Eli architecture: These days, it’s half-done Gothic

This year, the construction crews of the world seem to have descended upon New Haven. Davenport, the area in front of the Fence Club, the new building on Trumbull Street, the big hole in front of the Kline Geology Lab and the seemingly never-ending construction at Yale University Art Gallery are some of the most prominent examples of the construction invasion. And of course, no such listing would be complete without mentioning the now war-zone-like appearance of every Yalie’s favorite shortcut — Beinecke Plaza.

I was running to work the other day, late as always, when I noticed that the last signs of the construction in front of S.S.S. had finally disappeared. The seemingly permanent construction office-trailer on the corner of Grove Street and Hillhouse Avenue was now gone, leaving behind an inviting area of plush, green grass that I vaguely remember from freshman year. I’m a suburban girl, so grass is rarely something that can distract me when I’m in a rush. Yet this triangular plot on the corner of Hillhouse and Prospect did just that.

Until this month, that corner of the Yale campus looked exactly like most corners of campus this year — it was a construction site. Every day, I would pass that “grassy area,” walking by a construction trailer that served as the unaesthetic replacement for that little piece of nature.

When I was a pre-frosh, I did what every pre-frosh does: I came to Yale and took the celebrated tour. And just as the script says, my tour guide promised me a gorgeous Oxbridge campus replete with Gothic towers perfected to the smallest detail by the brilliant, if not slightly obsessive-compulsive, James Gamble Rogers.

So when I first set foot on campus as a wide-eyed freshman, I was surprised when the scaffolding on Vanderbilt and Sprague Hall caught my eye more than Harkness Tower ever could. I assumed in my first weeks that this was an anomaly — Yale giving itself a small face-lift — and that soon Yale would return to its wondrous natural beauty.

Within a month, this naive freshman realized that the current construction was just a small part of a grander plan of the Yale administration to renovate campus buildings, dorms and facilities.

To be fair, I understand that Yale is an evolving institution that must undergo renovations, both for its day-to-day activities and its long-term planning, and that the benefits the Yale population is already reaping are tremendous. I was thrilled when I found out that I had been lucky enough to be assigned to a residential college that had already gone through the wonders of renovation. I saw the other side of the coin when I spent my freshman year in the cozy confines of Lanman-Wright. Enough said.

But is this need to tear up the entire campus so real and so pressing that construction must be as pervasive as it has become — with the result that Yale looks more like a construction site than a college campus? Is there a better balance that Yale can strike, so that construction does not obstruct our views, disturb our classes or wake us up at 8 a.m.?

When Yalies hear the sounds of hammers and drills more than the bells of the carillon in Rogers’ Harkness Tower, it is a far cry away from the supposed idyllic atmosphere of our ivied campus. (Side note: Implying that I enjoy the carillon is quite an overstatement, so imagine how much I hate the sounds of construction.)

The University’s plans for present and future renovations seem to guarantee the existence of a construction-site campus well after I leave its hallowed walls. In the meantime, let’s just hope that some future generation of Elis gets to see Yale in all its glory.



Alissa Stollwerk is a junior in Saybrook College.

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