I approached the monster twins on a cloudy Monday afternoon, when Rudolph Hall’s rough béton brut columns and the Loria Center’s limestone and zinc façade drearily resembled the leaden sky above. The two soundlessly rested on the corner of York and Chapel, their shadowy presence looming over the intersection, where pedestrians passing by invariably glanced at the shiny planes and corduroy columns.
The former Yale Art and Architecture Building, now renamed Paul Rudolph Hall, dates back to the boisterous sixties, when frank brutalism was still a novel choice even among European architects like Le Corbusier. In contrast to the architectural license of today, late modernism had barely emerged, and cold functionalism had yet to perish. When unveiled, the singular building both charmed and repelled with its delightfully ominous exterior and volumetric interior. This mixture of love and hate would remain for the next four decades as misfortunes befell the building, ranging from a 1969 fire to a series of careless renovation projects.
In 2007, Yale began the formidable task of renovating the A&A Building. The goal, according to Laura Cruickshank, Yale University Planner, was to restore the original fabric of the building and to upgrade infrastructure. Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, the firm hired for the renovation, encountered enormous difficulties as the use of concrete placed heavy restrictions on how the team could improve the building’s accessibility and habitability. In addition, past modifications had rendered the building visibly different from its original state: according to Cruickshank, the windows were ugly and “the original sense of space was gone.” The renovation restored Rudolph’s original concept through changes to the building’s windows, exterior walls, and penthouse and rooftop terraces, which now host wildly colored seats.
Far more interesting, however, is Gwathmey’s addition next door, the Jeffrey Loria Center for the History of Art. Yale handed Gwathmey a formidable task — his work would need to echo the rough strokes of Rudolph’s brutalist giant without compromising function or its own identity.
Whether or not he has succeeded is a heated question; few sing the building’s praises. The building simply isn’t pretty, and its strategic location next to the home of frustrated architecture students invites highly articulate criticism.
“The massing on the street feels awkward and arbitrary,” says architecture major Benjamin Sachs ’09. “The zinc cladding material… seems to lack his sense of purpose and intentional, careful detailing of the concrete surface.” He adds that “most architecture students, secretly or openly, seem to think that they could have done better.”
Yet can one evaluate the building by its exterior alone? The Rudolph building did not have room for elevator shafts to make the building handicapped-accessible, so the elevators were installed in the History of Art building, which is connected to Rudolph Hall. The two buildings share the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library as well as a ground-floor entryway far more inviting than Rudolph Hall’s cavernous stair entry. Although one may hesitate to deem it a masterpiece, the Gwathmey building serves as, in Sachs’s words, “a harmless addition to an invincible piece of architectural and university history.”
As Cruickshank puts it, “There is a dialogue between Rudolph Hall and the new History of Art building, as well as Saarinen’s Ingalls Rink, Ezra Stiles and Morse Colleges, and Kahn’s two pieces across the street.” The Rudolph and Gwathmey twins may not be pretty, but they have become a part of the campus’s intricate architectural identity.
As I turned and began walking back up Chapel Street, I was swarmed by tourists
eagerly photographing the Center for British Art. In the years to come, the guide
might narrate to future crowds the controversy behind the Rudolph and Gwathmey
buildings, maybe pointing out the limestone blocks or the vertical windows and explaining how they did, or did not, accentuate corresponding elements in the Rudolph building. And perhaps these tourists will discuss the incomprehensibility of these new buildings in comparison to Sterling Memorial Library or Harkness Tower.
Would that really be so bad?