Yale University Art and Architecture Building

Added by Lindsey Schweinberg, last update: August 17, 2012, 12:48 pm

Yale University Art and Architecture Building
180 York Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States
41° 18' 30.564" N, 72° 55' 53.4864" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Education (EDC)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

Commission brief: Part of the architectural patronage of Yale University, headed by A. Whitney Griswold, president of Yale from 1951 - 1963.  Whitney made Yale a premiere architectural patron of the modern architecture movement, commissioning now-iconic  buildings which include the Art Gallery by Louis Kahn, Morse and Stiles Colleges and Ingalls Rink by Eero Saarinen, the Beinecke Library by Gordon Bunshaft, the Kline science buildings and the epidemiology and public health building by Philip Johnson, and Rudolph's Greeley Forestry Laboratory and Married Student Housing.
Design brief: Walls are a rough textured concrete inside and out.  There are 37 changes in level over 7 stories.
Building/construction: To form the rough walls, concrete was poured into corrugated forms and the rigid surfaces were broken with a hammer to expose the aggregate to weathering elements;  “…Reflective micas, seashells, stones, and even branches of coral” comprised the aggregate.”

Dates: Commission / Completion:commission or competition date: June 1960, start of site work: December 1961, completion/inauguration: November 9, 1963
Architectural and other Designer(s): Architect(s): Paul Rudolph
Others associated with Building/Site: Original owner(s)/patron(s): Trustees of Yale University; A. Whitney Griswold Name(s): Beyond the assertion that this is Rudolph’s masterpiece, the building is often associated with the Deans of the YSoA, each offering a different perspective on the controversial structure.  For example, Charles Moore (Rudolph’s successor) felt no reverence towards the A+A and actively altered it toward his own architectural beliefs; Robert Stern has embraced the building as a “Bilbao of its time” (renowned and controversial) and supports its full restoration.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): Type of change: renovation: Before June 14, 1969, students in the building partitioned and cordoned off interior to suit their needs.  After the June 14th fire gutted three floors of the building, the school rebuilt the interior with an eye towards fixing the functional problems of the interior, altering programmatic occupancy and original fixtures. Many contemporary critics consider -- and lament -- this renovation as an extreme departure from the original intent of the architect which is only now being “corrected” by an current renovation and will ultimately “resume its original form.”   Along the way, the interior was covered in sheetrock.  In 1971, exterior metal window shades were installed (later removing during the 2000 renovation led by SOM).  The building's elevators and electrical systems were overhauled in 1996.  Under the current renovation scheme, the building is expanding to the north to include a new library and digital media center, replacing a men’s clothing store and a tenement. Date(s): Jun 14th, 1969 Circumstances/reasons for change:Fire; Student/administrator outcry over poor functionality. Effects of changes: The interior spaces were severely altered from Rudolph’s original design and thus the building has not functioned as intended since the 1960s. Persons/organizations involved: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (former restoration architects); Polshek & Partners of New York (current restoration architects); Robert  A.M. Stern, current dean of the YSoA (1998 - ).
Current Use: Of whole building/site: Occupied by the Yale School of Architecture.  Houses faculty offices, class rooms and design spaces. Comments:  The occupancy patterns were significantly altered by both students and administration before and after the fire of June 14th, 1969.
Current Condition: Of whole building/site: After almost 50 years of changes and neglect, the A&A is undergoing a complete restoration, a part of Yale’s $250 million pledge for construction/renovation of arts departments. Of principal components: Although I have not been able to visit yet, the building is being completely restored so I would image that there is a lot of activity on and around the site.
General Description:

Situated on the corner of two important streets in New Haven, the A+A anchors its site with its monumental slabs of corrugated concrete.  The building is seven floors with 37 changes in level.  There are two large open spaces, one serving as a gallery and meeting room on the main floor, the other housing the architecture studios on the fourth and fifth floors. Rudolph arranged the rooms around these open spaces in a pinwheel-like pattern. To give the walls a distinctive texture, Rudolph invented a new technique: workers poured concrete into ribbed forms, and then with hammers smashed the ribs to reveal the complex aggregate.

Construction Period:
Original Physical Context:

Name(s) of surrounding area/building(s): Yale University; Chapel Street is a Shopping/Dining/Residential street, York Street is lined primarily with Yale buildings from Chapel Street to Lock Street.
Visual relations: The A&A is on a corner lot, which was a main concern of  Rudolph.  It also lies across York Street from Louis Kahn’s Yale Art Gallery which is “flat and glassy,” to use Huxtable’s words.   The building also references the collegiate gothic of Yale through its heavy stone massing and towers, which might act as abstract spires.

Technical Evaluation:

To give the walls a distinctive texture, Rudolph invented a new technique: workers poured concrete into ribbed forms and then smashed the ribs to reveal the complex aggregate.  The multiple changes in level are also a rather innovative approach to organizing interior space, not relying on monolithic floor slabs but embracing a dynamic internal plan.


The A&A was designed to hold a combined art and architecture curriculum, including graphic design and city planning.  Previously, all of these were housed separately in the Yale Art Gallery, Weir Hall and Street Hall on Chapel Street.  "It is the hope that the placing of these disciplines under one roof will help restore them to a sense of unity," explained Architectural Record magazine. But shortly after the building opened, artists complained that their studios were wholly inadequate, being too small and providing a glaring southern light instead of a glowing northern.  This student unrest has proven to be the mythic arsonist of the A+A fire.  As the Times put it in Rudolph’s obituary, the students rejected the A+A as “a symbol of the University's antipathy toward creative life.”  As Branch writes, “the fire came on the heels of the closing of the city planning department, a division of the School of Art & Architecture that had become increasingly politicized. Says Johannes Knoops, who has interviewed numerous people about the fire, “I don't know who did it, but I certainly believe it was in response to the closing of the city planning department.’
Therefore, the A+A is a site of considerable social unrest of the 1960s, besides being a polemic about architecture.  Here architecture was perceived as a symbol of the institutionalized status quo of Yale, and thusly suffered because of this controversial symbolism.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Paul Goldberger calls the A+A a “dynamic sculptural building,” a “disciplined formal statement, free of the wild eccentricities of many sculpturally active buildings yet in the view of many critics possessing a drama that seemed, to many, to be almost a summary statement of modern architecture.”   So while this heavy concrete building seems to belie the lessons of “glassy” modernism, it actually achieves a fruitful dialogue with early modernism by embracing a certain monumental aesthetic.  Although to many, it belied the functionalism of modernism, favoring a monumental statement over a truly functional university building. Canonical status: The A&A is one of the most controversial and important buildings built after World War II.  Right before its inauguration, Ada Louise Huxtable of the Times called the A&A’s rough concrete walls “3-D,” in stark contrast to the “flat, glassy surfaces of the current American architectural look [modernism].”   This was recognition of the way in which Rudolph’s design was a departure from what had been the status quo of campus architecture up to this point. At the inauguration Huxtable reported, “For six months, the word has gone around that this is the architect’s architecture at the highest level.  Even on a campus rich in big-name architectural experiments, it stands out.  It has set some kind of a record for being visited, photographed and discussed by the profession during construction. In a field torn by polemics, architects at opposite esthetic poles are united in praise” and predicted that the building “will set trends nationally and internationally. It will surely be one of the most influential buildings of this decade.”   Major architecture magazines in the U.S. and abroad featured the building prominently, and the American Institute of Architects gave it a First Honor Award.  Thus the A+A was hailed as a groundbreaking work, a departure from the international “glassy modernism” towards a new “brutal” modernism.
General Assessment:
Although the form of the building seems rather unique, Rudolph seems to be drawings on a number of architectural sources.  As branch writes in his Yale Alumni piece on the A&A, “the earliest versions of the building were rational and regular, in keeping with Rudolph's functionalist training at Harvard. But as the design progressed, other influences began to come to the fore the heavy concrete "brutalism" of Le Corbusier, the Swiss-born modernist who had abandoned the International Style for a more expressionistic approach; and the spatial complexity of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.”   Indeed, there is an obvious connection to Corbu’s beton brut; Rudolph’s concrete is certainly rough, enough to rip clothing fabric at times.  But there is also the connection to Wright and the flowing internal spaces of this buildings, especially the Larkin Building in Buffalo. Paul Goldberger believes that the A&A was “Rudolph’s attempt to add his own heroic statement to those of the modern masters who had come before him.”
Text references:

The Paul Rudolph archive is housed at the U.S. National Archives

Recorder/Date: name of reporter: Daniel B.F. Fox  e-mail:dbf2112@columbia.edu
P.O. Box 230977
New York, NY 10023
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