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PLACES: Benjamin Franklin College, Yale University for Sale
Belmont Freeman | November 16, 2017

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Tradition for sale

From Issue No. 263 | November 20, 2017

With the 2016 refurbishing of the Beinecke Rare Book Library, Gordon Bunshafts translucent marble reliquary built in 1963, Yale completed a decade-long program of renovating the universitys collection of mid-20th century architectural masterpieces. Also last year the Yale Center for British Art  Louis Kahns last building, which opened in 1977  completed its renovation, with the original finishes beautifully restored and state-of-the-art new building systems. Preceding years saw the rollout of similarly significant renovations, including the Art Gallery (Louis Kahn, 1953); Ingalls Hockey Rink (Eero Saarinen, 1958); Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges (Saarinen, 1962); and the Art & Architecture Building (Paul Rudolph, 1963; renamed Rudolph Hall in 2010). These restoration projects, all impressively well executed, are testament not only to the universitys stewardship of its architectural heritage but also to its role as a powerful patron of progressive modern architecture in the middle of the last century. 1 Yale was, in those years, an institution with the confidence to promote contemporary architecture as the proper expression of its own progressive ideals and the means to equip it for the future.

How glaring, then, is the contrast with Yales most recent architectural production. I speak of the two new residential colleges that have just been completed near the heart of campus; a superblock of neo-Gothic fantasy designed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects. The decision, made in 2008, to increase the number of residential colleges from twelve to fourteen in order to expand undergraduate enrollment committed the university to its most expensive and symbolically freighted construction project in the last half century. This massive undertaking was justified as a forward-looking imperative to prepare Yale for the globalized future. But why then would the university choose to revert to an archaic, centuries-old visual language? Clearly Yales resolve to address the challenges of modern times no longer extends to its architectural patronage.

As it embraces a globalized future, why would the university revert to an archaic, centuries-old visual language?
To be sure, Yale has commissioned some fine buildings of stimulating contemporary design in recent years, but these have all been lesser facilities on the campus periphery. 2 When it came to the Big Project  the new residential colleges  the university went to Robert A. M. Stern, then dean of the architecture school, who could be relied upon to deliver a building in the Old Yale tradition. Robert A.M. Stern Architects, or RAMSA, has indisputably done that, with a masterful recall of the style of the original residential colleges created by James Gamble Rogers in the early 1930s  which themselves, with their picturesque Gothic revival and neo-Georgian garb, were sham; self-conscious evocations of the campuses of Oxford and Cambridge.

Editors Notes: Lengthy but interesting piece on Yale University's architectural patronage, read alongside the story of the Daniels Building for the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at University of Toronto.
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