Committee OKs New SOM Home

Will it become a glorious addition to the city like Ingalls Rink, much beloved after a controversial beginning? Or will it become a “monument to corporate control” and destroy the harmony of a neighborhood?

The answer may come soon, following a late-night vote Thursday by the Board of Aldermen’s Legislation Committee.

The committee approved Yale’s plans for a new $145 million home on Whitney Avenue for its School of Management (SOM). The controversial plan now advances to the full Board of Aldermen for one final vote next month.

Thursday’s unanimous committee vote followed a four-hour hearing, the second such hearing before the committee. It drew a passionate crowd of 150 partisans representing both sides.

Last week’s public hearing
featured speakers addressing the project’s economic boon to the cityduring tough recessionary times. Thursday night’s talk-a-thon focused more on design. Debate split between passionate opponents and proponents of the project who focused on size and scale.

The proposal previously received the approval of the City Plan Commission. That commission added some conditions to Yale’s proposal, which the aldermanic committee revised more to Yale’s liking Thursday night.

Technically at issue Thursday night was whether Yale’s application meets the aesthetic and design requirements of a zoning designation known as a Planned Development District (PDD). Namely: Would the Lord Norman Foster building “produce an environment of stable and desirable character, complementing the design and values of the surrounding neighborhood, and showing such unusual merit as to reflect credit upon the developer and city”?

“Yale has vastly overreached and has created a monument to corporate control.” architect Gene Festa told the committee.

In a letter read aloud to the committee, architect Kevin Roche offered the other view: “The community should celebrate this addition to a revered campus and recognize the glory which this architecture will reflect on the university and city of New Haven.”

Roche is the protégé of Eero Saarinen, who designed Ingalls Rink. Gene Festa was part of the team assembled by Anstress Farwell and her Urban Design League, the main coordinators of the opposition.

An in-between view was offered by Paul Hammer, who supported the proposal: “You [that is, a building] can [both] stand out and also fit in.”

Tim Yolen, a lawyer working with the Urban Design League team, said the proposed SOM well might become a jewel in Yale’s crown. He wondered aloud if it is the right jewel.

Paraphrasing Herman Melville, Farwell said that size without beauty is mean. She urged Yale to consider more of a terracing or step-down on the north and south, as is the treatment on the back of the building facing Lincoln Street.

Responding to City Plan’s previous recommendations, Yale had previously lopped off 25 feet in a revised design, sixteen from the north end adjacent to the Lawn Club and nine on the Bradley Street south side. East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker asked opponent David Dickson, who lives on Bradley Street, if such concessions are sufficient.

“It’s trivial,” Dickson replied to Elicker, who sat near him at the end of the aldermanic table. The nine feet added by Yale’s change “is the distance between you and me.”

Dickson, who is a Yale School of Architecture graduate, voice a common theme of opponents: That the 237,000 square-foot building is “one giant box” and “out of scale” with the neighborhood.

There were spirited calls for downsizing, for opening the courtyard to the public on the Whitney side, for shifting delivery and driveways to the north side; and queries as to whether Yale had truly considered adaptive reuse of the buildings at 155 and 175 Whitney, which it plans to demolish to build the new home.

Presenting a Power Point and bird’s eye views of the site showing a structure lording it over the area, Farwell also questioned the accuracy of Yale’s submitted drawings and whether Yale’s outreach to the community for its input was “limited to the abutting area [only], not the impact area.”

Yale’s chief planner for the project, Laura Cruickshank, said Farwell’s bird’s eye views were misleading. They were for birds, she said. There were no people in them. First and foremost, she said, a building must work, not only look elegant, and the SOM as presented does. SOM professors and a dean described a crying need for a single, consolidating structure for its far-flung educational units and expansion by 100 students.

Allan Appel PhotoYale’s Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand (at left in photo with Urban Design League-affiliated planner Brian Miller) reiterated that outreach has been extensive and thorough, with the project evolving over four years. Yale held eight neighborhood meetings and put the plans on public view for 120 days, he said..

Aldermanic Committee Chair Roland Lemar concurred. Morand submitted to the committee a compendium of letters of support from more than 30 people from labor union executives to world famous architects and petitions signed by several hundred city residents.


Around midnight, after receiving this testimony, the committee unanimously approved the PDD proposal with only two modifications to the conditions City Plan had recommended.

Hill Alderman Jorge Perez said Yale was being treated unfairly when it was asked, in effect, “to show me the money”—that it demonstrate it had all the $145 million in the bank to complete the SOM project before it begin work. Yale asked the aldermen to substitute non-binding language removing any such requirement.

City Plan had also requested that the pedestrian and bicycle access pathway from Pearl through to Whitney be open 24/7.  Yale objected that the pathway would not be a city street. It suggested the aldermen amend the condition to keep it controlled by Yale, with the standard terms of a right of way granted to the public.

Using Yale-provided language, Perez motioned to accept both amendments and they were also adopted unanimously.

As to whether the new 64-foot high SOM might in the years ahead become an icon, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Ingalls Rink in the Elm City, David Dickson reflected that even if it does, “I wouldn’t want to live in the shadow of it.”


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posted by: JackNH on February 12, 2010  10:57am

Gee, how nice to have an airport right downtown!

posted by: Our Town on February 12, 2010  11:05am

The city will have to buy another rubber stamp.

The one they have is worn out.

posted by: anon on February 12, 2010  11:39am

Congratulations to everyone who has been working on this for the past four years.

Not everyone will be happy but it must be a nice feeling to bring such a big project to completion.

posted by: Almost Gone on February 12, 2010  12:40pm

Why not rename the city “Yale Haven”? It’s obvious who calls the shots around here. I’m gettin’ out before the door DOES hit me on the a$$.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on February 12, 2010  1:17pm

Ugly and totally out of harmony and scale with its location.  I’m with JackNH who says it looks like an airport.  Architecture was getting better in the last twenty years—more brick and wood, less glass, concrete and steel—and this is a big step backwards.

posted by: robn on February 12, 2010  1:21pm

Architect Festa’s comment, “monument to corporate control” is a peculiar inference and more indicative of animosity toward modernism in general than criticism of the design itself. All the weirder since he was a vocal proponent of the very bold, modern and alien (not intended as a pejorative) Stephen Holl water plant just down the street.

A more genuine erosion of freedom lurks and that is the use of false vernacular as means of cultural control (nostalgia destroys truth with sanitized representations of the past).

posted by: Dominik on February 12, 2010  1:33pm

Thank you Yale!! Another Eyesore in the city….

posted by: Alphonse Credenza on February 12, 2010  1:53pm

I’d like to announce a contest to select a nickname for the new SOM building.

My entry:

“The Glass Shoebox.”

posted by: Patricia Kane on February 12, 2010  5:33pm

Last night I sat through all the presentations and learned quite a bit.
1. Yale told the neighborhood that it could build “as of right”, which is not true. The building is a change in the zoning, which is why they needed approval of a Planned Development District (PDD).
2.  The building will not be a good neighbor, but will introduce a scale out of keeping with the residential character of the neighborhood.
3.  Big name architects can still design ugly buildings, but like the Emperor’s New Clothes, many will celebrated the nakedness as something brilliant.
4.  This zoning change threatens the East Rock neighborhood long term. Note: I do not live there or own property there. But as a resident, I care what happens not just in my back yard.
5.  The City works with developers and there is no process for requiring input from the neighborhood and other residents prior to the hearings. This builds in intransigence on the part of the City and the developer and creates an adversarial environment, rather than a problem solving one. It can and should be changed.
6.  The new SOM will be a tribute to the architect, one of his massive signature pieces, as well as a memorial to the age of fossil fuels.
7.  The lawn will be cut off from view and restricted to an interior courtyard.
8.  A distinctive building on Whitney ST will die in vain because no one cared to find a way to adapt and re-use it. Those of us value our heritage call it vandalism.

posted by: Fed Up Resident on February 12, 2010  5:42pm

It is because of people who complain all the time and find fault with every little detail instead of being excited about new projects that New Haven is taking so long to emerge as a greater city. If I were a business, I would never come to New Haven. Frankly, to many people complaining and asking asking asking.

posted by: anon on February 12, 2010  6:29pm

@ Patricia Kane:

1. Agree
2. Our population is growing and resources are dwindling. As a result, density is a good thing in a transit-rich urban environment, and more “green” than any wind turbine or Prius. I hope that density in this area is significantly increased over the next 50 years. Furthermore, the SOM building is not significantly out of scale with any of the other current (or future) buildings on Whitney Avenue.
3. It is difficult to judge the architecture before it is built, and before it becomes part of the city fabric (which takes many years).
4. How does it threaten the neighborhood long-term?  The things that have threatened the neighborhood in the past have generally been reductions in density, not additions to it.
5. Agree.
6. Agree - but so will everything. We will need to adapt everything, both our small “contextual” buildings as well as our large signature ones. This use will not be more fossil-fuel intensive than others, like the strip malls that we shop at in North Haven or the goods we order through - and given its location, it would be possible to argue that it is actually significantly more efficient, compared to comparatively rural business schools in Vermont or Michigan, for example.
7. Agree. I’m not sure the courtyard will serve SOM’s purposes or be a particularly inviting to students. The term “fishbowl” was used to describe its character. Hopefully, SOM and Foster have thought through this and will be proven wrong. A lawn, like the one on KTA’s sculpture building fronting Edgewood Avenue, may have been more effective.  The counter argument would be that very few of the other buildings in the area have usable lawn spaces, and that many would have hoped that the building would be built right up to the sidewalk line, creating a “street wall,” as the buildings are on Whitney Avenue from Bradley on down.
8. Although it is always preferable to reuse old buildings, I do not agree that those buildings were adaptable to the program required or particularly valuable from a historic perspective. In fact, they are early-automobile-age buildings that do not relate to the walkable, pedestrian-scaled character of New Haven’s surrounding 19th century neighborhoods.  The new building doesn’t seem to relate to the 19th century either—it is more forward-looking—but I won’t miss the early automobile age either.

posted by: Ryan EastRock on February 13, 2010  3:29am

While I don’t think this architecture is anything fascinating or particularly memorable (Norman Foster’s best works are surely elsewhere), it’s still a nice building that’s going to be being desirable activity to a formerly underused plot of land.  Having additional Masters in Business Administration students and professors will help, I hope, make the area more lively and more safe. I don’t really understand the objections of the people who are against it. Do you want this land to remain vacant so that criminal activity can occur there?  If you want a quiet neighborhood with lots of space between houses, maybe you shouldn’t live in the middle of the city. I don’t really understand the arguments against the nature of the architecture - what do you want, something reminiscent of the gothic colleges on Elm Street? Maybe something that looks like your little suburban style houses down the street? That doesn’t seem appropriate for a large school of a major institution. That said though, Foster’s design is kind of big and ugly.

posted by: gnuhaven on February 13, 2010  12:16pm

With SOM’s emphasis on leadership and non-profit and hence presumably public-good-promoting externality-considering niche among business schools, I have to ask why the building is not forward-thinking in terms of cutting-edge energy efficiency, not integrated into the positives of the block it will exist in but in blatant opposition to it, and excepted for its unattractive presence because “it’s a business school.”  Wow, I thought ideals for the future of business were a little higher… business does exist within a milieu of society.  Did we not learn this from the banking crisis?

posted by: Tanner on February 13, 2010  1:34pm

How does the old joke go. What would New Haven be without Yale? answer, Bridgeport. I think the Yale has the right and should build on that site, and that those two buildings are not worth landmarking. But I think something that compliments the west side of Whitney and does not blockade the neighborhood. I don’t think the design is very innovative or unique. Yale knows anything they build will be met with “Discussion” why not have all proposals put on display so Yale will no where the opposition will be coming from.

posted by: Mark Alan Hewitt FAIA on February 14, 2010  3:32pm

As a Yale graduate and classmate of Ms. Farewell’s father, Michael Farewell FAIA (Yale College 1975), I am appalled by the decision to proceed with the SOM design. Foster is a megalomaniac architect who designs buildings without relation to context everywhere. This is a sad day for New Haven.

posted by: EastRocker on February 14, 2010  6:43pm

I’m no architect expert but, honestly, kind of looks like IKEA with glass walls.

posted by: elena on February 16, 2010  2:34pm

Is this Early, Middle or Late Ugly???

posted by: JB on February 16, 2010  8:31pm

I understand the need for a new SOM building, but why must it be so completely unattractive?