After gushing reviews and applause from an auditorium of donors to the new Yale School of Management building he designed, Lord Norman Foster offered reassurance to those less taken with the mammoth airport-like structure: Give it time. New Haven learned to love the Yale Whale. It will learn to love the new SOM building, too.
Lord Foster (pictured) made those remarks in a conversation with the Independent Thursday afternoon at the grand opening of the Edward P. Evans Hall, the new headquarters for Yale’s business school at 165 Whitney Ave. He was one of several guests to address a packed auditorium of business school alumni, professors, and donors who helped build the $243 million building.
The occasion was not only the grand opening of the new School of Management (SOM) building, but the kick-off to a three day conference on “Business and Society” that will feature titans of industry from major global corporations.
The new 242,000-square-foot building stands a gleaming 80 feet high. It seems at times to be made almost entirely of glass. It features 2.25 million pounds of it, along with 4 million pounds of steel and 16.2 million pounds of concrete.
While several eminent architects showered praise on the building’s design during Thursday’s event, reactions from neighbors have been mixed.
Asked about how the building fits in with the neighborhood, Foster acknowledged its large relative size. He pointed out that Yale’s other landmark buildings, like Harkness Hall, probably seemed enormous at the time they were built. Evans Hall’s great size, he said, is a sign of Yale’s expansion, a sign of optimism for the future.
Lordly & Light
During the several years that Evans Hall, new SOM building, has been in the works, people have complained that the giant building is out of scale with the neighborhood. The design has at times been unfavorably compared to an airport terminal; neighbors raised concerns about the structure “looming” over them. One neighbor challenged the building design in court, and lost.
None of that was apparent during Thursday’s panel discussion, which featured Foster; former Yale President Rick Levin; Bob Stern, dean of Yale’s school of architecture; and Karen Van Lengen, former dean of the school of architecture at the University of Virginia. All spoke glowingly about the new building.
Stern (pictured) read from a statement by renowned architect and professor Vincent Scully, a prominent critic of some of the huge “New Brutalist” architecture of New Haven’s Urban Renewal period. In the statement, Scully called Evans Hall “a lordly structure, heroic in scale,” yet “light as air.”
Stern praised the building’s “bold scale” and “self assurance.”
Foster and others spoke about the building’s connection to the architecture Yale is more known for, “collegiate gothic” buildings with central courtyards or quadrangles. Evans Hall also features a central courtyard, with a lawn and several young trees.
Evans Hall has a “very interesting change of scale,” Foster said. It’s much larger than other Yale buildings. In order to not make it feel heavy and massive, Foster said, he used “transparency and lightness to dissolve the larger mass.”
The extensive use of glass also serves to foster connection and communication, Foster said. People can see each other from all parts of the building, and the structure includes spaces for people to meet by design or by chance, to collaborate and interact.
The classrooms, nested in “pods,” are also engineered for “interactivity,” and wired for high tech teaching techniques and video conferencing with students and classrooms across the world.
Thursday’s discussion included talk of how the building connects the School of Management with the rest of Yale, and with a global community. There was little talk how the new school connects with New Haven or the buildings immediately around it.
Asked about this after the discussion, Foster (pictured) acknowledged the building’s large size relative to surrounding structures.
“There is a certain inevitability to it,” he said. “The university is expanding. It’s like a city, and you do get changes.”
Foster said he designed the building with an eye to its surroundings. He said the rear of the building (pictured) in particular, is carefully landscaped, making it almost “bucolic.”
“Probably this is history repeating itself,” Foster said. Buildings like Harkness Hall and the Sterling Library, at the time that they were built, represented “a big break of scale,” he said. “At the time, it must have excited the same debate.”
“There is a certain inevitability to this,” he said. “The inevitability of change.”
Foster noted that the university went to considerable effort to conceal the building’s parking underground. The “cheap and cheerful” way to design the building would have placed it “in a sea of cars,” he said. “You could end up with a building like a shopping mall.”
He noted that buildings like the Beineke Library and the Ingalls Rink (aka the “Yale Whale,” pictured), both now beloved landmarks, had “people tearing their hair out” when they debuted.
“This is the reality of life,” Foster said. Putting up a large building is a “sign of optimism and a belief in the future.”
Sol & Luz
Outside Thursday’s event, protestors Allan Brison and Wendy Hamilton decried the “Bernie Madoff School of Money.”
Inside, investor Joseph McNay, who will be 80 in a few months, admired the computer room named after him. A lot of money must have been raised for that building, a reporter noted. “That’s an understatement!” McNay said. He bragged about turning $300,000 collected from Yale’s class of 1954 into a $100 million gift to the university by 2004. He said he sold his investment company several years ago, only to buy it back later and continue to run it.
Bill Beinecke (pictured in wheelchair), who helped found this school and is about to turn 100, gave a speech, as did Bill Donaldson (second from left) the business school’s first dean.
The new building feature Sol LeWitt wall paintings, along with other original art.
In contrast to the strong vertical and horizontal lines of the buildings front columns and roof, much of the interior features only curving lines.