Following recent community resistance to some of the University’s plans for development on Science Hill, Yale officials have withdrawn a request to secure zoning requirements for the new biology building planned for Whitney Avenue, backing out of a zoning hearing that was scheduled to take place tonight.
Yale Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said the plans were withdrawn in order to refine projections for vehicular and pedestrian traffic circulation around the building. While the building as currently planned is within zoning restrictions with regard to height and distance from the street, Morand said the floor area ratio requires approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Morand said Yale will resubmit the plans for the biology building once the area traffic issues have been resolved.
“As plans for the biology building are refined, we will likewise refine and revise the schedule, and when it is revised, we will communicate it with the community,” Morand said. “The University will continue to consult with city staff and neighbors as we move forward.”
Philip Langdon, a New Haven architect who has voiced concern over the current design of the biology building, said he hopes Yale will reevaluate the design plans to better conform to Whitney Avenue’s existing architectural style and remain true to the “master plan” for Science Hill. Reducing the aggressive front that the building presents to the street according to current plans, he said, is essential to reincorporating the building into the neighborhood.
“The great tradition of Yale has been the ability to have buildings that … meet the street in a very pleasing way,” Langdon said. “I would like some kind of public space, say a restaurant or cafe, on the first floor that would be … inviting to the people passing by.”
New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell said she also worries that the current design, which incorporates a facade of windows, will seem out of place on the historic Whitney Avenue. The same team responsible for the design of the recently constructed Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education at the School of Medicine, Payette Associates and Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, designed this building, and Farwell said she hopes a similar design is not in the works for the biology building.
“Grandeur without grace is mean,” she said. “We’ve seen it with the Anlyan Center. When you have a balloon-like building, it doesn’t give a solid and secure feeling on the street.”
But Morand said the architects, who were awarded the 2005 American Institute of Architects Connecticut Design Award for architectural excellence for their design of the Anlyan Center, have designed a building that does not clash with its surroundings. In their design, the architects reconciled the mission of Yale with the needs of the city in the design of the building, he said.
Robert Grzywacz, chairman of the New Haven Historic District Commission, said he thinks the community has raised valid complaints with the biology building as originally proposed — including its “unusual” height of 121 feet — although the height falls within zoning restrictions. He said he hopes the withdrawal of the proposal is a sign that Yale will fundamentally rework the plans.
“I think that the building does need to be essentially rethought,” Grzywacz said. “It’s not a question of building a biology building; it’s a question of how that is deployed on the site in a three-dimensional way to enhance the Yale campus and to enhance the neighborhood.”
Morand said Yale will also be submitting plans for a proposed building for the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies to the zoning board in the near future.