News’ View: In Stern we trust

It was a time to commend Charles Gwathmey ARC ’62 for his restoration success, and a time to rejoice, as hoards of alumni and architecture aficionados filled Paul Rudolph Hall for its rechristening this weekend.

But restoring the dilapidated Art & Architecture Building was not the only feat to be celebrated this weekend. So too was the decade-long quest by School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 to persuade the University to look at an eyesore from a different point of view.

It was Stern who convinced President Levin to restore the A&A building, and then saw the project through from start to finish.

As Stern put it at the rededication, “Rudolph Hall rose like a phoenix from its own ashes.” Indeed it did — and while Gwathmey deservedly gets the credit for engineering the restoration, Stern deserves praise, too, for demanding it in the first place.

Unlike his mentor, Rudolph, Stern builds traditionally and is sometimes decried for his old-fashioned ways. But though some critics write off his buildings as nostalgic or conservative — and some certainly are — Stern’s fight for the A&A building has shown he respects the avant-garde while also honoring tradition.

When Levin appointed Stern to the deanship in 1998, much to the chagrin of many architecture students, the president overruled his search committee. Levin stirred controversy in choosing someone perceived to be too “conservative.” And when Levin announced in September that Stern would design Yale’s new residential colleges — arguably the most influential decision for the future of Yale’s architectural landscape in a generation — there was concern, once more, about the “conservative” choice.

But if we learned anything from this weekend, it was that Stern played an invaluable role in reasserting Yale as a steward of great architecture. He saw past the superficial decay of his mentor’s brutalist behemoth and envisioned the grandeur of the 1963 monument restored.

And now that Paul Rudolph Hall has been inhabited and admired for more than two months, we can all savor the fruits of his efforts — even if our own building is lost in its shadow next door.

This year will certainly go down as a milestone in Stern’s career. In addition to Saturday’s rededication and his commission to design the new colleges, yesterday he received the prestigious Vincent Scully Prize.

But now is not a time to bask. Rather, Stern must courageously confront the next task. We don’t expect another Rudolph Hall, or any modernist landmark, though we hope for something beyond the suburban sumptuousness for which he is known.

Stern, for his part, told The New York Times last year that “nobody likes to be typecast.” So we hope, in this vein, he will not design the new colleges to any stereotype. We hope the Prospect-Sachem Triangle joins in Yale’s architectural history and also beckons to its future.

In the way President Griswold a half-century ago oversaw the construction of Yale’s revolutionary modernist structures — Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges, Ingalls Rink, the Kahn Building and, of course, the A&A building — perhaps President Levin will be remembered for steering Yale into its next era of lasting architecture.

That legacy will be for Stern to decide.

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