Morse steps into the spotlight

A new waterfall in the Morse courtyard has been nicknamed the “Beach.”
A new waterfall in the Morse courtyard has been nicknamed the “Beach.” Photo by Jane Long.

Morse College may have had a dark past, but now that its renovation is complete, things are looking brighter.

The renovation, led by Philadelphia-based architecture firm KieranTimberlake, focused primarily on increasing the functionality of Morse: Standalone singles were joined to create common rooms, handicap ramps were added to increase accessibility, and new skylights and floodlights were built in to brighten up the formerly dim-lit college. Already, the masters of Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges, along with 15 students interviewed, said the renovations to architect Eero Saarinen’s ARC ’34 50-year old design have been a success.

“I think Saarinen’s reputation at Yale will now be vastly enhanced,” Yale School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 said. “Yale undergraduates for a long time have not valued the buildings. I think people will be able to put aside functional concerns and appreciate the architecture.”

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There are still a handful of orange cones around the courtyard, and handymen can be seen screwing doors to their hinges or finishing repairs to the Morse Tower elevator, which has been working on and off for the past week — all routine “punch list” items, said Logan Hoffman, a site superintendent from Turner Construction Company. But visitors areflocking to the college nonetheless, peeking around the corners of the new basement and trying out the square sinks in the new bathrooms since Morse opened to students last week.

“The students — I think they’re like kids at Christmas morning,” Morse Master Frank Keil said. “They’re in euphoria.”

Among the major attractions to the site is the new basement — a rugged space with angled concrete walls that echo the original Saarinen designs for the college. The new space, called the Crescent Underground after the curving shape of Morse and Ezra Stiles, is a 30,000 square-foot addition to be shared between the two. It was designed to house many of the facilities in the colleges, including the gym, dance studio and musical practice rooms. Already, students can be found peddling on the elliptical in the gym or playing instruments in the music rooms.

Outside, perhaps the most noticeable changes are the flattening of the formerly sloped grass in the courtyard and the addition of a small cascading water feature near the dining hall, where students are already dipping their feet.

“We don’t really call it the water feature,” Morsel Gabriella Zeugin ’11 said. “Our master calls it ‘Morse Beach.’ ”

In fact, just last weekend, students were invited to don their swimsuits and head to the “Beach,” where they cooled off in the shallow pool.

“I’m sad I’m a senior,” Zeugin quickly added.

Even the Claes Oldenburg’50 sculpture, “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks,” received a renovation. Earlier this summer, Oldenburg, 81, watched in the sweltering heat as the Lipstick, shiny and new after being repaired and repainted,was installed on its perch near Morse Tower, Keil said.

The University had originally been reluctant about renovating Morse and Stiles since they are decades newerthan Yale’s 10other residential colleges.But the Yale Corporation voted in the spring of 2006 to go forward with the project, setting aside $150 million.Within months of the decision, KieranTimberlake had already developed its plans for the colleges, which included major changes such as the rearrangement of the floor plan; the master’s office would also be moved and rooms would be joined, among other changes.

This new floor plan, Keil recalled, was at first not well-received.

“I think everyone is always nervous about change,” he said. “But KieranTimberlake was incredibly responsive to the feedback people gave.”

The next part of the project, which is already underway, will see Ezra Stiles College renovated in much the same way as Morse. Hoffman estimated that the project is already two-thirds finished now that Morse and the Crescent Underground connection between the colleges are almost complete.

Standing in the newly reorganized dining hall service area — yet another effort to create larger open spaces in the college — Ava Socik ’12 said she, like her friends and suitemates, is thrilled to be calling this new Morse, with its new floor plan and new facilities, home.

“I sort of got used to [the old Morse], but now I’m excited,” Socik said. “Now we have something to brag about too.”

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