Amid all the uproar over demolition in preparation for the two new colleges, there has been relatively little attention given to the political science “diner” right in the middle of that site.
The building, which opened in 2002 and was always intended to be a temporary home for the department, is a one-story modular structure that Yale officials say will not be torn down in the first phase of demolition and may actually be reused as temporary office space on another part of campus.
If that happens, it won’t be the first time the building at 8 Prospect Pl. has proven a little different from other Yale buildings.
Designed by Centerbrook Architects, the building cost about half of what most Yale buildings cost to construct and also took half the usual time to build. It has been occasionally called Suttle Hall, after Lloyd Suttle, the deputy provost who helps to oversee the use of physical space on campus, and its metal skin has led some students and faculty to dub it a diner or a trailer.
Despite those comparisons, though, it has won at least eight architectural awards, and Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49, the Sterling professor emeritus of the history of art, said the building is “neat and alert and lively on its site, and beautifully equipped within.”
Now, the building is more eerie on the inside than beautiful. All the offices in the building are empty, since the political science faculty has now moved to Rosenkranz Hall across the street, but the two classrooms remain in use for the seven courses and handful of discussion sections that meet there this semester. The Registrar’s Office says it is not planning on placing classes in the building next semester.
Still, University President Richard Levin said in a recent interview that the building will be spared during the first chunk of demolition work on the site of the new colleges, which is bounded by Sachem Street to the north, Prospect Street to the east and Canal Street to the south and east.
The building is made up of 21 factory-built modular units, and so it could be moved, either in whole or in part, to another location on campus. But Levin said the University is not yet sure whether such work would cost more than it is worth.
Mark Simon ARC ’72, a partner at Centerbrook who designed the building, said it could be worthwhile to move the structure to a different site because the interior finishes, including the light fixtures and maple cabinetry, are of a high quality, though he said it could be a difficult project because it would require all the mechanical systems — including heating and cooling units — to be dismantled and then reassembled.
Simon added that, ironically, the building’s success has in some ways been the product of the fact that it was designed to be torn down.
“We knew from the beginning that it was going to be a temporary structure,” he said. “I think in some ways we were given a freer hand because of that.”
A permanent building on campus, he said, would have almost certainly been at least three stories tall, to maximize efficiency, and no doubt would not have had the steel panels on its exterior that at once make the building look cheap and playful.
It actually doesn’t take much to imagine what a permanent version of 8 Prospect Pl. would have looked like, Simon noted, since such a building has now opened on Prospect Street. Rosenkranz Hall, designed by former School of Architecture Dean Fred Koetter, is a 69,000-square-foot behemoth of a building that connects to Luce Hall and provides space for social sciences departments.
Ian Shapiro, the Sterling professor of political science who chaired the department when the temporary space opened, said the new building is superior in the sense that its large windows allow light to soak into the building and its high ceilings make for more comfortable classrooms and offices.
But, he acknowledged, the department’s swing space — which he said cost less than $3 million and was urgently needed because of the rising popularity of political science at Yale — had a great deal of charm.
“In terms of quality space per dollar spent,” he said, “it’s an unbeatable building.”