SOM campus clears commission

A visualization of Lord Norman Foster’s ARC ’62 sleek plans for the new School of Management campus.
A visualization of Lord Norman Foster’s ARC ’62 sleek plans for the new School of Management campus. Photo by Ilana Seager.

Even as the new School of Management campus secured a major donation from a young SOM alumnus, Yale still faces some hurdles as its plans move closer to city approval.

Last month, the City Plan Commission approved the schematics for the SOM campus, a 246,000 square-foot behemoth structure to be located on Whitney Avenue and Sachem Street. The campus plans now await a second public hearing and a final vote by the Board of Aldermen.

Still, the commission also recommended nine provisions for the Board of Aldermen to impose on Yale, including one to secure the funds before razing the land. University President Richard Levin said the SOM design team will meet this week to discuss the commission’s recommendations.

And there were objections by Ward 9 Alderman and Commission member Roland Lemar, whose constituents occupy the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed building. And the campus, designed by renowned architect Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62, has faced criticism from some of its future neighbors, who called the building’s scale and glass-and-steel facade out of place with its surroundings in a petition signed by 20 residents of the area.

“The real approval will come in the next step of the [plans’] application, a hearing with the Aldermanic Board on Jan. 28,” Joe Tagliarini ’83, one of the petition’s signers, said. “It is still within the board’s authority to modify, approve or reject their plan. This next step will be much more interesting.”

The petition was among more than a dozen written public statements concerning the plan submitted to the commission. Some of the submissions supported the campus’s design, which Yale School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 called “a significant addition to the architectural conversation across time.”

After discussing the building design for about 30 minutes, the commission approved the design, but not before recommending that aldermen force the University to widen the pedestrian and bicycle pathway adjacent to the planned building and to install around-the-clock lighting along the path. A third condition requires Yale to start construction no more than 90 days after demolition, which will help to keep the property from remaining an empty lot for too long, Lemar said. The remaining six of nine conditions are typical for similar proposals, said the commission’s chairman, Edward Mattison LAW ’68.

University Planner Laura Cruickshank said in an interview after the meeting that fundraising for the $145 million project has progressed well.

“[The fundraising] is definitely well up there,” she said.

Two weeks after the meeting, in a press conference in Beijing, University President Richard Levin announced that Lei Zhang GRD ’02 SOM ’02 will make a contribution of $8,888,888 toward the new campus and to foster the school’s international relations- and China-related activities.

“This truly extraordinary and auspicious gift reflects the deep commitment to Yale that Lei Zhang shares with so many fellow graduates of the School of Management,” Levin said at the press conference. “Lei’s generosity also represents a significant step toward the realization of SOM’s new campus.”

Zhang, the founder and managing partner of Chinese investment fund Hillhouse Capital Management, said in a statement that he hoped his donation would encourage his fellow Chinese classmates to give to the SOM.

Zhang’s decision to gift a sum made up only of eights — considered the luckiest digit in traditional Chinese culture — was an attempt to bring more good luck and fortune to the new campus, he said in the statement.

Beyond the symbolism, Zhang has a much more intuitive explanation for the donation.

“I think this is simply the right thing to do at the right time,” Zhang said in the statement.

Zhang will likely have an auditorium named in his honor in the new campus, Yale School of Management Dean Sharon Oster noted, and the University is in talks with others to match gifts with spaces on campus.

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