Architects admire Yale Whale

While hockey is the attraction for most visitors to Ingalls Rink, the building’s architecture may also draw admirers.

The David S. Ingalls Rink — known to most Yalies as the Whale — placed among the top 150 buildings in America in a poll announced last week. Over 1,800 adults in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. evaluated more than 240 American buildings in the survey conducted by Harris Interactive and the American Institute of Architects. Yale’s Whale, which was designed by Eero Saarinen, placed 149th, the only Yale building to make the list.

Ingalls Rink, known to students as
Amy Ly
Ingalls Rink, known to students as "the Whale," snagged a position as one of the top 150 buildings in America. The rink, designed by Eero Saarinen, was honored for its unique architectural design.

The rink, located at the foot of Science Hill, serves as home to the men’s and women’s hockey teams. The curved roof, which resembles the back of a whale, is one of the most defining features of the arena.

School of Architecture professor James Axley said the Whale was an architecturally important building when it was erected in the 1950s because of its progressive structure and innovative technology. Its unique and idiosyncratic nature makes it an “object building,” a structure that is not designed to be part of the landscape of the area around it, he said.

Axley said that while the architecture of the Whale is unusual, he did not necessarily expect the wider public to appreciate it.

“I’m a little surprised that it made the list,” he said. “The architecture of the Whale is important, but maybe the public doesn’t quite know.”

The Whale is one of the few buildings in the country with a strong organic form, he said. The TWA Terminal of John F. Kennedy Airport, also designed by Saarinen, features a similar character, Axley said.

Some students studying architecture at Yale said the innovative structure of the roof might explain why the Whale placed among the top 150 buildings.

Architecture major Aaron Otani ’08 said he is not too surprised by the results of the poll.

“I think people are intrigued by its organic form,” he said. “Especially when you walk inside, it’s an impressive sight to see the ceiling arch up.”

Architecture major Sarah Yin ’08 said the building may deserve to be ranked higher in the AIA’s list.

“It’s a very innovative building, and I think it should definitely be on the list, maybe even higher,” she said.

The Whale was second-to-last in the ranking of 150 buildings, which included a number of national and historical buildings. New York City’s Empire State Building topped the list, followed by the White House and the Washington National Cathedral. Other academic buildings that made the list included the University of Pennsylvania’s Furness Library at 54th, Harvard University’s Sever Hall at 77th, the Phillips Exeter Academy Library at 80th and the University of Michigan Law School Library at 94th.

Axley said Yale has other buildings of architectural importance, such as the School of Architecture building, and some students said they felt other campus landmarks should have made the list as well. Both Otani and Yin said they thought the Yale Center for British Art and the Yale University Art Gallery, which were designed by Louis Kahn, should also have made the list.

Kyle Briscoe ’10, who said he is planning to major in architecture, said he would rate the Beinecke Library over the Whale for its unique use of walls made of a translucent Danby marble and its central column.

The poll was conducted in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the formation of AIA.

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