A&A Building renovation to restore historic elements

Paul Rudolph’s orange carpet is coming back to Yale.

In what can best be described as a carpet-to-skylights renovation, the Art & Architecture Building is being brought back to — and in some ways, beyond — its original design. And an addition, which will house the History of Art Department, is going up adjacent to former architecture dean Rudolph’s 1963 Brutalist landmark.

But while the construction at the corner of York and Chapel streets may seem endless to those living and working nearby, the massive project, budgeted at around $130 million and designed by New York architect Charles Gwathmey ARC ’62, is on track for completion this summer.

On a tour of the site with the News on Monday, Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, emphasized the strong ties that both buildings will have to each other, to the rest of campus — and to history.

Little about Rudolph’s original design was easy on the eyes, but perhaps the most striking element of all was the brilliant orange color of the carpet in his A&A Building , which, thanks to a $20-million gift for the renovation from Sid Bass ’65, will now be called the Rudolph Building. But an unexplained fire in 1969 and subsequent renovations leached the building of many of its distinctive quirks, including the orange carpet. Many of the 37 sub-levels scattered among the nine stories Rudolph incorporated into the building were covered over with temporary floors.

Stern and Gwathmey are restoring the original design of the building with zeal, in much the same way Polshek Partnership approached the 2006 renovation of the Yale University Art Gallery, Louis Kahn’s iconic modernist debut building across the street. The architectural team even salvaged a two-inch-wide swath of the original carpet cleaned and analyzed by computers so that it could be reproduced exactly for the renovation.

Stern, who used to walk on the orange carpet while an architecture student studying under Rudolph at Yale in the early 1960s, said the process of restoring the building down to its smallest details has been a special pleasure for him and his colleagues.

“We’ve been spending a lot of quality time doing this research,” he remarked, smirking.

That is not to say that the project has been an easy one. Gwathmey, who is designing both the renovation and the addition despite Yale’s original intention to split the projects into two commissions, said the task is a difficult one not least because his clients are all architects.

“The hardest building to do is a school of architecture,” Gwathmey explained. “You know the risks, but you have to take the risks to grow as a creative person.”

Two eras collide

The building’s quirky design made it a challenge to build and even more difficult to restore.

A particular challenge in Rudolph’s multi-level building is achieving compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. But the addition to the Rudolph Building, which will be named after donor Jeffrey Loria ’62 and will house the History of Art Department, makes achieving compliance easier. Additional elevators to service the complex will be added in the Loria Center, and the two buildings will share a handicap-accessible entrance.

The buildings will also feature a joint central air-conditioning system, a new convenience that does not come easily in a building that long made its inhabitants suffer during warm months. In a revealing indication of their age, the ceilings in the Rudolph Building, which were originally sprayed with asbestos that has since been removed, offer precious few opportunities for Gwathmey to hide wires and air ducts.

Yet another obstacle is the replacement of Rudolph’s suspended incandescent lights with a high-efficiency equivalent designed by Gwathmey’s firm. Additionally, restored skylights will provide natural light throughout the building.

These complexities have long been reason enough to avoid a thorough restoration of the Rudolph Building, Stern said. But Stern has made the project a focus of his deanship and said he lobbied University President Richard Levin for years in support of the project.

“Frankly, this building survived as long as it did not because it was beloved by anyone except architecture students, but simply because it was too expensive to tear down,” Stern said. “I think it’s one of the most important restorations of a modernist building, following up on the restoration of the Art Gallery.”

For its part, the Loria Center will consciously reflect many of the features of its eclectic group of neighbors, University Planner Laura Cruickshank said.

The materials used on the Loria Center are inspired by the zinc panels on Kahn’s British Art Center and the limestone of James Gamble Rogers’ Collegiate Gothic residential colleges, she said. And, where it intersects with the Rudolph Building, glass and aluminum panels will help connect the buildings aesthetically. The two buildings will be connected internally by a library, named for Robert Hass ’69.

Most prominently, the protruding limestone-clad section of Gwathmey’s building will complement a window-laden depression in Rudolph’s otherwise cast-in-place concrete structure. But Gwathmey also pointed out the dialogue between the addition and the renovation as seen in the views out of Rudolph’s enormous windows.

All throughout the Rudolph Building, vistas to the north of campus will be both interrupted by and, Gwathmey hopes, enhanced by the Loria Center addition.

“When you have a framed view, the view is much more intense, in a positive way, than if you just have a horizon view,” Gwathmey said.

A ‘difficult’ building begins anew

Reviled by some, admired by others, Rudolph’s creation has had a life few buildings can match. Swept by the forces of catastrophe and revisionist tinkering, it has evolved into an edifice much different from that which Rudolph designed in 1963.

In many ways, the building’s unsettled history echoes its construction. Rudolph had an open-ended contract with Yale, so he was free to change his design, even during construction. And he did not hesitate to invoke his architectural prerogative.

“It was a teaching tool,” Stern said. “And it still is.”

Despite its past, though, the building has stood the test of time — and, Gwathmey said, is stronger for having done so.

“The building has gone through hell,” Gwathmey said. “But it’s an indestructible building, and we all love it and acknowledge its eccentricities.”

Paul Goldberger ’72, the architecture critic for The New Yorker, noted in an interview with the News last month that while buildings have an obvious obligation to functionality, it is their eccentricities that can — and, in the case of Rudolph’s, do — prove most interesting of all.

“I think the Rudolph Building is one of the great buildings of its time,” Goldberger said. “It’s a difficult building, a problematic building, but a lot of great literature and music is difficult. Why can’t a building be difficult?”

And with its exposed, rough corduroy concrete and its sheer size, the Rudolph Building, even with its new addition, will always be somewhat difficult.

But unlike great literature, architecture can be tweaked over time, for better or for worse. With their work on the Rudolph Building, Gwathmey and Stern are paying restorative homage to their former teacher in the form of air conditioning, a new neighbor and — not least of all — orange carpet.

Comments

  • Alex R

    The A&A is by far the coolest building on campus. I'm really happy that they're finally giving it a thorough and respectful renovation. I'm holding my breath, however, to see whether the addition looks any good. It might just ruin it.

  • Chuck P

    It's great that Yale (through Stern and Gwathmey) keeps and respects its "difficult" buildings -- whether A+A or Morse & Stiles. Weaker institutions would shun these important places; Yale should be commended for its stewardship of them.

  • well

    one thing is for sure: the YDN is well connected in architecture circles.

  • Huh?

    Are you kidding? A&A has been an eyesore and an accident-in-waiting since the day it opened its doors. Seriously--it's like music today: some guy took a survey, decided waht HADN'T been done (despite whether such un-doneness had any merit), and made something JUST TO BE DIFFERENT.

    Worse: the "hand hammered" look caught on, marring the streetscape of innumerable cities. Gah! about the only good thing about the building was that from the inside, the outside was hidden from view.

    But, whatever…

    (BTW: I *LOVE* MIT's new Stata center--talk about good site work: it not only "fits in" but it enhances the area--it REEKS of MIT; Yale's A&A reeks, but not of anything good…and it's dirt and dirty walls are certainly reminiscent of its dire surroundings--additive in a negative way, I guess…)

  • 07

    The A&A building is easily the most impressive building on campus. An acquired taste, sure (I hated it for the first three years I spent at Yale), but awesome nonetheless.

  • Joshua

    Dear #3, what do you mean YDN is well connected in architecture circles? I don't see there being many articles about architecture. What would the implications be of them being well-connected?

    Dear #4, why are you qualified to engage in architectural criticism? Did you study it? Doesn't sound like it.

  • jouster

    #4: Well, the Stata Center reeks alright - but of litigation. Talk about good site work? Maybe you should ask MIT about that. I'm going to guess they'll disagree……

  • a survivor of the A&A..

    the A&A will always be called the A&A. The RUDOLPH BUILDING? never..

  • by huh too

    I have to agree with #4

    The A&A is a lot of things:

    1. Unique/Interesting - Definitely

    2. Worth preserving in its original context - Maybe

    3. The greatest building on campus - Certainly not

    I think it's hillarious how many students/alums will attempt to use an elitist academic argument to defend what is an obvious eye-sore that is neither timeless nor profound.

    In response to #5, I bet that there is a strong correlation between your time spent in lofty architecture/art classes and your new-found appreciation of what is, frankly, an ugly, out-dated statement.

    In response to #6, why do you presume that someone must be 'qualified' to engage in architectural criticism. And, what would u consider the criteria for such a position - should critics be only those who have studied it in academia, or maybe only architects can properly judge architecture? Whatever your answer, i would not be surprised if your criteria only amount to something designed to exclude 95% of the people observing the A&A from the conversation.

  • Rob

    To #9: I'm glad that you appreciate the A&A as unique and interesting. I think it's kind of naive and shortsighted of you, however, to dismiss anyone who thinks the A&A is not ugly and is a great building as "using an elitist academic argument" that was learned in "loft architecture/art classes."

    I don't think there is anything about the A&A that is really that difficult to understand. I don't think one needs to have studied architecture to realize that it's a really cool building. I'm an English major and have never studied architecture (more than a casual appreciation) but I just really like the way the thing looks. "Ugly" and "eyesore" it is not. "Out-dated"? No more so than the gothic or the thousands of forgettable mid-century semi-historicist buildings you find lining the streets of New Haven.

    I guess the issue here (brought to light by #6 especially) is: why do non-architects always talk as if they know enough about architecture to comment on the quality of a work of architecture? I think #6 was wrong about that - because although architecture is a form of art for the architect, it is also an object that goes into the public realm that the greater public has to live with. I wouldn't say, let the masses decide what gets built (because the masses ultimately often made bad decisions) but architecture is certainly something that is allowed to be up for discussion. I would just encourage those who don't know that much (including myself) to be open minded and not immediately dismissive.

    In any case, I just have an instinctual positive reaction towards the aesthetic of the A&A, whereas many others clearly have an instinctual negative reaction. I guess it's like that with any work of art, like painting, a novel, an album, etc - some people just like it and others don't. I just wish those who don't like it would stop talking as if those who do are idiots. Maybe the vice versa should also be true, although I've never heard anyone say that someone who doesn't like the A&A is an idiot.

  • Anonymous

    In response to #10

    I clearly did not state that any one who appreciates the A&A building should be automatically dismissed, nor did I dismiss them. Instead, I said that I was amused by 'how many students/alums will attempt to use an elitist academic argument' - 'many' not 'all' – specifically those who automatically devalue the opinions of those of us who agree/disagree based on assumed lack of academic knowledge. If i had asserted that ‘all’ people like the building are a certain way, i would have been, as you suggested, 'short-sighted' – but naive, probably not (consider looking that word up; in this case it sounds like a misuse).

    That the A&A is a 'really cool building’ is entirely your opinion and you are entitled to it, just as I am entitled to my opinion that it is an ugly eye-sore that adds to the stereotypes of downtown new haven as a mixed bag of either pretty, unsophisticated neo-gothic buildings (which I love regardless of whether they’re really considered unauthentic or not) or utterly dreary, out-dated architectural statements.

    In response to “although I've never heard anyone say that someone who doesn't like the A&A is an idiot,” I’d say you might never have heard that, but I have and the undertones are present in #6’s comments. #6 states that, “#4 why are you qualified to engage in architectural criticism? Did you study it? Doesn't sound like it.” My opinion happens to align with #4 so perhaps I took special offense, but if that doesn’t sound like academic condescension, perhaps you and I share two things: 1. distaste for #6’s assertion about non-architects and 2. an inclination for naïvely dismissing anyone with a different opinion.

    Im just kidding about number two of course! But I think you read more into my post than was there – I called no one an ‘idiot’ – I just wanted to set some balance in the conversation and remind the more supercilious among us that other opinions matter even within an academic discussion (I’ve taken my fare share of art and architecture classes for a non-architecture major and was often alarmed at the dismissive tone towards the opinions of people outside of our ivy-lined walls.)