museum.” Not to mention the added complication of having to build atop the Quinnipiac River: “We had no land to put it on, so we designed a platform out of the shallows.”
In all, the project took 16 years to complete, but it remains one of Wies’s proudest accomplishments. “I really had to immerse myself in that world. I traveled around the Northeast visiting boathouses, and we hired an Olympic gold medalist rower to help advise us. In the end, we developed a very interesting building program.” The team was even able to salvage the original Adee Boathouse’s entry portal and stair tower, preserving its elaborate terracotta, masonry, and soaring windows.
Wies is equally passionate about smaller projects, too. Recently, he leapt at the chance to volunteer with Heart 9/11, an organization founded by 9/11 first responders to support individuals recovering from trauma. For Heart 9/11, Wies helped remodel the home of an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD. “That was one of the most amazing projects I’ve ever done,” he recalls. “We basically doubled the size of her house and gutted the rest of it. Within just the first week, they demolished the interior, cut off the roof, framed up the second floor and the roof, and totally enclosed it. And 100 percent of the materials and labor were donated.”
Whether he’s designing a boathouse, a library, a municipal building, or a home for a veteran and her family, Wies always has the greater community in mind. “We always strive to create something that fits into the community and has a positive impact—that’s always the goal.”
—Christopher Browner ’12