In the sub-basement of the Yale Art & Architecture building, a foam core placard reads: “On November 1, 1997 at 11:15 p.m., a small portion of Paul Rudolph’s cremated remains was released into the structural/circulation system of the Yale Architecture Building…With this gesture, I hope to add a coda to the building and the man who built it.” It is eerie to picture the ashes of the building’s architect wafting through its hallways, but somehow—in a place resembling a labyrinth, where one could easily get lost or at least happen on a giant red, KUKA robot in a glass case—such a story seems to fit.
“We’re probably breathing Paul Rudolph right now,” Konstantin Nikolaev ’08 says. It is around 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday night, and the southern tray of the seventh floor, which houses undergraduate majors (graduate students occupy the other three and a half floors of drafting rooms)—is filled with juniors rushing to finish their studio midterm projects.
Yonah Freemark ’08, working nearby, says he probably spends 40 or 50 hours at the building on weeks when major projects are due, which is about every three weeks. “What’s interesting about this building is it never goes dark,” he says. “It’s easy to forget what time it is and get caught here and then realize it’s four in the morning. I’ve been here all day, and I’ve produced this…”—he points to 100 long, thin pieces of chipboard (some straight, some squiggly) that he is gluing together and the base of his headstone—“which is not even complete.”
Since its completion in 1963, the building has suffered the ups-and-downs of popular opinion as people continue to impose their ideological readings onto Rudolph’s design. After being heralded as a triumph and given several awards, the towering structure (often quoted as an example of New Brutalism) became a scapegoat for attacks on architectural styles. In the preface of Drawings, Thomas H. Beeby writes that the building was “literally consumed by the incendiary times,” (referring to a fire in 1969, suspected by many to be caused by arson) and laments the structural changes implemented during the building’s repair: “The structure was not restored; instead, it was subverted at every level. After decades of disregard, the building still speaks to those who wish to listen but with a muffled voice, for it has been bound and gagged.”
The upcoming renovations, which will begin in 2007, will restore some aspects of Rudolph’s original: They will revive the student lounge on the roof and transform the basement. But they will also connect the building to a renovated Art History building next door via a new Art & Architecture library. Now that the library has temporarily relocated to Crown Street, non-architecture majors have little reason to go there, and many do not find this troubling. Art History major Daniella Berman ’07, who frequented the former library, said she found its low ceilings “dungeon-esque.” There are no physical barriers separating one student’s work space from the next, nor is there any decipherable system for cleaning up. Workstations are strewn with paper, rulers, sketch pads, pieces of chipboard and partially completed models. As Alexander Sassaroli ’08 puts it, the building is another world.