Morse, rethought

On Feb. 17, 1959, architect Eero Saarinen ARC ’34 declared he had a new vision for residential life at Yale. The result was Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges.

According to Saarinen, the colleges’ rooms, which have no shared common spaces, were conceived in order to depart from the cookie-cutter pattern of existing Yale suites.

In order to make space for a common room in this renovated Morse suite, the built-in desks and closets have had to be removed.
Murphy Temple
In order to make space for a common room in this renovated Morse suite, the built-in desks and closets have had to be removed.

“Our primary effort was to create an architecture which would recognize the individual as individual instead of an anonymous integer in a group,” he wrote in the News.

Students at the time, after all, had expressed interest in having more single rooms. So that’s what Saarinen gave them.

Today, though, students have said they value being part of a suite more than they did 50 years ago, Morse College Master Frank Keil said.

So half a century later, that’s what Yale is giving them.

Over the summer, a suite housing six Morse students underwent an early renovation to reflect the transformation that will take place in both the Saarinen colleges when they are full renovated between 2009 and 2011. Keil said the new design will preserve the elements that make Stiles and Morse unique — most notably, the “non-rectangular structure” — while eliminating “walk-through” doubles and adding common rooms to minimize the individualistic feeling of Saarinen’s original design.

“The design preserves Morse’s striking non-rectangular nature,” he said. “It still has the amazing state floor. It still has the nice dark trim.”

The renovated suite also contains a built-in entertainment center, with extensive shelving space and room for a television as well as multiple types of overhead lighting and blinds, final models of which will be chosen with student input before the actual renovation begins.

Students living in the renovated suite — who secured their room by winning first pick in Morse’s housing draw for sextets — were enthusiastic about the room’s new layout and, in particular, the common room.

“I’m very happy with my living situation,” Andrew Feldman ’11 said.

“But,” he continued, “this building is art first and residence second.” And in some ways, he said, the art betrays Saarinen’s original design of Morse and Stiles, which were famous for their lack of 90-degree angles.

“There’s a time and a place for right angles,” Feldman said.

Zack Rotholz ’11, another member of the suite, praised the fluorescent lighting fixtures along the walls as well as the new wood trim, which has a softer tint than that of other Morse rooms. The changes lighten up the room and address previous complaints that the original rooms felt like dungeons, he said.

The suite’s primary complaint is the lack of storage space for clothes, since closets were eliminated in the renovation. And Donghyuk Kim ’11, who lives in the suite’s double, said the desks, which are the same as those in other residential-college bedrooms, are too small. But, Kim is quick to add, the common room easily makes up for less workspace.

Morse students that are still living in traditional Saarinen rooms said in interviews that the common-room feel of the test suite brings back fond memories of the freshman year they spent together in Old Campus’ Durfee Hall, known for its expansive common rooms.

“Without a common room, I feel like I’m separated from my other suitemates,” said current Morse resident Taja Cheek ’11.

While Cheek said she would not be opposed to trading her walk-in closet for a common room, she said she would be sad to see the large desks disappear.

But other Morsels, like Kevin Webb ’10, are opposed to the renovations because they eliminate the unique features of Morse — walk-in closets, original blinds, and shelving in bedrooms, for example. The new light wood armoires and desks, Webb said, are “a little absurd.”

“It’s not a mix and match game,” he said. “Taking out all the things that are characteristically Morse is like making us similar to the other colleges without the other benefits they have.”

Although blueprints for the renovated colleges are in the process of being finalized, student feedback could have significant impact on the futures of both Morse and Stiles, Keil said.

Morse and Ezra Stiles will be the last two residential colleges to be renovated in a systematic renovation project of all 12 colleges that began with Berkeley College in 1998.

—Vivian Yee contributed reporting.

Comments

  • Jim Clark

    There is a persistent story (you could check if it is accurate) that a botched survey of the property on which Morse & Stiles were built led Saarinen to design the colleges 1/5th too big for the land. The University simply reduced the plans by that amount, rather than pay Saarinen again to change the plans. The reduction led to some rooms having no 7' wall along which to place the long university beds.