Last week, the multi-tiered lighting system of Harkness Tower — a signature campus structure in the Memorial Quadrangle — was restored after remaining off for the entire fall semester. According to Ian Hobbs, Branford College building supervisor, the lights had been out due to a relay switch that had broken a few months earlier. Still, some students and faculty argued that despite its contribution to the Yale night skyline, there might be compelling reasons, ranging from sustainability to appearance, to keep the structure in the dark.
“I remember thinking it odd, in the beginning, that the tower wasn’t lit, given its status as one of the more recognizable landmarks on campus,” said Paddy Gavin ’18, who posted a photo of the newly-lit structure on the popular Facebook group “Overheard at Yale.” “I loved seeing the lights back on, as I think Harkness looks much better at night this way.”
Harkness is a symbol of the University, Gavin added. As a freshman, he said, this is the first time he has been able to see the tower illuminated since stepping foot on campus.
After noticing that the tower was no longer lit at night, Joshua Fitt ’17 said he emailed Hobbs earlier this month to notify him that there was likely some sort of electrical malfunction. Once facilities was aware of the issue, Fitt said it took a few days for the University to resolve the problem and restore the lights.
“The concerning part is that no one noticed,” he said. “I suppose that with something as obvious as the tallest structure at the University not being lit, [it is] hard to understand why no one was aware.”
Hobbs said that once he was alerted of the lighting issues, facilities dispatched electricians to identify the cause and replace the broken relay switch. He said that due to the age of Harkness — which was constructed in 1921 — it is not uncommon for things to break or for the lights to burn out.
Still, some students and faculty said they had reservations about keeping the lights on.
“It looks creepy, it looks like not all the lights are on since it is unevenly lit and it looks like some of the lights may still be broken,” Hershel Holiday ’18 said. “If they want to light up the structure, they should light the entire tower and base — all or nothing.”
He said that lighting the base, however, might be disruptive due to its proximity to dorm rooms and the master’s house in Branford.
Branford Master Elizabeth Bradley wrote in an email that the tower is a large part of what makes Branford beautiful and the structure makes for great history, storytelling and music.
Still, Bradley said she felt conflicted lighting the tower given the efforts to be green within the college.
“Lighting the tower is wonderful and comforting to all of us, and I look forward to seeing it lit; however, it would be good to balance that pleasure with the goals to not waste energy unnecessarily,” she said. “We are looking in to how to do it in the most sustainable ways.”
Holiday said he thinks that while some people might believe lighting the tower is not sustainable, the counterargument is that it is a “drop in the bucket” compared to other waste on campus.
Many cities consume even more energy to light their skylines, but there is often little criticism of this behavior, he said.
Some students interviewed, however, instead said they did not even notice the change.
Tyler Harkness ’18, who is not related to the tower’s namesake, said he did not even realize the lights had been off and therefore was indifferent — although he acknowledged that it is essential to keep “what is arguably [Yale’s] most important monument” lit.