Plans for Morse, Stiles revealed

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Morsels and Stilesians crowded into the dark and cramped Stiles common room Thursday for a glimpse at a brighter, sleeker future.Despite a freeze on nearly all other campus construction, the $150 million renovation of Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges are set to move ahead on schedule and according to plan, with construction starting next month. While the renovations are a high priority, administrators said, the ongoing economic uncertainty precludes any guarantees.

Kieran, the principle architect in the renovation of Morse and Ezra Stiles college, gives a talk in the Stiles common room.
Grant Smith
Kieran, the principle architect in the renovation of Morse and Ezra Stiles college, gives a talk in the Stiles common room.

It is important as a matter of fairness that the renovations of all 12 residential colleges are completed, Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said in a recent interview. And he said he is hopeful that they will be.

But, Suttle added, no one can be sure: After all, a year ago he never would have believed that the opening of the two new residential colleges would be delayed because of the recession.

“So far, plans are set, and I am grateful that President [Richard] Levin places the renovation among his priorities,” Stiles Master Stephen Pitti said. “It’s an issue of priority, and our students deserve to have the same terrific facilities that other students have.”

The principal architect for the Morse and Stiles renovations, Stephen Kieran of the Philadelphia-based firm KieranTimberlake, presented plans for the project at a Master’s Tea Thursday in the Stiles common room before about 45 students and staff members.

Despite the looming question of what Yale can — or cannot — afford to build, Kieran said the economic downturn has not yet forced any major compromises or reductions in the original ambitions for renovating Morse and Stiles, which were built by architect Eero Saarinen ’34 in 1961. The renovation was scrutinized for maximum efficiency throughout development, Kieran said, as the University presses for the best value regardless of the economic climate.

“Once this starts, it gets done,” Kieran said at the talk. “The bids were made long before the financial crisis, and there is no contingency plan.”

There were hundreds of small changes, mostly involving construction methods or materials, Kieran said. But no wholesale programmatic elements have had to be scaled back or omitted.

“There wasn’t anything that made it in that didn’t provide good value,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We carefully examined everything all the way along and took out anything that didn’t make sense.”

The project’s centerpiece is a new underground addition below the crescent courtyard that will provide new public spaces like those of the other colleges, Kieran said, including a gym, a recording studio, an art studio space and a 100-seat auditorium.

Above ground, there will be a steel-and-wood skybridge over the courtyard between the two colleges. And underground, there will be tunnels that connect the towers to the basement and keep the colleges accessible underground.

The Stiles common room will have skylights, cutting holes in the existing triangular ceiling design to provide natural lighting. The two colleges’ libraries will have more tables and lounge-type seating, as well air conditioning and more lighting. All public spaces will be air-conditioned.

The current 11,699 square feet of shared social space in Morse and Stiles will swell to 15,300. Pierson and Davenport, by comparison, together have 14,638.

The dorms in Morse and Stiles will also be restructured to include more suites, Kieran said. The plans provide for at least 250 beds per college, given estimates of 100 sophomores, 75 juniors and 75 seniors living on-campus in each college.

Currently, between 70 and 80 percent of Morse and Stiles rooms are stand-alone singles, a figure the renovation will reduce to less than half, though many suites will contain singles. Kieran said the administration asked him not to create any 12-person “party suites.”

Construction work on Morse will begin as soon as the students leave in May, with the dining hall and the servery undergoing renovation over the summer. There will be a partition between the two dining halls so Stiles students can still eat while Morse is being renovated.

Kieran — whose firm also renovated Berkeley, Pierson, Davenport and Silliman Colleges — said the renovations of Morse and Stiles will be comparable to those other projects. Morse and Stiles will not see any less of an upgrade than these colleges did despite the limping economy, he said.

The price tags of each college’s renovation have varied, mostly because of fluctuations in the pricing of the construction market, Kieran said. In the current slowdown, he said, construction costs are cheaper.

Berkeley College, the first to be renovated in 1998, was also the cheapest, costing $40 million. In comparison, Silliman, renovated in 2007, cost over $100 million. And the bill for Pierson-Davenport amounted to $60 million in 2004.

To meet the sustainability standards set out for the two new colleges by the University, the revamped Morse and Stiles will feature landscaping using indigenous plants, increased thermostat controls, natural lighting during the day, dual-flush toilets, recycled materials and cisterns to collect rainwater. There is currently also a bid for roofs covered with plants, but the University has not made a decision yet because of financial concerns — apparently the only element being reconsidered because of the recession.

There is also a debate over reintroducing vines. Morse’s and Stiles’ exteriors were intended to include ivy, but they were pulled down across the University long ago because vine tentacles pull out mortar in brick walls. But since Stiles and Morse are built out of solid concrete, that is not an issue for the two colleges.


  • Morsel

    I was at the Master's Tea as well. The plans look beautiful. I think the most important part of the plan is that KieranTimberlake actually understand Morse and Stiles, how it was intended to function, the beauty of the design, and the importance of Saarinen. They really took a critical look at the colleges, and though I am sad to see some Saarinen touches go, the renovations are really going to improve the overall aesthetic.

    I wish this article had captured the excitement of the new work. It's much more than just a renovation, it's a complete addition to an already great complex that will increase not just the functionality but the joy of Morse and Stiles. Having been skeptical of how they would alter the colleges, I now feel excited for the renovations. Hopefully it will open up the eyes of my fellow morsels and future morsels to see how great we have it over here! This article does not at all do the plans justice.

  • Joey

    oh, i thought it was "Morsians"
    well ya learn something everyday

  • Yale alum

    @2 - Joey, did you go to Yale? Morsels is the single best name for people in a college…

    These plans sound extremely impressive! Especially regarding the suite reconfigurations. But I feel a little bad for those who have to live in either Morse or Stiles while the other is being renovated. This is going to be loud.

  • Morsel

    Morse and Stiles are horrible buildings in every regard. They are poorly built, poorly designed, and ugly as sin. Sinking money into them is like throwing money down a well. Seriously the sophomore suite configurations will not be an improvement AT ALL. I have seen the renovated suite and it gives up the best parts about the colleges (built in desks, walk in closets, singles) and, in return, students get quarters that are still inferior to the other colleges (i.e. weirdly shaped rooms, bizarrely large hallways that waste space and cannot be used for furniture due to fire codes, and a hybrid hall/entryway design that manages to bring out the worst of both). Yale… please stop trying to pretend that you didn't make a mistake with the buildings you built in the 1960s. Saarinen may have been well regarded but, after living in one of his buildings, I'm confident calling him an idiot who pursued form over function at the expense of his clients (i.e. Yale and its students). Buy some dynamite, remove the eyesores, and build a copy of swing space. It will be cheaper, more architecturally appealing, more comfortable, and generate more of a community atmosphere.

  • Fellow Morsel

    All of #4's points are valid concerns and I wholeheartedly agree.

    However, as getting ridding of Morse and Stiles is sadly out of the picture, I must commend the architects on the decision to add skylights to Stiles Common Room. However, this feature should be added to other areas of both colleges, such as the Morse Common Room and both dining halls. Adding skylights to these areas would cut down on lighting costs and make the areas more open. It would transform the dungeons that are the Morse and Stiles dining halls into the Hogwarts dining hall, with a view of the sky above. If we're forced to live in a concrete dungeon, it would be nice to have a few areas of the college that are open and nice to look at. Everyone loves skylights.

  • MC09

    I completely agree with the previous poster. Morse is a horrible place to live. Thats what happen when you build something entirely out of concrete - you can't really change it. The worst aspect of Morse is arguably its windows, which manage to allow light in a few hours a day the entire year. knock these buildings down! I have met people who did not come to Yale because of them! They are an objectively worst living environment compared to other colleges in every respect, and something must be done. Why is this not an option: they are parking garages!!

  • Ash Ketchum

    "Prospect Street Bridge, currently the most direct route up Science Hill by foot or automobile, will be closed to vehicular traffic for about a year starting this summer."


  • Anonymous

    @3- I think "Saybrugians" is slightly better than "Morsels." But not by a lot :)

  • The Contrarian

    If only the Promoters of Star-architects for the new colleges and other buildings would actually pay attention to the above comments…. Student Opinion in the late 1950's demanded singles. Student Opinion today demands the opposite. Unfortunately the concrete was poured for singles, so I fear no renovation will be all that successful. Why couldn't Morse & Stiles be converted to much-needed graduate housing where singles are highly prized, if not absolutely necessary?

  • Anonymous

    agree with #4.

  • Stiles lad

    We came to Yale to get and education, not live in a palace. I mean really this is so annoying that people care this much. I can name hundreds of people who would live in barracks or tents in order to attend Yale and we complain about living in a modern looking dormitory for 3 years? Really now, after you leave Yale will it really matter if you lived in Stiles or Morse or will your diploma be what is really important?

  • Former resident

    Once again proving that Yale student are the most spoiled students in the entire world! Morse and Stiles only seem like dungeons when everyone insists on comparing reality to Harry Potter. Get a life and a clue.

  • Alum '06

    When I got that letter so many years ago saying that I had been sorted into Pierson, I just remember being really relieved that I hadn't been assigned to Morse or Stiles - I would have been happy with any other college. It's not that they're horrible places to live, it's that they just don't live up to the standards set by the rest of Yale. It shouldn't be that way, and the difference should be acknowledged and made up for in some way. This renovation is the perfect opportunity, but Yale could give special privileges as well (superior food in the dining hall, special trips, better furniture, air conditioning; something).

    I had many friends in Morse and Stiles who loved their years at Yale, and in the end we all get to go to this fantastic school. I just think a little more work could go into making the colleges more equal (this goes for the benefits from their endowments as well).

  • Morsel

    #12: I believe you perfectly expounded upon my original point. It's absolutely true that Morse and Stiles are much better than many state schools and, in complaining, I suppose I could be considered spoiled. I am not comparing them to a state school however. Instead, I am comparing Morse and Stiles, which were built as budget colleges at a total of $6 million to colleges such as Silliman who's renovation alone cost $100 million. What about the numerous grants and perks offered by most of the other 11 colleges from their endowments (for employment, projects, etc.)? The fact is we all see the same sticker price for attending to Yale and our residential experiences and summer opportunities should reflect that. I would have thought that a school with such egalitarian views as Yale would institute them internally first where they are most capable of doing so.

  • MC09


    The point is not that Morse and Stiles are better than *some* dorms are other colleges. (Some, on the other hand, are much better, even at underfunded state schools.) The point is that Yale, in part, is based on its architectural luster. These two parking-garage monstrosities next to the gym diminish significantly from that, and it costs Yale students and reputation.

    It is not out of the ordinary in Yale's history to tear down buildings. Osbourne Hall, a large opulent building (there is a model in Sterling near the side entrance) that stood on current cite of Bingham, was torn down after about 30 years of use because it did not suit Yale's aesthetic. Yale - do not invest, rebuild (in the style of HGS, for instance).!