Morse and Stiles honored for renovation

Designed by Eero Saarinen ’34, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges are symbolic of the modernist style.
Designed by Eero Saarinen ’34, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges are symbolic of the modernist style. Photo by Jacob Geiger.

Last Monday, the American Institute of Architects honored Ezra Stiles College and Morse College with an award of excellence, drawing attention to the modernist architecture of two residential colleges that have historically been overlooked in favor of their gothic counterparts.

Awarded in recognition of works that “exemplify excellence in architecture, interior architecture and urban design,” the AIA’s 2013 Institute Honor Awards were given to 11 candidates from over 700 total submissions located around the world. Morse and Stiles were recognized for the recent renovation project undertaken by architectural firm KieranTimberlake, which was responsible for six of the residential college renovations.Stephen Kieran ’73, a partner at the firm, noted that the honor is rarely given to renovations as opposed to entirely new designs. Kieran said that while his team made extensive changes to the interior and underground spaces of the colleges, the aim of the project was not to undo Eero Saarinen ’34’s original plans but rather to adapt them for modern use.

“We worked very much within the envelope of the old bones and the structure of the building,” Kieran said. “The best part of renovating the colleges was the opportunity to engage with architects from another era — we didn’t try to work against Saarinen and what he did.”

Designed originally by Saarinen, one of the most renowned architects of the 20th century, Morse and Stiles opened in 1962 as the only residential colleges to be built in the modernist style. School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern, whose firm designed the planned 13th and 14th residential colleges, said that despite of Morse’s and Stiles’ modernist slant, Saarinen intended his designs to reflect the gothic feel of the rest of Yale’s campus. After consulting with the Yale Corporation, faculty and student groups, Stern said his architectural team decided the two new colleges should mirror the traditionalism that dominates campus.

“Styles should not be picked on the basis of an historical moment,” Stern said. “Styles are languages, and they should be spoken when appropriate. When you’re at Yale, it’s good to speak Gothic.”

Prior to the 2011 renovations on Morse and Stiles, many students had expressed discontent with the colleges’ facilities and architectural style, Kieran said. He recalled that when they first began working on designs, they “felt the obligation to transform Morse and Stiles into places of real desire.”

All four students in Morse and Stiles interviewed admitted to feeling disappointment when they first learned of their college placement, as they had initially been attracted to Yale’s neo-Gothic architecture.

Jason Kuo ’13, a Stiles freshman counselor, said he has since become attached to the buildings. The facilities were greatly improved during the renovations that took place his sophomore year, he said. Another Stiles student, Christine Mi ’15, also said she has come to admire the college’s “quirky” interiors.

“When I first searched up Ezra Stiles, I saw this brown tower sort of deal,” Mi observed. “I wondered, is there another Ezra Stiles out there? Is there a city called Ezra Stiles? I didn’t think it could be a part of Yale.”

Kieran said the major changes in the renovations included transforming stand-alone rooms into suites, adding basement recreational spaces and improving the landscaping around the courtyards. At the rededication ceremony in November of 2010, then-Morse College Master Frank Keil called the newly renovated college the “West Coast” of Yale, making reference to the fountain and outdoor dining deck.

Construction work on Stiles was completed in November 2011 as the final step in the University’s 13-year residential college renovation project.

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