Letter: Caro’s Stern analysis verges on the ‘absurd’

Yesterday, when I read Ryan Caro’s column in these pages (“Stern should trade luxury for novelty,” 9/15), I discovered much to my surprise that living in Pierson explains away my “self-congratulatory complacency.” I’m not going to pretend I’m not proud to go to Yale, but whatever character faults I may have, I doubt James Gamble Rogers really deserves the blame.

If traditional architecture really “encourages students to sit around idly applauding themselves” while nontraditional forms “move students to progressive debate,” we should expect to see wide gaps in political beliefs and social involvement between the current residential colleges. The facts at Yale just don’t bear this out. Students from every college are motivated to participate in collegiate and national life, regardless of how many right angles their dorm rooms have.

Even less groundless is Caro’s claim that “a return to the architecture of yore only signals a longing for the Yale of the 1930s,” and would inevitably be a rejection of the progress our school and our society has made since then. Such an argument not only asks us to disbelieve everything President Levin has said about the direction of the University, but following such reasoning we would also have to believe the Yale of the 1930s, when such riffs on Gothic architecture as Sterling Library were put up, was itself nursing ambitions of returning to the Middle Ages.

To borrow architectural elements from the past is to express approval for the past’s architecture, not its social systems. This is why Mr. Caro’s class-based criticism of Robert Stern’s architecture is particularly absurd. The Yale of old may have been built “for the wealthy, white, Protestant sons of Hotchkiss and Taft,” back “when life was easy for the Sons of Eli,” but Mr. Caro seems to imply that today’s more diverse Yalies shouldn’t have the comforts our predecessors enjoyed. Life for Yalies may not be as easy as it once was, but if Yale can offer us a great standard of living, why shouldn’t it?

After all, “Yale’s place at the forefront of modern academia” was not established by building monumental libraries, but by filling them, and the work of Yale’s students, not the decoration of their rooms, has won our school its present prestige. If Yale students overall prefer traditional architecture, why shouldn’t they live in it? Rejection of Saarinen’s experiments on campus doesn’t necessarily imply that we Yalies are “more interested in indulgence than inspiration”; but it does suggest we just don’t find such experiments inspiring.

Kevin Gallagher

Pierson College ’11

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