And The Lord Said: You’ll Learn To Love It

Thomas MacMillan PhotosAfter 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.”

YaleHe 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.

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posted by: wendy1 on January 10, 2014  2:49pm

I gave the NHI my entire script which is not mentioned.  Good building or bad, it’s what goes on inside that matters.  This is where Yale will train young people to screw the rest of us, the 99%ers.  They should have spent the big bucks on the School of Forestry.

posted by: PH on January 10, 2014  5:08pm

The interior looks like one would expect of a school dedicated to amassing wealth—like a corporate headquarters.  It might even be interesting to spend time in for an event or two.  That said, the hulking facade towering over Whitney Ave is painfully out of scale with everything around it.  I remain unconvinced by the argument that it represents optimism—it looks more like opulence and arrogance in a building designed in a vacuum rather than in the context of the neighborhood.  (and truly it takes someone who lives exclusively in an extremely dense environment to call anything about that structure “bucolic”!!!)

Maybe we’ll all come around some day, and perhaps it’s architecturally impressive in some aspects, but for now all I can see is an oversize monument to corporate greed.

posted by: Pat from Westville on January 10, 2014  5:19pm

The difference is that the new SOM building looms over a largely residential neighborhood on Whitney Avenue. Harkness Hall, Beinecke Library & Sterling Library are not now (& probably not even at the time built) in such a largely residential area.

The vision of the ever expanding reaches of the Yale campus, of academic use, tax-exempt buildings engulfing the city of New Haven is not necessarily comforting to the citizens of New Haven. More like a nightmare, of a 800lb. gorilla neighbor that thinks it knows what’s best for the city.

posted by: WestvilleAdvocate on January 10, 2014  5:24pm

I cannot believe the architect compared this to the Yale Whale.  Not even in the same genre of building.  This new building is hideous and totally out of character for the neighborhood it resides in.  It was a grand slap in the face to everyone in the surrounding streets.  Honestly, they should just stick a scrolling LED sign on all four sides that says, “#*%& YOU”.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on January 10, 2014  7:04pm

Lord Norman Foster != Eero Saarinen

posted by: TheMadcap on January 10, 2014  9:31pm

Maybe behind it on Lincoln St, but aside from that I don’t know what residential neighborhood we’re talking about here. It’s surrounded on all sides by Yale buildings, the museum, the new haven lawn club and two office buildings(and the one two buildings down from it is 5 stories tall)

posted by: Lady Li on January 10, 2014  10:14pm

Since seeing the rendering at some planning meeting it has reminded me of a Honda dealership.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on January 11, 2014  12:47pm

Neither a choir of angels singing Halleluiah, nor credentialed experts staying in the good graces of their benefactors will persuade those of us who live here and have to witness this monument to Mammon that this building is/was a good thing.
The voice of the community was ignored. A building of value was destroyed and all with the complicity of the City officials who periodically bring their begging bowls to the Yale Corporation for hand outs.
How sad to see such a great institution lose its bearings.
The tributes of the academic flacks just makes reality that sharper.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 11, 2014  6:40pm

The Beinecke Library is not a “beloved landmark.”  A landmark, yes—and all landmarks eventually acquire some nostalgic or personal associations.  But beloved?  Nah.  It’s just as ugly now as when it was built—an arrogant, environmentally absurd (1/4 inch thick MARBLE walls, anyone?  in a climate with four seasons????) shoebox on stilts in a sterile, blinding, lifeless courtyard.  Arrogant, in-your-face, I’m-rich-so-I-can-stick-it-to-you-in-the-middle-of-your-landscape ugly.

And so is the new SOM building.

posted by: Paul Wessel on January 11, 2014  10:56pm

Can you do one of those polls:  Terminal SOM or Honda dealership?

posted by: Corinne Blackmer on January 12, 2014  9:17am

In the neighborhood in which I live (Dwight/Chapel), I once, many years ago, named a seedy gas station/convenience store nearby “the Crack House” (for what should be obvious reasons.  The name has caught on (6 degrees of separation, etc).  Now I hear people in the street calling it “the Crack House,” and one cabbie asked if I wanted to be dropped off near “the Crack House”
In perusing the new monstrosity in our midst, which I for one will NEVER learn to love or get “used to,” I propose dubbing it “the Predatory Shark Tank.”  That is exactly what it looks like, as well as describing nicely the activities that will be going on in there.  Make sure you bring little fishes to avoid getting a chunk taken out from you when you visit.

posted by: Bradley on January 12, 2014  12:35pm

Madcap, a good proportion of East Rock is within a 15- minute walk of the school. Whitney Avenue is one of the main arterials in the neighborhood, which means thousands of people will see SOM on their way to and from work or downtown.

posted by: Captain Harlock on January 12, 2014  1:01pm

Welcome to Lord Foster’s Cathedral to the False God of Money? Here we will train those who will go forth to become executives at Goldman Sachs and AIG, and will bilk their hard working countrymen out of their life savings of a few shekels, and then beg the taxpayers for aid, while bestowing generous bonuses upon their brethren, then claim they are “too big to fail”.

Anyone mere man with “Lord” in their name you have to be leery of.

posted by: A Contrarian on January 12, 2014  1:19pm

Many here are confusing Yale’s SOM with the Harvard Business School.

posted by: Westville Parent on January 12, 2014  11:31pm

I drive past the building on Whitney frequently and really have tried to like it. But while the sheer elephantine scale relative to its neighbors would be obvious to a Martian, what I really object to, other than its blindingly blue color (gawd, couldn’t we have found something less Yale patriotic?), is that the building’s street front is simply boring and unimaginative. I’ve seen much more interesting street fronts in Dallas and Denver where life is lived in cars. This is not the Yale Whale. This is not the Beinecke. They dazzle with their subtle movements in response to changing moments, light and usage. Evans Hall is a big blue box with two huge silos, walls that read like LED billboards, and spindly silver columns that make it all look like an “optimistic” mausoleum for capitalism run amok. Can’t “lordly” wealth express itself without looking stupid?

posted by: yim-a on January 13, 2014  3:23pm

No, people, it’s much more similar to a high end Lexus dealership, specifically a breed found in northern New Jersey.

That being said, in all fairness, Yale SOM, produces, in comparison to other ivy management schools, many non-profit/public service managers.

posted by: waltersobchak on January 14, 2014  2:07am

Robert Towne wrote it, John Huston said it, and by comparing his creation to Ingall’s Rink Foster seems to hope and count on it:

“‘Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

posted by: Lady Li on January 14, 2014  8:32pm

Maybe Yale’s strategy is to allow all the outrage to descend onto this one blaring incursion northward onto Whitney Avenue corridor.  Then, when Yale really gets going on whatever plans are in the works for the area across the street where Kline tower is,  they will be able to use the precedent of scale across the street to subdue the critics.