It’s 4:30 a.m. Cross Campus Library’s weenie bins are dark, the Yorkside pizza oven is starting to cool and Gourmet Heaven’s salad bar is looking more than a little picked over, but one building on campus is still bustling with activity.
Rising from the corner of York and Chapel streets like a cluster of concrete stalagmites, the Art and Architecture building houses 24 hours of activity. Between the activity in classrooms, professor’s offices, student work spaces and the basement library, there is almost always someone working on one of the building’s seven stories.
On a typical Wednesday night, the seventh floor is abuzz with activity. Students cluster around large desks piled high with sketches and pieces of cardboard, working together to design a prefabricated house. One student moves from desk to desk, observing her fellow classmates’ projects as she plays with a yo-yo. Another sips a large Starbucks coffee while she glues a cardboard model together.
The building’s architect, Paul Rudolph, believed that “architecture is a personal effort” and that “the fewer people coming between you and your work the better.” In keeping with this philosophy, he designed the Art and Architecture building with 39 different levels, spread across the building’s seven floors. These planes provide enough room for students to explore their ideas on a grand scale, with a degree of privacy that encourages experimentation and creativity.
Students work on a number of small projects each semester, usually culminating in a large project that combines elements from the small projects.
Though few students can complain about having enough space in which to work, many dislike the architecture of the building in which they spend a large part of their time. Featured on a postage stamp this year, the Art and Architecture building has been described as everything from “a Transformer covered in wide-wale corduroy” to a “futuristic castle.”
Regardless of the phrases used to describe it, the building undeniably has the ability to affect its occupants. Some students view the building’s stark modernity and cement surfaces as an opportunity to work creatively without worrying about ruining the floors or walls.
These same surfaces however, serve as temptation for vandals who have tagged many of the building’s walls with graffiti. Other students, like Nathan Elchert ’06, acknowledge that the Spartan environment is embraced by some Yalies.
“If you’re content to not shower and to eat nothing but Starbursts and candy bars, you can live in the A&A for weeks on end,” Elchert said.
Long after the most extreme freshman orgo masochist has fallen asleep, Yale’s architecture students continue to labor. On the seventh floor, they sit at their desks, twisting copper wire, carving Styrofoam and gluing paper together, trying to translate their ideas into three-dimensional models. One student pours over plans of Jefferson’s Monticello, his desk overflowing with pencils, erasers and drafting tools as he attempts to accurately draft a scale model of the president’s home. Another bends copper wire to mimic the curvature of a lampshade, while a third student knits a miniature hammock. Though these projects are time consuming, the students view their work as a labor of love, spending hours perfecting every detail of their work.
One of the key features that sets the architecture major apart from other majors at Yale is that it is the only discipline that provides each of its students his or her own workspace. Students in the architecture major work alongside one another, fostering a cooperative spirit.
“We’re spending upwards of 35 to 40 hours a week together,” architecture major David Peters ’05 said. “There’s a real sense of camaraderie that develops.”
This environment can also create a level of competition, however.
“Working together is like an arms race because when you’re in close quarters, everyone feeds off one another and makes better projects,” architecture major Peter Feigenbaum ’06 said. “People are constantly one-upping one another on their projects, and the peer pressure increases the quality of our final work.”
But the community is sociable, too. Even the professors get in on the architecture social scene.
“After our final review, our professors took the class out to BAR,” Peters reminisced. “There aren’t many majors where your TA encourages you to loosen up and have a beer before working on your midterm project.”
The first-year students in the Graduate School of Architecture host a Friday evening happy hour on the roof as well. Peters said.
Accessible from the seventh floor, the roof is an excellent place to take in a majestic view of campus, and, unlike Harkness Tower, is accessible to without the need of a special key. Many students find alternative uses for this scenic outlook. The spot, like the stacks at Sterling Memorial Library, is rumored to be a popular place for romantic trysts. Other students access the roof to enjoy a smoke break during long nights of work.
Though the Architecture building, and the work-intensive major that calls it home, may not be appreciated by all Yalies, spending nights laboring on architecture projects does have its perks.
“The sunrises are quite beautiful from the roof of the Art and Architecture building,” Peters recalled, “My junior year, I averaged one or two a week.”