Yale submitted modified buildings plans for the Schwarzman Center to City Hall earlier this month, after replacing the architecture firm that oversaw the first year of the $150 million construction project.
According to documents filed with the City Plan Department on Feb. 9, Yale is looking to make minor adjustments to the initial building plans approved by city officials in October, including the addition of a small mezzanine containing meeting rooms and study spaces.
The new drawings submitted to City Hall were produced by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the firm that designed the two new colleges on Prospect Street. University President Peter Salovey told the News that Stern Architects replaced the firm Beyer Blinder Belle, whose contract with Yale ended in the fall. Beyer Blinder Belle was hired to design the Schwarzman Center about 18 months ago, after an extensive search process in the summer of 2015.
“We hired Beyer Blinder Belle to get the project started. They specialized in historic renovation, and they helped us think through those issues,” Salovey said. “And now we felt Robert Stern ARC ’65 is the best architect to really think through the way this place will be used by students and other community members.”
According to Salovey, the switch from Beyer Blinder Belle to Stern Architects happened between separate “three phases of drawings” and was not decided at the beginning of the design process.
“You start, and then you see how it goes, you can change or not change, you have options,” he said. “It’s a more organic decision than all preprogrammed.”
Stern, a former dean of the School of Architecture and the head of Stern Architects, declined to comment on the Schwarzman Center project.
Beyer Blinder Belle Partner-in-Charge Elizabeth Leber did not respond to a request for comment. But in an interview with the News last September, Leber said that “future phases of the project” would benefit from her firm’s work.
“The past year has helped us all to understand the building better and to find the opportunities to expand what the Schwarzman Center can provide for the Yale community,” she said.
In a statement to the News, Associate Dean Susan Cahan said the details of the architect change are “still being worked out,” and that Yale was “very happy” with Beyer Blinder Belle’s work on the project.
Yale unveiled its plans to open the Schwarzman Center in 2015, after Blackstone Group founder Stephen Schwarzman ’69 donated $150 million to transform Commons into a hub for student life, the second-largest gift in University history. The project will add a second floor to the Grove Street side of Commons, a balcony along the interior of the facility and a basement area beneath the Hewitt Quadrangle.
In an October 2015 news release, the University announced that the center would be designed by Beyer Blinder Belle, which Salovey described as “an ideal partner for us in this endeavor.”
The switch to Stern Architects is not the first time that Yale has hired a new architect midway through a building project. According to former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57, who helped oversee construction projects during his time at Yale in the 1960s and ’70s, such changes are fairly common, and they usually stem from one of two problems.
“The first is that the original architect’s firm ends up with too high a price,” Chauncey said. “The second is that the original architect’s firm comes up with initial sketches or designs, and the client says, ‘This guy didn’t get it, he didn’t get the message.’”
Last fall, New Haven’s City Plan Commission formally approved the Schwarzman Center project, which will begin construction in “approximately August 2017,” according to buildings plans submitted to the city.
On Feb. 9, Yale filed a series of minor revisions to those plans, which now require administrative approval from City Plan staff. The University’s updated plans call for a series of design adjustments to the Schwarzman Center: a reduction in the amount of underground construction work; minor changes to interior floor plans; the elimination of an enclosed colonnade and a below-ground courtyard; and the addition of a small mezzanine containing extra study space.
Since 2015, Yale has advertised the Schwarzman Center, scheduled to open in 2020, as a campus hub where undergraduates and graduate students alike will eat meals, hold extracurricular events and socialize on weekends.
According to Salovey, administrators are engaged in a yearlong planning process to create as much space as possible for students in the Schwarzman Center, while preserving the historic aspects of the underlying structure, which is more than a century old.
“The most creative ideas coming out of it are ways to use the basement space, perhaps ones that even go beyond the underground boundaries of the building,” Salovey said. “None of it is quite ready for prime time, but it’s still very much in the idea generating phase.”
The main branch of the New York Public Library is also named after Schwarzman.