Committee passes SOM campus

Anstress Farwell GRD '78 presents a rendering of the proposed campus in its surroundings.
Anstress Farwell GRD '78 presents a rendering of the proposed campus in its surroundings. Photo by Jordi Gassó.

After a total of 11 hours of testimony from more than 40 residents over two hearings, the designs for the School of Management will finally appear before the full Board of Aldermen next month.

On Thursday night, the aldermanic legislation committee held its second public hearing on the designs and listened to objections from 10 residents and outside experts — including preservationist Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, who had filed a petition last month to delay aldermanic proceedings. But ultimately, the committee rejected Farwell’s petition, which argued that the campus would destroy historical landmarks and cause damage to its natural surroundings, and unanimously decided to recommend approval of the new SOM campus. The full board is expected to make a decision about the proposal March 1, aldermanic legislation committee chair and Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar said Thursday.

But the aldermanic committee tacked on three amendments before it approved the proposal. The amendments, which include forcing Yale to open the proposed campus’s walkway to the public, were created to address concerns from some neighbors about the campus designs, aldermen said.

The approval process for the SOM designs has had its share of difficulties. Before the first public hearing, held Jan. 28, Yale asked Foster + Partners, the firm that designed the new campus, to modify the plans for the 230,000-square-foot SOM structure. The new plans included more landscaping and walking space.

At Thursday’s meeting, which ran six hours long, aldermen remained attentive to the nearly 20 different testimonies, including one from University Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 and University Planner Laura Cruickshank. Lemar said Thursday that he is excited to move on with the process. Morand said the approval marks a success after four years of the University cooperating with neighbors and city officials.

“I would like my colleagues [on the full board] to take seriously the unanimous decision of this committee,” Lemar said after the meeting. “We made a well-informed decision.”

Farwell said she still wants the city to review the plans further with residents. But Lemar said that, like for all city projects, the process to approve the SOM designs includes a mandatory 120 days of “public commentary,” which are now over.


Still undecided by the beginning of Thursday night’s meeting was the status of Farwell’s petition. New Haven Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden told Farwell at the meeting that for her petition to succeed, she needed to give evidence that the new SOM campus would damage the natural resources, such as air quality and surrounding trees, or destroy a national historic landmark. The legislation committee has the right to approve her petition, but before then, Bolden must evaluate it.

At the beginning of the meeting, Bolden expressed reservations about the petition but added that he was willing to listen to Farwell’s argument.

Farwell presented a 20-minute slideshow presentation, in which she showed designs of the SOM campus in the context of its future neighboring buildings. As she addressed the audience of 70 that had assembled in City Hall, she explained that when Yale presented the building designs in previous meetings, it showed only the campus and not its surroundings, failing to show its visual impact on the community. She also argued that in order for Yale to construct the new campus, it must raze two buildings that have architectural value, 155 and 175 Whitney Ave.

Along with her slideshow, Farwell and her lawyer, Timothy Yolen, presented Yale officials with a set of 14 specific questions concerning topics such as the reuse of the two Whitney Avenue buildings and the impact of the campus construction on nearby trees. Although Morand said he did not know of the questions beforehand, he nonetheless addressed some of them during the meeting.

And Morand’s answers apparently satisfied city officials.. Bolden ultimately said Farwell’s presentation was not enough. The buildings were not considered national historic landmarks, he said, and the current design or its visual impact do not provide evidence that the building is destroying natural resources. Bolden recommended that the application be rejected, and the aldermanic committee unanimously agreed.

Farwell said she was disappointed with the committee’s decision, adding that she considers the information she brought to the table to be important enough to merit more public discussion.


Still, the aldermen at the end of the meeting recommended that the full board pass several amendments to accommodate some of the SOM’s new neighbors.

The amendments were adapted from proposals made by the City Plan Commission in December. The first amendment would make official the newly revised designs, which Morand and Cruickshank presented during the first public hearing. The second amendment forces Yale to grant pedestrians and bicyclists access to the walkways around the building, so that they can travel more easily through the neighborhood. The third amendment says the city can regulate the site between demolition and construction periods to prevent the lot from remaining empty in case Yale does not have the funding for construction.

Although University President Richard Levin said last month that Yale still has not raised all the money it needs for construction, he and SOM Dean Sharon Oster also said at the time that they are confident they will raise enough funds to break ground on the project this summer.

Despite the additional amendments, Cruickshank said Thursday that the committee’s decision was a “good step” toward the University’s goal to open the campus by fall 2013.

Oster, who argued at the meeting that the school needs a new campus to educate its students properly, told the News after the meeting that she thinks the new building design is beautiful and that it would allow the school to increase its student body to 300 per class.

“I feel good,” Lemar added. “It’s a long exhaustive process ,but in the end we have the right use on the right site.”

The new SOM designs, which were heralded by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in his State of the City address Feb. 1, will be formally presented to the full board this coming Tuesday.


  • Scoop!

    Nice scoop, guys – you beat the NH Register to print on this! With a good report, too.

    Glad to see the amendment about public access, a small but important victory for at least one definition of neighborhood.

  • Observer

    Yale should offer each of Mr. Lemar’s children direct admission to Yale. They way he pushed for this to leave the City Plan Commission after a first hearing in November, to his refusal to grant Ms. Farewll intervenor status, to his clear bias in favor of this huge project (in his own neighborhood – talk about a conflict – how much will he be able to rent his first floor apartment for now that there are going to be more grad students and professors inhis neighborhood?)

    In the end, Mr. Lemar could have killed this awful project multiple times. He colleques on the Board of Aldermen would have supported him if he tried to stop it before it was submitted, if he tried to stop it at City Plan or if he had stopped it at this point. Mr. Lemar had way too much power over this application, and he clearly favored Yale.

  • great step forward

    Like the coverage by the YDN on this important topic. Town Gown relations are quite good. This issue was dealt with properly, both sides presented point, SOM architects reworked plans, its a better overall project now. Perfect? No. Fair? Yes.

    By Observer, the school is 1 block from the old school, so its unlikely that there will be a flood of new students and faculty in Lemar’s neighborhood. His actions seemed reasonable and fair.

    Good for Yale. SOM is a different kind of business school which has long suffered from terrible facilities.

  • Tanner

    While I agree that the SOM should be built and that the site is appropriate looking at the full model it would help if there would be a walk through. With a closed back wall what is the point of a “public plaza if the public needs to go out of their way to use it?
    As for the “Historical” buildings what is the use of savings buildings that have outlived their original functions. I am all for rehabilitating older buildings and finding new ways but I don’t want them blocking progress. I’m sure Yale already has plans to move the IT I can not see a large company using either spaces.

  • an0nym0us

    That can’t be the new School of Management building! It looks like a white Bose Wave radio with a square hole in the top. Very drab. The university should scrap it and restart the design process. For creative inspiration, walk around the campus and look at other university buildings. Go Gothic, not Bose!

  • som prof perspective

    Good debate, great outcome. See insight from inside SOM.

    By Douglas Rae

    AS New Haven approaches final approvals for the new Yale School of Management campus on Whitney Avenue, we have a chance to embrace something that will bring value to Yale University and the city for decades to come.

    The current SOM campus consists of four Hillhouse Avenue mansions, along with a small glass and steel structure facing Prospect Street. It is first-class real estate, but a poor campus: fragmented, crowded, lacking architectural unity. Replacing it with architect Norman Foster’s striking 230,000- square-foot building is a great idea for Yale; it is likewise a profitable one for New Haven and the region. A little history will flesh out why this is so.

    That Yale was assembling world class schools of law and medicine in the World War I era was a minor issue for New Haven. The dividends paid to New Haven by those schools in the course of the last century are enormous. It is now time for Yale to assemble a world class business school, and the new campus is an important piece of that project.

    Yale started late in the business of business education. SOM was founded in 1976. Her competitors had gotten after the task during the post Civil War industrial era. Each of these older business schools has a highly functional and well-conceived campus — plus a long head start on Yale.

    Now SOM is poised to overtake many if not all of these rivals. It has just hired Edward A. Snyder away from the University of Chicago; Snyder is widely regarded as the best skipper in the nation of a graduate business school.

    The Norman Foster campus will provide a unified space with world class facilities within which Snyder’s team can go to the top. It will allow the school to expand from about 400 to about 600 master of business administration candidates — another competitive plus.

    The emergence of SOM as a top-tier business school will generate enormous returns to Yale and to the city. For a start, the new campus will pour $230 million into the construction trades as it is built between now and 2013. Two hundred more students will boost rental and retail in the neighborhood. Far more importantly, a world class business school will foment innovation and investment in New Haven and its region. Combined with sensible rail and air infrastructure improvements, such a development would give New Haven new credibility for headquartering new firms, and for exploiting New Haven’s very considerable cultural assets.

    No decision of this scale will achieve unanimity. For many preservationists, the demolition of the buildings at 155 and 175 Whitney Ave. will be great losses. For others, the mere size of Foster’s design, to say nothing of its boldness, will seem out of scale with the neighborhood.

    Douglas Rae is Richard S. Ely professor at Yale University’s School of Management.

  • James McGrath

    Doug Rae’s comments are well said, as usual. But, if only the scenarios in his penultimate paragraph would come to pass.

  • Steve

    ….give New Haven new credibility for headquartering new firms? We can’t even keep Shaw’s from closing let alone headquartering new firms.

  • A Rare Dissenting View

    I disagree with several of Douglas Rae’s comments.

    The planned new SOM building is not a “great idea” as he puts it. The aerial view of the banal glass building concept looks like a white Bose Wave radio with a square hole in its top. The proposed SOM structure looks bland, fragile, temporary, and doesn’t exude the sense of permanence one expects from Yale campus architecture. The new building’s box concept looks corporate, not academic.

    Prof. Rae states that SOM with its new dean Snyder “can go to the top.” Does Rae believe schools like HBS, Stanford, and Wharton will roll out the red carpet for SOM and stand idly by as SOM overtakes them in terms of rankings and prestige?

    Rae also says that SOM is “poised to overtake many if not all of” its rival schools. Which rival schools? Michigan? NYU? Duke? CMU? Darden? SOM fails to crack Business Week’s top 20! Instead of thinking about such “rival” schools, SOM needs to first concern itself with surpassing similarly-ranked business schools such as Brigham Young, Emory, USC, and Maryland.

  • Jamie

    This is in response to Comment #3 by “By great step forward” who makes the point that “SOM is a different kind of business school.”

    It’s baffling that SOM would wish to be “different” than the top business schools.

    Given this very unusual building conception, SOM also indicates it wants to “differentiate” itself from the rest of Yale. SOM has never had a problem on that score. ;)

  • Puzzled

    Can anyone honestly say that this mish-mash of glass, steel columns, floating white floors, blue cylinders, and hulking roof is attractive in any way, shape, or form? Is Yale losing its architectural aestheticism?