Robbie Short

As debate over the naming of the two new residential colleges continues into the fall semester, Yale community members walking up Prospect Street are increasingly faced with an undeniable fact: Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges are no longer just abstract concepts, but physical buildings that could shift the center of campus and alter student life.

Over the coming weeks, University officials plan to announce more details about housing in Franklin and Murray, which are scheduled to open in August 2017. University President Peter Salovey said the colleges are on schedule and on budget, and with the scaffolding removed, the focus of construction has shifted to interior work. And University Provost Benjamin Polak said that with the addition of windows and towers, the construction of the colleges has entered its final stages.

“I don’t anticipate any last minute construction challenges with the residential colleges.  The Yale Facilities team and the construction company are doing a great job,” Polak said. “It is really exciting to see the colleges emerge from the ground and take shape. The buildings are becoming real.  But in the end, for me, this is not about the buildings.  It’s about the students who will live in them… especially the 200 who will arrive next year: what they will be like; what they will do; how they will change the world and, on the way, change Yale.”

Charles Johnson ’54, who donated $250 million toward the new colleges and receives updates from University officials on their construction, told the News that he remains “very happy” that 800 more students will get a Yale education as a result of the project, adding that he will likely donate again to the University.

Over the past couple weeks, the sight of two fast-moving projects on the route to Science Hill has captured the imaginations of students and faculty curious to know more about what life in the colleges will be like.

Charles Bailyn ’81, incoming head of Franklin College, said he and Head of Murray College Tina Lu toured the colleges for the first time last week.

“It’s a little hard to imagine what it will be like with walls and furniture,” Bailyn said. “But there are already starting to be some great little details — each set of bay windows is subtly unique, Franklin and Murray each have different kinds of woodwork and so on. It’s really exciting. I got a real shiver when I first passed through the gate.”

Bailyn said he expects the new colleges to make campus “smaller and more connected” by linking Science Hill to central campus, adding that he aims to ensure that science faculty have more opportunity than they have had in the past to be integrated into undergraduate life.

At the building site, a group of construction workers declined to comment on their progress, citing a confidentiality agreement in their contracts with the University.

Seven students interviewed expressed mixed feelings about the appearance of the colleges, now that their architectural design is no longer obscured by scaffolding. Five said they were excited about the design, and three said they would consider moving into one of the colleges next fall, though the University has yet to reveal details about the transfer process. “I think they’re beautiful,” said Aaron Troncoso ’17. “It’s nice to check up on the progress. Almost daily you can see them adding some section of wall.”

Katerina Toffoloni ’19 — who lives in Timothy Dwight College and said she has not checked on the construction since the semester began — added that the Gothic architecture of its residential colleges is what “makes Yale Yale.”

But not all students agree that Franklin and Murray are visually appealing. In 2008, the University hired Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, who recently retired as dean of the School of Architecture, to design the colleges, signaling an intention to stick with the same Gothic structure of most of the existing colleges.

Fatima Kahbi ’19 told the News she finds the design “bland,” and wishes the University had elected to build the new colleges in a more modern style.

And even among students who don’t mind the Gothic architecture, the prospect of moving into Franklin or Murray still provokes a fair degree of skepticism.

Katia Fridman ’18, who is living off campus this year, said she likes the design of Franklin and Murray, and is glad the colleges will resemble the rest of campus. But she added that the prospect of brand-new facilities will not be enough to lure her back on campus, since she enjoys the privacy of living alone.

Still, as some students shift their attention to the possibility of air conditioning and larger dorms, others remain frustrated that Salovey and the Yale Corporation did not adhere more closely to student opinion when they selected names for the new colleges. Earlier this week, the News confirmed that the Yale Corporation committed to the namesake of Franklin College roughly three years ago at the request of Johnson despite presenting both names as open for discussion to the Yale community.

“I’m a lot less concerned about the architecture of the new colleges than about the administrators,” Sally Weiner ’18 said. “Whether or not there are working chimneys that are on the building isn’t as big of a deal.”

Bailyn said that once the new colleges open, he will focus less on the names of the new colleges and more on creating a welcoming, inclusive residential community.

Salovey announced Johnson’s gift in September 2013.

  • carl

    Come now, YDN. Headline should read: “New-college debates become reified.”

  • Boott Spur

    I find the colleges disappointing. Presented with the opportunity to do something architecturally interesting — like Morse and Stiles, but successfully — the administration chose instead to stick to the same tired faux-Gothic aesthetic that permeates the rest of campus. It’s more garish in the new colleges due to their horrible red-brick façades. A lack of creativity, or inventiveness, you might say. But I suppose the bureaucratic university is not exactly an inventive place.

    • Jaymin Patel

      The issue is that the architectural style of Morse and Stiles turned out to be less timeless than expected (a YDN poll found Morse and Stiles at the bottom of satisfaction ratings

      These residential colleges, ideally, will be standing for centuries. And accordingly, it makes sense to be wary of transient artistic fads. This isn’t a temporary canvas that can be torn down once we’re tired of it; we’re gonna be stuck with it for a long time, just as the people of Boston are stuck with their horrendous city hall, a quintessential example of artistic fad.

      Also, there’s an inherent aesthetic to having architectural harmony. What it is that makes cities like Paris and Barcelona drop-dead gorgeous? It’s not individual buildings jutting out of nowhere without any sense of belonging. It’s the collective image brought about by an architectural harmony and sense of definition.

      So I’m all for sticking with collegiate gothic.

    • jeffJ1

      Yeah, I agree, highly disappointing. Campus architecture in general is not exactly going through a golden age right now, and Yale could have made an interesting statement. Yale IS supposed to be an inventive place! That’s whole point!

      • carl

        It depends on what you are looking for. I suspect that the view from Prospect Street down the walkway between the two colleges will soon become one of the most famous views in American academia.

        • jeffJ1

          That is an ADORABLE thing to imagine

    • carl

      The extremely modern SOM building, circa 2014, disproves your broad generalizations about “the bureaucratic university.”

      In point of fact, for the new colleges the University deliberately opted for a traditionalist architect in order to tie the site of the new colleges–north of Grove Street Cemetery–more effectively back to the rest of campus–south of the cemetery. This was a planning decision to use the architecture to help unify the University across a geographic barrier.

      So, for example, the very visible checkerboard brick-and-stone pattern in Franklin College, pictured above, riffs on the same pattern in a corner tower of the Hall of Graduate Studies, on the other side of the cemetery.

      I think your disappointment stems more from your general disapproval
      of, as you put it, “the same tired faux-Gothic aesthetic” that Yale
      favors. If that is your aesthetic standard, then presumably you also disapprove of HGS, the Sterling Law Buildings, and the Harkness Tower.

      The wisdom of the University’s decision to value unity over novelty is becoming obvious. The goal here was to make the new colleges more Yale than Yale. That goal is one that Stern and Yale have already reached.

      • Nancy Morris

        “This was a planning decision to use the architecture to help unify the University across a geographic barrier.”

        Exactly so. An excellent point. Nothing would have been as weak as self-isolating novelties. And so far it looks like the campus unification plan is going to work out brilliantly.

  • R. Adams

    What a magnificent gift. Thank you, Charles Johnson. Thank you for offering the chance of a Yale education to so many more young people.

  • Nancy Morris

    The new colleges are beautiful, and Bob Stern is a terrific architect. Yes, the neo-gothic style is more cuisine bourgeoise than haute cuisine. Good. They are far from bland. Residential structures are HOMES, and should focus on providing reliable, long-term comfort and beauty. Architectural experimentation and avante guardism is more appropriate for non-residential university buildings, such as laboratories, classroom buildings, concert halls, theaters and libraries.

    Demands for “modern” structures in this context are mostly risible. Modernism has for the most part become just another historical revival style. As one wag put it: Glass is the white brick of the 21st Century. There’s nothing fundamental to be gained by building, say, a so-called “mid-century modern” residence hall. And building something that takes real architectural risks is, well, awfully risky for the people who have to live in it. That can be a big price for those residents to pay to finance the entertainment of those who experience the structures as mere visitors or passers-by. A residence is not just a big piece of sculpture.

    Complaints that current students didn’t have more say in building and naming the colleges shouldn’t be taken seriously. There is plenty of historical evidence supporting the conclusion that current student opinion is a poor guide in such matters. Indeed, many of the worst aspects of Morse and Stiles were directly caused by Yale obediently responding to the opinions of its mid-1950’s students. It took more than half a century to fix the resulting mess. Following current, unfiltered student opinion would have virtually guaranteed twin disasters: The ultimate camels, or horses designed by inexperienced committees.

  • Sol G

    The gothic stylistic choice and overall high architectural quality of the new colleges help unify the campus while expressing inclusive, humanistic concern for the student occupants and their comfort. By coincidence, multi-platinum selling electronica musician Moby just did an interview with CLAD to promote a new Los Angeles restaurant that he helped design, and in it he had some harsh words for architects and designers who, in his words, “think about how is the space going to look when it’s on an architecture website, rather than how it’s going to feel for the people who either live there, work there or patronize it.”

    Moby then went on to specifically call out Zaha Hadid, saying that he had stayed in a hotel she designed in Madrid (presumably, the Hotel Puerta America – some photos of which are attached) and that the experience had been “really upsetting.”

    “I had a couple of nights in Madrid staying in a hotel room that Zaha Hadid Architects had designed,” Moby told CLAD. “It looked amazing, but was the least comfortable space I’ve ever inhabited. There was nothing soft in there. Everything was moulded plastic, which photographed nicely but wasn’t designed for humans.”

    He added, “Literally sleeping in a dumpster would have been more comfortable.” One might extend Moby’s concern by asking how spending all of one’s four college years in a visually spectacular structure literally less comfortable than a dumpster might be.

    Zaha Hadid, who won the Pritzker Prize in 2004 and the RIBA Gold Medal in 2015 (she was the first woman to win either award), died in March of this year, and hence cannot defend herself.