Similar Buildings, Big Divide in Design?

By Kochakian, Charles | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), July 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

Similar Buildings, Big Divide in Design?


Kochakian, Charles, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


URBAN architecture is a two way street. Buildings built in the civic fishbowl are undeniably present to a large audience who can't avoid forming opinions about them, but they also talk back to those critics with the cultural values their designs reflect.

There are two buildings under construction in New Haven that offer starkly different visions to their users and neighbors. Both are being built to epitomize higher education's noble intents, both are designed by architectural offices of worldwide renown, and each has a clear point of view for all to behold.

Gateway Community College, designed by architects Perkin + Will, is set tight to the sidewalks of the gridded streetscape that defines its shape. In fact, its two main building blocks directly echo the buildings removed from its site -- the old Malley's and Macy's department stores.

Yale School of Management's Edward P. Evans building, designed by Sir Norman Foster, reposes distinctively on a true boulevard, Whitney Avenue, across from the Peabody Museum. Its formal front facade has an undeniable presence because of its size, materials and kinetic design. Its needle columns and billowing walls have no kith or kin on this stately avenue.

Both buildings are unfinished but offer clearly expressed lessons that display how approaches to an urban landscape can be problematic, even with high intentions of good citizenship.

In the Gateway building, there is one attempt to distinguish itself from the tight registration to the street grid: the building's end at the corner of Frontage Road and Church Street. The architects describe this focal feature as "a curved three-story glass volume that houses the college library and makes a dramatic urban gesture as a 'gateway' to the city."

When compared to the undulating walls of the Evans building at Yale, this "gesture" seems quite restrained. Beyond this geometric coincidence, these two buildings have dramatically different architectural means and methods.

As it addresses Whitney Avenue, Yale's new building could be seen as being "all-hat and no cowboy." Its scale-free High Modern elegance uses an extreme linear cornice line and column grid to contrast the kinetic tracery of glass and color panel membranes. The entire faade frames a huge central, diaphanous and backlighted visual portal to a magical world beyond all the curved glazing.

In contrast, the Gateway building follows a "Mottled Modern" approach to its skin where many layers of colored and bare metal, glass, tile and brick are rendered in grids, panels, patterns and lines, variously aligned and interwoven, intentionally elaborating the simple massing: two boxes punctuated by a glass bridge and curved-glass end. …

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