Plans for Morse, Stiles revealed

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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.

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