Plans change, two campus visions confirm

For Peter De Bretteville, a practicing architect and critic at the Yale School of Architecture, campus planning is not just a nicety, but a necessity.

“Physical planning is an essential aspect of institutional planning. It reveals patterns and possibilities and alternatives which would otherwise be revealed by no other means,” said De Bretteville ’63 ARC ’68, who specializes in college campus planning as a research, teaching and professional interest. “It’s unavoidable.”

Yale officials agree. In 1997, the University hired a consulting firm to produce a framework plan for the campus to piece together separate area plans for the different sections of Yale, in what University Planner Pamela Delphenich described as the first truly large design for the campus since John Russell Pope produced a master plan for Yale back in 1919.

The past and present plans differ greatly. The current plan — the Framework — is by design a more analytical piece, describing needs and providing guidelines for development. In comparison, the Pope plan provides highly detailed proposals for every area of campus, with diagrams showing where new buildings would be placed and meticulous sketches of how those buildings would look.

This difference is largely a reflection of the eras in which they were created, De Bretteville said. In the early 1900s, Yale’s administration was creating buildings as a symbol of the University’s wealth and erudition, managing things down to the smallest detail, he said. The University’s academic offerings were relatively static. But today, De Bretteville said, universities have become far larger and more diverse, and they experience significant ebbs and flows in need.

“A Pope plan might even be called a ‘heroic plan,’ a grand vision plan,” he said. “That just isn’t the case anymore. It’s not even a management or style choice. It’s driven by the customs of the century.”

But while the plans were different, the goals were the same: to provide some connections between Yale’s varied parts and create ways to manage growth in the future.

Connecting the body

Good connections between parts are essential to any good plan, De Bretteville said, noting that they were critical for any good urban plan.

“Cities, like bodies, atrophy when they lose their connections,” he said.

For Pope, the best solution to the problem was to tear down Durfee Hall.

The architect planned to create a wide open vista stretching from Old Campus to Woolsey Hall. The proposal was only one of several radical parts of a plan focused on open spaces and three axes — from Old Campus to Woolsey, down Hillhouse Avenue to Grove Street, and down Wall Street from York Street to Church Street — with the hope of bringing order to Yale’s complex architectural arrangement.

“The principle on which the plan has been developed is that of unification — the unification of present buildings among themselves and of present buildings with those of the future,” Pope wrote in “Yale University, A Plan For Its Future Building,” a book detailing his proposals.

Like many other parts of his proposal, the suggestion was never implemented; James Gamble Rogers took over the University’s planning and scrapped many of Pope’s suggestions, according to “Yale University: A Framework for Campus Planning,” the University’s current planning guideline.

But Rogers did keep one major section of the plan — an idea, slightly revised, which we now know as Cross Campus. One hundred-and-eighty feet wide, Pope’s ‘New Campus’ was to straddle Wall Street, stretching from High Street to where Temple Street currently keeps the peace between Silliman and Timothy Dwight colleges.

“[B]y establishing in the New Campus an architectural harmony in the important buildings that should surround it, a new and splendid feature in the general composition is ensured,” Pope said.

Though Charles Dickens famously once called Hillhouse Avenue “the most beautiful street in America,” the street has been a persistent headache for the University, which has trouble convincing its students to walk up the street and take classes at the top of Science Hill.

Pope, recognizing that Hillhouse was “disconnected from the main group,” proposed solving the problem by creating a “monumental square” at the lower end of his New Campus, where Temple now intersects Wall. He planned to extend Hillhouse past Grove and into the square itself, directly connecting the diagonal axis of Hillhouse and the vertical axis of Wall Street. The square would also provide the “main access to the physical centre of the University from the City,” Pope said. His sketch of the square shows an elaborate archway looking something like the bridge over High Street near Street Hall as the gateway to Church Street and New Haven.

But three architects hired by Yale to report on Pope’s plan suggested the New Campus only extend from High to College Street. As a result of this decision, the consultants who wrote the Framework said, Yale consists of “various detached precincts and isolated moments of coherence that fail to create a physically unified University.” Connecting the three parts — campus, corridor and city –remains a concern, as recognized by the Framework plan.

“Since no project ever linked Hillhouse Avenue to Cross Campus, the areas north of Grove Street, especially Science Hill, remain physically and perceptually isolated from the more historic areas to the south,” the consultants who wrote the Framework said.

In ways that are in some way “consistent with the Pope plan,” Yale is still trying to draw students up Science Hill, Delphenich said. She said the University is trying to create appropriately scaled buildings and has restored some of the landscaping and fencing in front of the houses there.

Last April’s report of the Committee on Yale College Education recognizes the problems students face.

“For undergraduates, the geography of the campus reinforces the notion that science is an area of scholarship divorced from other areas of learning, to be visited only with massive inconvenience,” the report says.

Suggested solutions include academic changes, such as moving some humanities classes away from central campus to Science Hill and shifting in science classes to take their place. But other fixes involve planning. The report suggests the proposed Science Teaching Center should be placed in the Lower Prospect or Lower Hillhouse area, the same approximate place as Pope’s square.

External motivations

Planning is important for more than just making the campus more convenient for students and more orderly looking. University officials said planning also impacts alumni satisfaction and even relations with the city of New Haven.

What alumni want to know about planning depends largely on their areas of interest, Association of Yale Alumni Executive Director Jeffrey Brenzel said in an e-mail. For example, Yalies who majored in science and engineering are interested in the new construction going on at Science Hill, he said.

“For alumni who are being asked, say, to make major financial contributions to a particular project, the planning can be very important,” Brenzel said.

In fact, alumni concern about the campus’ physical appearance was one of the motivations for the “tremendous renewal and overhaul of so many of Yale’s physical structures,” Brenzel said.

“I can safely say that alumni have been very happy about the progress made in this area in the last 10 years,” he said. “Of course, most alumni know that it is what professors and students [do] in these facilities that makes Yale the place it is.”

Those facilities also impact the way Yale is integrated into the surrounding community, Yale President Richard Levin said. Levin said a major recommendation of the Framework was “to soften the borders of the campus to find ways to integrate civic and student activities.” For example, he said, the new British Art Gallery was designed to have shops on street level.

“We had a great architectural image; what we didn’t have was good town relations,” Levin said of the beginning of his presidency.

While the Pope plan stops at the edge of campus — declining even to mention the Yale Bowl, which was finished in 1914, five years before Pope wrote — the Framework includes extensive planning recommendations for the areas where Yale intersects with New Haven. The consultants who wrote the plan thought the University was intimately connected to the Elm City.

“As Yale approaches its fourth century, we believe the University should pay particular attention to places where its campus meets the City — on its streets and sidewalks, and through its landscaping, lighting and signage,” the consultants wrote. “That way, the University can work with the City to help weave Yale and New Haven into a more cohesive urban fabric.”

The architect’s foil

The University commissioned both plans in attempts to manage future growth: within their designs, the planners set guidelines for later architects.

“You need each architect to have a foil,” De Bretteville said. “You need each one to have a reminder of the bigger campus issues.”

Pope’s master plan went beyond mere management, leaving little to the imagination. He defined the specific locations he thought would be best for building and indicated which type of building should be placed there. A new library was planned to be placed in front of Woolsey Hall.

“The intellectual centre of an education institution is the Library,” Pope wrote. “This position is therefore selected as the proper one for such a building — a building that would dominate in dimensions and quality the entire University group.”

His sketches show a building that looks like a cathedral, with a front court, tall tower and long side area, an edifice that would take up almost all of what is now known as Beinecke Plaza. The finished library, as tentatively designed, would have had a footprint of 42,050 square feet. The footprint of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which now occupies the site, is only 11,416 square feet.

At the head of the axis created by the New Campus — approximately where Sterling Memorial Library now stands — Pope suggested creating another cathedral-like building, a gymnasium.

“Physical training is as essential as mental and its home is in the Gymnasium. The plan therefore suggests a Gymnasium at the West end of the New Campus, architecturally treated in a manner fitted to its salience,” Pope wrote.

Under his plan, the “vigorous” building would have been centered on Wall Street, with the street itself branching to either side of it. Though the design is not the same, Pope did eventually create Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

The difference between the way Pope laid out the campus and the suggestions of the current Framework is like the “difference between a road map and a trip-tick,” Delphenich said. She said instead of unalterable directions framework plans give users options.

Cooper, Robertson & Partners, the consulting firm Yale hired, made the difference between this document and Pope’s master plan clear in the Framework’s opening pages.

“Three years ago, [Yale] commissioned this Framework for Campus Planning — not to create a static master plan, but rather to understand the physical University of today and the opportunities to preserve and improve it over the next twenty years,” the consultants wrote.

Delphenich said in the late 1990s a planning group created by the University realized that neither a large increase in enrollment nor a massive enlargement of the physical plant was likely, so a master plan was not needed. Yale had already developed “fairly specific” plans for each area of the campus by looking at programs and making suggestions over a 10- to 20-year period, Delphenich said.

“What we needed to do was manage our growth,” Delphenich said. “There was no real framework in which [the area plans] fit to show how they relate to each other.”

As opposed to the specifics of a master plan, Delphenich said a framework helps develop where new buildings can go and tries to provide guidelines for density.

She said most colleges are using frameworks instead of master plans today.

De Bretteville said he agreed that master plans are notorious for their unmalleability.

“The word even suggests a kind of inflexibility,” De Bretteville said.

But he said the problem with some framework plans that consist only of observations and analysis is that they allow architects who come along later to come up with physical plans very different from the original vision. The question is “How do you get from here to the individual building?” De Bretteville said.

Planners, he said, need to give architects working on a project a way to know whether what they are building respects the original plan and should create the plans themselves in ways that find the middle ground between being overly prescriptive and overly flexible.

“[Otherwise] you won’t learn as much and you can’t have as much to challenge the architect with,” De Bretteville said. “It’s not meant to limit. It’s meant to enrich the process.”

A major challenge of Yale’s physical planning is connecting the historic buildings to new additions and renovations. The current Framework plan attempts to reconcile these difference in a cohesive plan for the present and future architecture and layout of the University.
Courtesy ManuscriptsandArchives
A major challenge of Yale’s physical planning is connecting the historic buildings to new additions and renovations. The current Framework plan attempts to reconcile these difference in a cohesive plan for the present and future architecture and layout of the University.

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