Plans for new colleges solidified

A scattering of buildings just north of the Grove Street Cemetery now have signs posted to their doors that say, in bold capital letters, “This Building Proposed To Be Demolished.”

Those signs — and the accompanying ire of some local preservationists over the proposed demolitions — are just the latest indication that Yale is inching closer to adding two residential colleges. While the economy has slowed the project, and the question of when the two new colleges will open remains unanswered, it became much easier to imagine Yale’s 13th and 14th residential colleges this summer.

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First, on May 12, the News posted to its Web site a series of illustrations commissioned by the architecture firm of Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 that showed the firm’s proposed design. In short, as Stern put it, the colleges he designed “look like Yale colleges.”

The pencil drawings made clear that the two colleges will be built of brick with stone embellishments, will feature towers in various locations and, like all of Yale’s existing colleges, will be defined by their courtyards.

In time for alumni reunions on May 28, Stern formally unveiled models of the new colleges in Sterling Memorial Library. He defended the decision to build the colleges largely of brick, saying that while “people think Yale is so much stone” the truth is “not so.” And he promised that “there’ll be more quirkiness as we work out the design,” so no one need worry about vast walls of brick appearing on campus.

Soon after Stern made the models available, Yale officials let slip a few more details about the project: All bedrooms will be singles, though suites will range from doubles to sextets. Each of the colleges will get a large courtyard big enough to seat 1,200 people for Commencement as well as several smaller, more intimate courtyards.

It will take a lot of work to make room for those spacious courtyards and 425-bed colleges, though, and Yale also revealed once and for all this summer that it plans to demolish all of the existing buildings on the triangular block just north of the Grove Street Cemetery.

That means the Seeley G. Mudd Library, built in 1982, and Hammond Hall, completed in 1904 and known primarily for its decorative, Beaux-Arts front, will both be torn down along with other buildings, including Brewster Hall.

As news of these plans came out over the summer, some preservationists and architects in New Haven loudly voiced their disapproval.

“It may be that none of these are major landmarks, but many have architectural or historical significance,” wrote C. Michael Tucker, a past president of the New Haven Preservation Trust, in the New Haven Register. “They are worth preserving as part of New Haven’s rich urban environment.”

Yale, of course, sees the buildings differently. University President Richard Levin said in a telephone interview that while Yale has reached out to the preservation community and tried to make its case for the new colleges, the protests will not stall the project.

“There are many people within the preservation community who recognize what splendid work we’ve done restoring many, many buildings and are quite sympathetic to our proposal for building the new colleges, and there are some who are concerned about it,” Levin said. “We evidently can’t please everyone.”

One group of people Yale does need to please, though, is would-be donors for the project. Fundraising continues to be difficult, Levin said, though enough money has been raised to allow Stern to finish work on the plans for the colleges.

At this point, however, it is doubtful that the University will raise enough money for the project to be completed by even 2014, a year after it was originally supposed to be finished. Levin said it is now probable that the colleges will open in either 2015 or 2016.


  • Olivia Martson

    To have Yale demolish these buildings show complete dis-reqard for the built envoronment and the cultural history of New Haven. They can surely use the buildings in the design of the colleges and make for a more interesting complex


    The alternative to creative destruction is urban stagnation because although architecture nerds love old buildings, no one wants to live or do business in them.

  • Benjamin Fredericks

    @ ROFLCOPTER: What is "creative destruction" supposed to be??? As history tells, there is no such thing! That is an oxymoron my friend and that is exactly the problem!

  • dmelakada '67

    No such thing as "creative destruction"? That's just nonsense. Science teaches that creative destruction is how mankind advances.

  • not a Yalie

    There are only two questions here.

    1. Will the new colleges be more socially useful than what they will replace? Yes, they will. They will allow for a much denser use of a site that is close to the center of campus and close to downtown. That use will also be much more central to Yale's mission than the uses it will replace. Mudd Library, for example, is a shelving facility; its contents could and should be moved to the West Campus.

    2. Will the new colleges have greater aesthetic value than the structures they replace? Here one can only go on the preliminary designs; and Stern has apparently been saying that the design is becoming "quirkier" -- that is, more Gothically interesting -- as time goes by.

    But even based on what we have seen so far, I would have to say that the new colleges are aesthetically much superior to what they will replace. They will present to the street a unified complex; they will provide vertical elements that will enliven the skyline; and they might even approach the joy of Yale's Collegiate Gothic legacy from the 1920s and 1930s.

    So on these two criteria, the issue isn't even close.

    The preservationists' case thus reduces to the assertion that historic fabric is valuable in its own right, or the view that a structurescape that has accreted over time is more valuable -- because more revealing of what led to the present -- than a large, new complex. These arguments might force in many contexts -- say, if a vibrant neighborhood block, or a single architectural marvel, were proposed to be razed. Neither, however, is the case here.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. W the point about urban stagnation. The new colleges
    must be built. It is an urgent project for the campus and city. even tho the univ should have been more thoughtful in it's approach. Designnewhaven.Org has a pretty balanced post about this.

  • Alum

    Arguments to preserve fine but not particularly distinguished buildings like Hammond Hall and Seeley Mudd Library undercut the arguments for the preservation of truly important buildings. The so-called preservationists risk undercutting the cause of preservation of historic buildings by sounding like mere opponents of change - any change.

    Here's the link to the Design New Haven article cited by #6 (the web site moved for some reason):