Hundreds of students gathered in the Schwarzman Center on Saturday morning to envision the next big “Ydea.”
A daylong event, the Schwarzman Center Thinkathon drew 57 teams, with undergraduates and graduates alike competing for prizes in three categories: ideas and opinions, arts and performance and social events. Each team was tasked with brainstorming a concept for the center which was announced last spring following a $150 million donation from The Blackstone Group Chairman and CEO Stephen Schwarzman ’69. The final judges for the competition were University President Peter Salovey, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews and Michael Kaiser, former director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“There’s a kind of crowdsourcing quality to all of this, and even better ideas than one would think of alone or in small groups seem to emerge from large groups getting together and stimulating each other, egging each other on,” Salovey told the News. “Ultimately the whole community is going to come together in the Schwarzman Center when it’s built, so why not have the whole community come together to imagine it and plan it?”
The day’s events began at 11 a.m. with a short video of current design concepts for the center and instructions for groups competing in each category. Competing groups were then given roughly two hours — interrupted only by a brief dance break — to prepare their presentations before presenting to and judging their ideas with seven other groups.
The three top teams from each category presented their concepts to the final judges. Every participating team automatically took away $100, while category winners were awarded $1,000 per group. The cash grand prize for the entire competition was $2,500, followed closely by $1,500 for the runner-up. One of the winning teams is guaranteed to have its idea produced when the center officially opens.
“The number of participants and their level of involvement is fantastic and I’m most excited to hear their ideas,” Kaiser told the News before the winners were announced. “In the arts, you never know where a great idea is going to come from.”
The grand prize went to Fourth Wall Street, a group composed of Chiara Klein SOM ’17 DRA ’17, Gretchen Wright SOM ’17 DRA ’17 and Steven Koernig SOM ’17 DRA ’17. The group’s idea is to transform the center into an artistic hallmark for Yale as well as a home for arts events by using digital mapping on the exterior on a nightly and weekly basis. The hope is for the center to become a vital part of campus life curated by students all over campus.
Students touted ideas ranging from an indoor petting zoo to reimagining the buildings as a University green space outfitted with hydroponics. Other winning proposals included an indoor beach, which won the Yale College Council the award for ideas and opinions. The runner-up team was YaleMakes, which proposed transforming the center into a “play space” similar to a playground.
Jason Brooks ’16, whose team won the arts and performance category, proposed incorporating real-time analytics that would allow community members to receive information about arts and music currently ongoing at the center. Providing up-to-date information would hopefully encourage greater engagement with arts at the center, he said. Walden Davis ’16, a member of the team Nineteenth Hole, which won the social events and spaces category, said his team’s concept was an underground bar in the basement, complete with a cocktail conveyor belt and interactive, digital walls.
“When I was little I wanted to start a company called ‘Ideas Incorporated,’ and when I heard about this, it was honestly less about the Schwarzman Center and more about coming up with ideas,” said Olivia Briffault ’17, another competition participant. “I think Yale in general can actually have more venues where we can generate ideas, and it’s definitely great to get student input and see what students would actually want in a social gathering space.”
Teams also included parties of friends and cohorts representing student organizations such as the Yale Dramatic Association and the Graduate Student Assembly. Competition participants agreed that the event provided an effective avenue to draw from a range of community perspectives. Aubrey Wahl ’17 said the contest was unique as it provided a democratic method to float ideas for the new establishment.
“What I really love is when you hear a proposal, an idea, and you say to yourself, ‘There isn’t a chance I would’ve thought of that myself,’” Salovey told the News at the start of the competition. “I’m looking forward to the surprises, the moments where you just say ‘How did they come up with that?’”
Schwarzman’s net worth is $9.8 billion, according to Forbes.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the runner-up team as the Yale Play Mates. They are in fact called YaleMakes.