Foster: A design inspired by my time at Yale

I have very strong memories of my time as a student at Yale. The architecture school then, in 1961-’62, was led by Paul Rudolph, who demanded a lot from his students but gave a tremendous amount back in return. In a sense, I think there are strong links between my experience at Yale and the ethos and tempo of my office in London, where we are united in a common belief that only the best will do — whether that’s at the scale a major public building or the detail of a door handle.

In the early 1960s, before Paul Rudolph Hall was completed, the school was based on the top floor of Louis Kahn’s beautiful Yale University Art Gallery. I spent my days (and many of my nights) working in the studio there. I lived close by, in Jonathan Edwards College — the first of the original seven residential quadrangles designed on the Oxford and Cambridge model — where I was a guest fellow. My own experience therefore spans the rich architectural heritage of the campus — from the seminal work of some of America’s greatest post-war architects to the Gothic Revival of the Memorial Quadrangle. This powerful architectural legacy has been the starting point for our own building for the Yale School of Management. In designing it, we have tried to set out a vision for a new building that expresses the forward-looking nature of the school while respecting the complex and evolving architectural language of the wider campus.

The early Oxford and Cambridge college models of a university have been reinterpreted and updated at each stage of Yale’s development. Planned around a sheltered courtyard space — much like a traditional cloister arranged around a campus quadrangle — our new School of Management continues this tradition. The social and intellectual heart of the building, the courtyard, is linked to the campus by a network of paths and green spaces. The design places the space visibly on axis with Sachem Street in order to knit it into the wider system of campus courtyards. The scale of the building responds to the existing Whitney Avenue buildings, including 221 Whitney Ave., the Kline Biology Tower, the Yale Biology Building and the Peabody Museum. The main entrance is located directly in front of the entrance to the Peabody, helping to establish a dialogue between the two buildings.

The internal volumes are highly transparent and house distinct functional elements, which are expressed on the exterior. These different sculptural forms are unified beneath an over-sailing canopy that appears to hover above the building, the glazed elements seemingly suspended from it. As part of our strategy to achieve LEED Gold certification, the canopy is designed to shade the facades, and the shading distances have been calculated to maximize its efficiency.

The transparent facades reveal the structure and establish a kind-of “shop front” for the school. The grid of columns is repeated every 25 feet on the facades, and the colonnade along Whitney Avenue is set back to create a civic face for the building and relate it to the scale of the street. The colonnade wraps into the building and is expressed through the library and into the courtyard. There is a visual simplicity inherent in the structural form, which aims to establish a sense of quiet elegance and a civic resonance.

The entrance to the school is a dramatic, highly transparent space with views into the courtyard through glazed screens. These can be opened to allow the entire space to be used for graduation ceremonies and events, when visitors can enter the courtyard directly. Like a modern interpretation of the traditional Yale gates at the college entrances, the panels are ceremonial in character. Looking in from the Sachem Street axis, a fritted glass screen acts as an architectural grille, of a type often seen in the older schools, where glimpses through create an enhanced sense of expectation and form part of a rich arrival sequence.

It is my hope that this new building will not only contribute to the architectural substance of the Yale campus, but will also establish a home for the School of Management that will allow it to reinvent business education for the future. Designing it has been an extraordinary opportunity and a great privilege.

Lord Norman Foster is the founder and chairman of Foster + Partners, the architect of the proposed SOM campus and a 1962 graduate of the School of Architecture.

Comments

  • that side of the street

    Dear Lord Foster,
    Thank you for your description. Much as you might hope to knit the courtyard into the wider system of campus courtyards, I believe this lovely aim offers a serious and dangerous misrepresentation to students. Not only is Whitney Ave. a major traffic artery out to Hamden, the intersection of Sachem is at the top of a slight grade where motorists do need to step on the gas starting just past the Historical Society building. Because I’ve resided on that side of Whitney for a number of years (as a renter), I am thoroughly unconvinced that a courtyard design hoping to be university in scale is in any way appropriate to that side of Yale. That’s not your fault.

  • Ryan ’10

    I wish ‘concerned neighbors’ wouldn’t keep trying to derail this lovely project with their petty concerns. Things change over time. Luckily, this is a very good change. Please stop fighting it.