Among undergraduates at Yale, the distinctive architectural style of Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges is usually met with, at best, grudging acceptance or, at worst, unforgiving condemnation.
But among architects, Morse and Stiles comprise two of the last accomplishments of acclaimed modern architect Eero Saarinen ’34, whose career, work on Ingalls Rink and unrealized plans for Yale are currently being displayed in an exhibit at Sterling Memorial Library.
The exhibition was organized by five graduate students in the School of Architecture — Patrick Hyland ARC ’04, Gregory Sobotka ARC ’04, Gretchen Stoecker ARC ’04, Esin Yurekli ARC ’04 and Michael Rey ARC ’05 — as part of their coursework in “Eero Saarinen,” a seminar taught by architecture professor Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen.
Through sketches, blueprints, photographs, newspaper clippings and personal correspondence drawn from the library’s Manuscripts & Archives Collection, the exhibition chronicles Eero Saarinen’s life and work but focuses specifically on his controversial design of the David S. Ingalls Hockey Rink, dedicated in 1958.
A Finnish immigrant born to a prominent architect father and a sculptor mother, Saarinen graduated from Yale College with a honors degree in architecture. He attracted national attention when his Gateway Arch design won first place in St. Louis’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition in 1948.
He then established his highly successful architectural firm Eero Saarinen & Associates and received commissions from corporations, government agencies and universities to design noteworthy buildings such as the TWA Terminal in New York’s Kennedy International Airport.
In 1956, A. Whitney Griswold, president of the University at the time, invited Saarinen back to Yale to design several new buildings on campus. A patron of modern architecture and an aficionado of Saarinen’s work, Griswold charged Saarinen with building the campus ice rink to be used primarily by the Yale hockey team.
As letters in the exhibition show, Griswold confidently guided Saarinen’s plans past logistical and financial obstacles as well as fierce alumni opposition that argued the eccentric contours of the building would clash with the Gothic and colonial styles of the rest of the campus.
Dubbed the “Yale Whale” by the press, the building opened to the public in 1959 amid a storm of critical backlash against it.
Rey said he and his colleagues believed it was most appropriate to focus on one of Saarinen’s constructions on campus.
While Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges were completed in 1962, one year after Saarinen’s sudden death in 1961, Ingalls Rink was conceived, designed and constructed entirely during the architect’s lifetime.
Rey said Ingalls Rink represents several major innovations in modern architecture, especially for an athletic venue. He pointed specifically to the venue’s oval shape.
“The reason why the form became the way it is is because [Saarinen] wanted everyone to have 50-yard-line tickets,” Rey said. “He wanted everyone to be close to the action.”
Hyland agreed, emphasizing the elegance of the design of the “Yale Whale.”
“You can follow a single line through the entire building,” Hyland said. “It’s a thoroughly thought-out building … it has an anthropomorphic feel to it.”
According to Sobotka, Ingalls Rink was part of a blossoming of modern architecture at Yale, largely due to the aggressive building policy of Griswold.
Griswold’s tenure as president from 1950 to 1962 also saw the erection of Louis Kahn’s west wing addition to the Yale University Art Gallery, the building of Paul Rudolph’s Yale School of Art and Architecture and the completion of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
“[Ingalls Rink] exemplifies a certain period in a much broader tradition of building good architecture at Yale,” Sobotka said.
The planners of the exhibition said they would like to have all Yalies, regardless of their degree of familiarity with modern architecture, visit the display.
Hyland said he feels Yalies will appreciate knowing the history behind a building that is often taken for granted.
“Buildings act as foregrounds and backgrounds for scenes in our lives,” Hyland said. “It’s always good to know about the place where you go to school.”
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