Faculty express mixed feelings over move to renovated Kline Tower
Astronomy, mathematics, statistics and data science and physics faculty share their hopes and reservations about their upcoming move to Kline Tower.
Lukas Flippo, Senior Photographer
As Yale aims to catch up to its peers in the sciences, growing departments will move to the renovated Kline Tower. But faculty shared mixed opinions about the upcoming relocation, particularly as most professors will receive a smaller office than they had previously.
Kline Tower, which is set to reopen in 2023 following ongoing renovations, will house the mathematics, statistics and data science and astronomy departments, as well as a portion of the physics department. Faculty members shared wide-ranging opinions about the upcoming move to the tower. Some are concerned that their new office and common spaces will be too small while others are excited about the potential for new interdepartmental collaboration. Still others were pleased just to be included in the interior design decisions. University leaders announced the renovations to Kline Tower in November 2019, with plans for the specified departments to begin moving into the new space by the summer of 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed construction, however, and the building is not expected to be fully completed until the summer of 2023. The University would not provide the cost of the renovations.
“The design team did a lot of really good work in the Tower and I think much of the space will look beautiful,” said math professor Yair Minsky, who was involved in planning the renovations. “There are some constraints that I worry about — the offices will all be significantly smaller than our current ones, and, for example, the lecturers’ offices will be too small to hold substantial office hours. On the other hand, the number of offices will be larger, and with our department’s recent and projected growth, we certainly need that.”
The 186,000 square foot renovation aims to convert existing research laboratories into academic offices while also improving physical integration with other surrounding buildings on Science Hill.
While University officials did not provide an exact figure for the project’s cost, senior vice president for operations Jack Callahan told the News that the Kline Tower renovation is not as expensive as other building investments. He specifically referenced the Yale Science Building, which was built in 2019 and cost $283 million, and the ongoing construction of a new building on College Street intended for the Wu Tsai Institute — both of which include experimental laboratory research benches, adding to construction costs.
Astronomy department chair Sarbani Basu is pleased that the project will bring her entire department together into one space. However, she shared similar concerns as Minsky about office sizes.
“We are happy that we will again all be in one building, because right now we are spread across three buildings [and] that reduces cohesion within the Department,” Basu said. “On the other hand, in the space that we are going to, our offices are going to be much smaller than what they are now. Every office is small.”
Statistics and data science department chair Joseph Chang also sees the move as a way to better unify the department, which is currently spread across three separate buildings. Like the mathematics department, the statistics and data science department has begun to exceed its current capacity.
Basu noted that a key advantage of the new Kline Tower space is its full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Currently, she said, only one of the three astronomy buildings on Hillhouse Avenue is ADA-compliant. Basu added that the Astronomy Department’s current common room, as well as the room where the department hosts most of its events, is not ADA-compliant, potentially posing a serious barrier for students with disabilities.
But Basu added that impacted departments had limited input on space allocation within the building.
“We really didn’t have much input,” Basu said. “We did have input when it came to things like furniture, colors and stuff like that but not with how the offices are going to be, where they’re going to be and how much space each department gets.”
Wilhelm Schlag, the mathematics department chair, said that “much time and effort” was involved in planning the layout and design of Kline Tower spaces using herman miller embody alternative. In an email to the News, he noted that — with support from the dean’s and provost’s offices — the math department selected interior decoration details for two floors of the renovated building.
Schlag added that he, as chair, spent “considerable time” during the summer and fall preparing the mathematics department for the upcoming transition by obtaining his colleagues’ input on the interior decor. He explained that each department involved in the move was responsible for writing their own forms to gather faculty input; Schlag said the mathematics department collected data about furniture choices and office designs through surveys in the fall, with results ultimately communicated to the provostial team. The assistant provost in charge of the renovation project, Meg Kirkpatrick, met with Schlag and his colleagues “on several occasions,” he said.
Basu expressed further concerns about the tower’s vertical layout and its potential implications for departmental collaboration.
“Kline Tower doesn’t have the best configuration for collaboration,” Basu said. “If you look at most of the new buildings that are being built for disciplines that do most of their work in offices — like say, [astronomy] and math — they’re generally horizontally-extended spaces, so that you could poke your head out and see who’s there and who’s not there. Kline is vertical, which somewhat hampers collaboration.”
Per the initial 2019 announcement, the building plan includes open staircases to encourage “greater interaction” among students and staff, as well as a new event space near the top of the tower. Additionally, the floors are specifically designed to supplement instruction with extra classrooms and spaces for graduate students.
In an email to the News, Jeffrey Brock, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said the building’s floor plan was designed with collaboration in mind.
“A great deal of thought has gone into the design of these physical spaces,” Brock wrote. “Each department will have a triplet of floors, with interconnecting open staircases joining the adjacent floors to a central floor with a large common room for meeting and collaborating. These common areas are like laboratories for the work that we do, and they represent vital opportunities for interaction with colleagues, students and visitors.”
The construction project also involves “an entry-level common space connected to a new pavilion,” which will allow for direct in-building transit to the Yale Science Building and Sloane Physics Laboratory from Kline Tower, per the 2019 announcement.
Since Kline Tower is intended to promote data science in particular, the renovated building will also include “a center for quantitatively focused teaching and learning.”
“Like every professor anticipating a move into a building that hasn’t been finished, I am nervous about what we will actually find when we get there,” said Daniel Spielman, a professor of computer science, mathematics and statistics and data science. “Our ideas for the space are very exciting: we have planned a building that includes a lot of spaces for students to think and collaborate and that should promote interactions. But, until we see it finished, we won’t know if the designers and builders will actually make our plans real.”
In December, the University announced plans to create a center dedicated to data science: the new Kline Tower Institute, or KTI, for the Foundations of Data Science, which will be housed within the Kline Tower building and directed by Spielman. The statement noted an expected formal launch for the institute this spring, with a dedicated space in Kline Tower envisioned to open in fall 2023.
An executive committee composed of core departmental faculty will also guide the institute’s affairs, as will “a steering committee of Yale faculty and academic leaders,” the December announcement explained.
“The biggest upside for me will be the Kline Tower Institute for the Foundations of Data Science that will be at the top of the building,” Spielman said. “The institute will run a number of programs that will bring faculty from all over campus into the building, and from all over the world to Yale. Having it in the building that houses S&DS and Math is very natural.”
Both Spielman and Minsky noted potential drawbacks of the increased distance between the statistics and data science, mathematics and computer science departments. While the statistics and data science and math departments are set to move into Kline Tower, computer science will remain in its current location of Arthur K. Watson Hall.
For Spielman, who is involved with all three departments, the separation is not ideal. However, he said he is excited by the prospect of working more closely with the other experts moving into Kline Tower.
“Moving in together with math will have many advantages, as there are many intellectual connections between math and S&DS. I also think that we will have useful collaborations with the astronomers and physicists who are moving into the building,” he said. “The obvious downside, especially for me, is that S&DS will be further from Computer Science. Computer Science is the department that is intellectually closest to S&DS. But, CS is simply too big to fit into Kline Tower. And [the CS department] needs to be bigger.”
Minsky echoed Spielman’s sentiment that the computer science department would also benefit from more space. He suggested that a building designed specifically for those three departments — mathematics, statistics and data science and computer science — would have been particularly advantageous, and would have made “the most intellectual sense.”
Schlag, the math department chair, said he hopes the relocation will allow for greater collaboration between mathematics and other science fields. Though Minsky noted that the department is in need of more space, Schlag said the department’s current building — Leet Oliver Memorial Hall — holds sentimental value for faculty members.
“The 1908 mathematics building known as LOM has been our department’s home for several generations,” Schlag wrote. “It is not possible to replicate the character and appeal of LOM. Some faculty are therefore very sorry to see us leave and move into unfamiliar surroundings. We hope that the value added by our new home in Kline will offset the loss of character and tradition. The proximity to the sciences in general, and the two other departments in the tower in particular, will hopefully encourage interaction with other communities in the sciences.”
In a similar vein, Brock described “a great deal of synergy” among the departments moving into the tower.
“Statistics and Data Science, Mathematics, and Astronomy and Astrophysics all focus on deep questions that rely on mathematical and statistical means to arrive at their resolution,” he wrote. “The opportunity for these communities to interact in the tower and convene in its adjacent pavilion will bring new vitality to the mathematical sciences at Yale, and their location in the center of science hill will provide a far greater interaction potential for sciences and mathematics at the University.”
Specifically, Brock noted that Kline Tower’s adjacency to the physics, chemistry and biology departments — and the Quantitative Biology Institute in particular — will “catalyze” more innovative research projects.
The KTI project in data science is largely motivated by the 2018 University Science Strategic Committee, or USSC, Report. In 2016, University President Peter Salovey announced plans to increase Yale’s commitment to the sciences. The USSC was formed to identify and prioritize relevant investment opportunities.
As part of this report, the USSC outlined five areas of “top-priority investment,” including a new University-wide institute for “Integrative Data Science and Mathematical Foundations.”
The Kline Tower project is one of several ongoing University investments in STEM at Yale, including the continued construction of the new Physical Sciences and Engineering Building. Between 2013 and 2019, Yale invested half a billion dollars in Science Hill construction projects.
Kline Tower was formerly known as the Kline Biology Tower and housed members of the department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, among others. However, many of these researchers moved to new laboratories in the Yale Science Building, which opened in 2019.
Kline Tower is currently closed due to construction, and students can only access the Marx Science and Social Science Library through the Yale Science Building. Additionally, the Kline-Sloane passageway is closed, so students must use Prospect Street and Whitney Avenue to access northern Science Hill buildings.
In 1966, the University dedicated the tower to C. Mahlon Kline, class of 1901, the building’s then-primary donor and an alumnus of the now-defunct Sheffield Scientific School at Yale.