An icon familiar to Yale students will soon star on its own postage stamp. And no, it is not Kermit the Frog or Ronald Reagan, both of whom will geta their own 15 minutes of fame in the stamp-collecting community next year. In June 2005, Yale’s very own Art and Architecture Building will be featured by the U.S. Postal Service in a 12-stamp set tiled the “Masterworks of Modern Architecture.”
The concrete Art and Architecture Building on the corner of York and Chapel streets will be included in the stamp set along with New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and Philadelphia’s Vanna Venturi House, USPS spokesperson Mark Saunders said.
“With this stamp pane, the U.S. Postal Service salutes 12 masterworks of modern American architecture,” Saunders said. “These buildings have been widely hailed for the beauty and intelligence of their design.”
Yale School of Architecture Dean Robert Stern applauded the decision.
“The Art and Architecture Building may be Yale’s greatest building of the post war era,” Stern said.
Designed by Paul Rudolph between 1961 and 1963, the A&A Building, as it is commonly referred to by Yale students, is anything but ordinary.
Architecture and art history professor Sandy Isenstadt, who teaches several courses on modern and progressive architecture, said the building is “enormously complex,” with six floors and more than 30 distinct interior levels that are organized around a spatial core. Isenstadt said it is an example of so-called “Brutalist” architecture because it shares an emphasis on construction and a concern for strong, sometimes forceful, expression of materials such as concrete.
“It’s not an ‘easy’ building to like,” Isenstadt said in an e-mail. “I once heard someone at [Sterling Memorial Library] give a visitor directions to the Arts Library by saying it was in ‘the ugly building’ at York and Chapel. But, by refusing to fade into the background, it does raise the question (maybe test the limits) of the very role of architecture in society.”
Though Rudolph passed away in 1997, his ideas about architecture, which are articulated in this building’s design, are helping to shape tomorrow’s architectural minds.
Steve Ybarra ’05, an architecture major , said he values the Art and Architecture Building for how clearly it articulates Rudolph’s ideals.
“I think the building is significant in the history of modern architecture because it is such a perfect example of a single architect’s idealistic design methods carried out to their fullest extent,” Ybarra said. “Everything in the building constantly reminds you that it was designed by Rudolph, from the awkwardly proportioned stairs, to the sea shells stuck in the reinforced concrete throughout the building.”
Despite the adversity the building has faced, Rudolph’s ideas have persevered.
“Even after the fire in 1969 that destroyed much of the interior, the building still communicates many of its ideas in a powerful way, confirming the strength of Rudolph’s original design,” Ybarra said.
Stern said he was pleased with the USPS’ decision to feature this often under-appreciated building on a stamp.
“It’s a great vindication for this building because it is not the most popular building at Yale as we know, so to have it recognized by the federal government and the Postal Service in this way is a great honor,” Stern said.
Stern said he believes the building fits in well on Yale’s urban campus, even though others may not appreciate the way it compliments its surroundings.
“The building is an extremely modern statement but fits in so well with the character of Yale’s Gothic buildings,” Stern said. “It is a very good neighbor to Louis Kahn’s art gallery across the street and other surrounding buildings because it makes a strong individual statement but is still very contextual.”
Stern also appreciates the timing of the stamp’s release.
“We are about to undertake planning for the renovation of this building so the timing is perfect,” Stern said.
Stern does not know when the actual renovations will begin, but said the planning will begin before the end of this academic year.
In its 2005 stamp collection, the USPS is also featuring Jim Henson and the Muppets, Walt Disney cartoons and the civil rights movement, among others. Stern said he is excited that the Art and Architecture Building will be featured in such celebrated company.
“To be up there with the Muppets is magic,” Stern said. “I am very pleased. I can’t wait to see the stamp.”