A SMALL CITY
Skyline now dominated by fat towers, like Stamford:
Buildings look just as fat close up:
This has always been a place with things poking into the sky. The old ones were slender and graceful; they aspired. In those days folks didn’t think height was bad:
At city’s center, a square of Green. This was the heart of the city’s original nine identical blocks. You can find the other eight, even though they’ve all been bisected, trisected or subdivided in four parts. The layout of nine squares is itself a square, of course, at about 45 degrees to the cardinal points. Very Roman, and older than Savannah:
After the Great Fire of 1666, Wren drew a geometric plan to rebuild London. A quarter century before, this city’s blocks had already been laid out. Two of the original nine square blocks are visible entire below, along with snippets of five others. All that remains from those days is the plan itself:
At about 800 feet to a side, these blocks were just right for an agricultural village and its deep lots, at the rear of which were kept animals. When village morphed into small city, frontage trumped depth and the blocks were subdivided. Even the Green was split in two by Temple Street, on which were erected --what else?-- temples. All three went up between 1812 and 1815, though in different styles; the two at right are colonial, while the leftmost is gothick. The battle of the styles had begun.
The other block visible entire is also bisected; the tall clock tower marks it. The front-most half is rightly called Old Campus and functions as freshman dorms, a couple of chapels and a few classrooms. A sharp eye can pick out two longish, free-standing rectangular brick buildings emblematic of the college in colonial times, when it was made all of such boxes --lined up and evenly spaced like barracks, while the infinitude of space swirled round them as in suburbia. The nearest of this duo is eighteenth century --a souvenir/survivor of the Old Campus’s wholesale re-invention as a vast defensible courtyard with Victorian red stone streetwalls. The other is a 20th Century reconstruction built to keep the orphaned original less lonely.
The half-square beyond is really two quarter-squares separated by a treed pedestrian walk. The rightmost quarter-square is further subdivided into six well-defined courtyards of various sizes that comprise two colleges: Branford (4 courtyards) and Saybrook (2 courts). The remaining quarter-square hosts smallish Jonathan Edwards College and the magnificent art gallery, partly by Louis Kahn and partly by some ancient architect from Verona.
To the northeast (right) of Elm Street, pretty much everything is university, while to the left it’s mostly downtown (with a few university encroachments, which helpfully provide retail ground floors). Bottom foreground: fat office buildings, kept low by the current NIMBY acrophobia.
A plan of same:
Having grown near-simultaneously, city and university are intertwined. Some commercial buildings even cross-dress in collegiate style:
A few Colonial-era houses survive on the Green’s northeast side (Elm Street). University uses them to greet visitors and alumni. All buildings in this picture are university-owned; the Green’s northern half is flanked by university territory:
The lower stretch of Elm Street’s Green frontage is town turf. It features august beaux-arts civic institutions (library, courthouse):
Folks got seriously rich here in the nineteenth century industrial boom. Guns, typewriters and widgets helped underwrite mansions, in which the local taste ran to Italianate. University now stashes academic departments and offices in many of these:
Italianate plus gothic equals Victorian:
Even the hotel’s vaguely Italianate; those stripes are fresh off the boat from Siena:
Hamburger may or may not have originated here; ketchup not served:
More upmarket, the Union League Café (foreground), an institution that hopes you think it’s been here forever --though it sneaked in not so long ago. The building dates from 1902:
WHERE TOWN MEETS GOWN
Across York Street from the college, a student-oriented shopping district:
Commercial stuff’s not so bad. It’s all 20th Century, some much newer than you think:
When the university vaulted Chapel Street to the town’s side, it thoughtfully provided ground floor shops to maintain the street’s commercial nature. It helped that they hired a starchitect:
Some places, you hardly notice little knots of shops among the college buildings; they fade in subtly as Cheshire Cat’s smile:
Against the Green (the White?), however, the university erected a fort with turrets and a vasty Tudor gatehouse. It lacks only portcullis and moat:
A gateway of a different kind proclaims a municipal cemetery incongruously lodged near the university’s heart, like an unexploded shell:
”The dead shall be raised,” declares the gate of gloom. Don’t you believe it.
Elsewhere again, another starchitect’s academic building (far right) butts bluntly up against the city’s realm. This one offers no compensatory shops:
Church (Colonial) interrupts university. A delightful clash of function and style:
A little less delightful, perhaps; both these buildings convey a certain dreariness. And the wires certainly don’t help. For both university and downtown, this is banlieue:
Timothy Dwight College.
Looking fresh, clean, just opened, yet another starchitect’s commercial establishment –the university bookstore—finds itself attached to a college dorm:
How it really should look (non-repetitive):
In the end it all comes together, picturesquely, as a jumble:
…while from the university, it looks a little like…well, Stamford:
Before Italian there was Greek. It followed Colonial, and sometimes grafted motifs upon the older style:
In Greek Revival times, folks were merely prosperous, not rich. These days, you have to be prosperous again to live here:
Some row houses survived Sixties slum clearance, though swathes of this city were brought low by the man who went on to do it again in Boston’s Scollay Square.
Not really row houses, a few Queen Anne Victorians sneaked in:
And the Second Empire invaded here as in Park Slope:
These days we’ve lost our touch when it comes to row houses (and much else):
If you’re going to repeat yourself, let what you say be worth repeating.
Yet another Italian (you can tell I like them):
And Second Empire’s back for an encore:
BRISTLING WITH TOWERS, FLAVORS OF GOTHIC
Gothic was the last fortified style. Towards the end of its run, artillery was invented, so windows got bigger, since walls were now useless to keep out projectiles.
Still, the essentials hung around, eventually to be paraphrased by starchitects. You could mix Gothic with Brutalism:
Art and Architecture, Paul Rudolph. Currently being re-thought by Charles Gwathmey.
Or you could mix it with Deco:
Library, James Gamble Rogers.
You could do it straight, and try to out-gothic Oxbridge, complete with moat:
Iconic bell tower, Gamble Rogers. This university’s Tour Eiffel.
You could plunder distant Wrexham for its best tower:
Branford College, Rogers.
Or you could pull out all the polychrome Deco stops, like Hood at American Radiator:
Graduate School, Rogers.
Liberated by structural steel and veneer construction, you could make it hard-edged and glassy –precise as anything the Bauhaus could throw at you, but longer-lasting than stucco:
Classrooms and offices.
As a starchitect, you could even pick a not-strictly-gothic version of medieval –like Italian-hill-town—and fuse it in spirit with a prior structure beyond:
Morse-Stiles walkway (saarinen) to gym (Rogers).
Sort of like this (you get the idea):
The spirit of Hugh Ferris. Gothic and Deco collaborate naturally on vertical undertakings. When built in 1932, the gym was touted as the world’s biggest. There’s now one bigger in Moscow:
Bill and Hillary first held hands in a King’s College Chapel replica. This one’s filled with law books:
The second King’s College knockoff lurks Ruskinish and red at street’s end (right), half a century older than its fieldstone companions (left). In England, where the companions would actually be as old as they looked, it would be read as 400 years newer in its Victorian dress code:
The iconic tower once more: slender and well proportioned. The Dean of architecture transferred these proportions (and some detail themes) to his big one in Hong Kong and to Bank of America, Charlotte:
This little city shares a climatic phenomenon with Paris: often the sun breaks directly into a storm’s aftermath. Then sunshine on warm stone glows gold against a still black sky. Now and again a rainbow joins the show. Hints of this spectacle appear at times in the present thread’s photos, though clearly the picture-takers were frying other fish:
Against a blue sky, the stone’s tone’s much cooler:
Especially chilly is Silliman’s granitic surface. The only Gothic college not by the redoubtable Gamble Rogers, this one is also the biggest. It was cobbled together from a mix of pre-existing and added elements. At the near corner it starts out Romanesque. It’s also of dressed stone, grey, a little relentless and perhaps overbearing:
But all is forgiven once you enter its courtyard because inside, the style changes to –of all things-- Georgian:
Modernist contextualism by a major architect. Afraid to actually do Gothic for fear of his peers’ rebuke, he sought its spirit --and maybe found it. This is poured concrete construction with huge aggregate scoured with a fire hose after the formwork’s removal:
Stiles College (Saarinen).
The only unapologetic skyscraper on campus, gothically vertical. This one’s clearly Seagram dressed in brick cylinders. No wonder; it’s architect had just been collaborating on that seminal modernist piece. Fortunately, this one’s isolated far from campus center:
Biology labs (Philip Johnson).
A final Gothic tower:
Davenport College (James Gamble Rogers).
Wait a minute…That tower’s not Gothic! Looks suspiciously Colonial to me…
That’s because Davenport too is Gothic on the outside and Colonial on the inside. For pastiche-meister Rogers, two styles were better than one, and for the budget-conscious, Colonial cost less to build. Inside:
There’s that Colonial cupola again, this time perfectly at home as part of Rogers’ close paraphrase of Boston’s Old State House:
Another view of the larger of Davenport’s two Colonial courtyards. The vast tower is obviously Independence Hall:
It’s actually the Dining Hall of adjacent Pierson College:
Pierson lies far back on its block, so Rogers cooked up an axial approach, appropriately Williamsburgian. This is announced by a gateway that Virginia’s governor would have admired, and it leads to Pierson’s Independence Hall replica beyond:
The path between, however, is Gamble Rogers’ tour-de-force. Here Colonial (brick) and Gothic (fieldstone) play peekaboo, as each fades in and out sometimes on the same building element:
Ties and jackets were once required; you couldn’t get a meal without them.
Once safely ensconced in Pierson’s Georgian courtyard…
…further exploration reveals the intimately scaled Slave Quarters. Rising seniors fight for rooms in this picture-perfect paradise of bachelor pads:
BRIGHT COLLEGE YEARS
More than a dormitory but less than an independent academic unit, each of the twelve undergraduate colleges boasts a resident Master, a Dean, a dining hall and kitchen, a library, seminar rooms, squash courts, miscellaneous athletic, laundry and snack facilities, intramural teams, faculty fellows, a common room, traditions, several courtyards, and endowments for visiting fellows, poets, concerts or libations.
Davenport is entered by a bridge over a moat.
Dry and intimate: just pavement, a bench and a tree. Linonia Court, Branford College.
West Court, Trumbull College.
North Court, Berkeley College.
Jonathan Edwards College.
Branford Court with Jewel Tower.
Law School: not an undergraduate college, but set up like one.
Saybrook College Dining Hall.
Dining halls tend to the baronial:
Jonathan Edwards College.
Trumbull College, with musicians’ gallery.
That’s also true of library reading rooms:
Medieval townscape at Jonathan Edwards:
Charleston at Pierson:
University Theatre’s flyloft provides vertical punctuation to streetscape:
Library looked better before it got a shave. Gave true meaning to the term “Ivy League”:
A little leftover money from the endowment. Hard to spend it all:
Cops and robbers on the Law School.
Even the student newspaper looks fancy”
Daily News, birthplace of Doonesbury, about to get a hulking Gwathmey neighbor to its left.
“Hey, all that stuff you’ve been looking at is not even architecture,” sniffed the modernists, “this is what architecture looks like”:
Water table (Women’s Memorial) by Maya Lin.
Louis Kahn at the beginning of his career.
Interior of above Kahn building.
Across the street, Kahn at the end of his career, back to his Beaux-Arts roots:
AIA awarded this building a twenty-five year prize in 2005. Here’s what they had to say:
The interior spaces are well planned for easy movement through the exhibits. They frequently reveal surprising glimpses of one another. A quiet feeling of delight grows within you with the discovery of each new space, and the manner in which the whole is subtly revealed has an ever-surprising complexity.”
… a fitting summation of [Kahn’s] work and ideas… In fact, many of the most forward-looking aspects of this building … are adaptations of Beaux-Arts principles firmly repudiated by most ‘Modern’ architects… Instead of undifferentiated spaces, he created rooms complementing the scale and tone of [the] collection, never overwhelming it.”
Vincent Scully observed, “the effect is rather Miesian, and suggests a kind of dignified, if reductive, Classicism.”
Kahn believed that natural light is essential to fully appreciate the works contained within. Hence, the majestic four-story entrance courtyard is awash in natural light. That light is then filtered into the adjoining galleries through unglazed interior windows. Skylights provide illumination for the top-floor galleries; angled louvers and baffles in the truncated, pyramidal, concrete coffers block bluish north light and screen ultraviolet rays, admitting larger quantities of light when the sun is low than when it is higher in the sky.
The jury noted, “This building reflects Kahn’s continuous search for simplicity and the use of daylight to define space. It is one of the quietest expressions of a great building ever seen—so rewarding and exhilarating when you step inside. The materiality and the language of the wood, stainless steel, concrete,travertine and natural linen is still a delight for the eye.”
A monumental yet restrained civic structure, the Center’s taut exterior of matte steel and reflective glass becomes animated in the sunlight. “On a gray day the building looks like a moth; on a sunny day, like a butterfly”—as Kahn predicted.
“This building is a gentle urbane masterpiece. It offers a quiet foil to its more demonstrative
neighbors and, from the interior, frames and augments them. The small specialty shops tucked into its façade give vitality and continuity to the pedestrian character of the street:”
Inside and out, Kahn’s building is an essay in the use of the frame. Fittingly, it’s a picture gallery, where you look through frames into another world.
Also dealing in frames and their role in display is the Rare Book Library (left):
Lipstick by Oldenburg. Twin gothic towers: Law School Library. Gothic smokestack: University Power Plant. Blank white tomb: Book and Snake, a secret society. A Renaissance Ideal City plaza, where diverse buildings converse across rigorous emptiness. Chirico would have been proud, along with Alberti.
Being on tracks, the boffo Lipstick migrated.
Here Saarinen provides an alternative setting. This work transforms all spaces that house it. A truly great work of monumental civic sculpture. New York needs one of these:
Some time after the Lipstick departed, students built a little favela where it had stood –in order to protest apartheid. The plaza was a perfect foil…all that granite and marble. The shanties survived for a couple of years until an enraged alumnus burned them down. He was charged with arson:
Winnie Mandela City.
Last edited by ablarc; July 5th, 2006 at 10:02 PM.
A GREAT PLAZA
What makes this plaza work is that there’s nothing in it. Monumentally scaled in the French manner, this is the kind of space we in this country do rarely and badly:
One reason is that we think every space is improved by a few trees. That’s what Buildings and Grounds believed when they gauchely stuck them scrawny weeds in redwood boxes. I hope they’re gone now; I hate to see people plant weeds.
The mature trees at right predate the present plaza’s paving and go with the two sides of the plaza and the domed rotunda that are all suavely French. An unfaltering Corinthian colonnade serves at once as monument to alumni fallen in the First Great War (note battles engraved in frieze) and Freshman Dining Hall (Commons). The rotunda gives pause with classic bas-reliefs and leads to points beyond. Soufflot’s spirit permeates the Louis XV concert hall with its arched windows (right):
In the 1400’s Luciano Laurana seminally imagined diverse and noble structures of similar scale set around a paved and vacant plaza:
The idea reappears throughout Europe, especially in Italy, Spain, France, Poland, and even Germany and Britain: Piazza San Marco, Siena, the Campidoglio, Krakow or even Trafalgar Square --all chlorophyll-free. The idea surfaced in 20th Century America, only slightly compromised:
The central pit: Isamu Noguchi populated it with cryptic symbols, which must be very deep.
A kind of metaphysical gateway to Hades results. Eternity is on display here, and it’s inaccessible of course:
The pit also keeps truck bombers from driving into the rare books, and it helps the Library to float:
Well OK, it doesn’t float; it sort of hovers, actually.
Really, not even that. There are in fact four points of support, one at each corner; and the architect makes a big deal of them. The architect was Gordon Bunshaft. He preceded David Childs as SOM’s head designer. Difference is, he was much more inspired:
Anyway what appears to hover isn’t even the building. It’s the building’s tortoise shell, like an upside-down shoe box on four props. Inside, there’s a second building, a climate-controlled glass box pretending it’s by Mies. The box brims with priceless books:
In antique style, the architect’s own quaint rendering conveys this building’s Piranesian space:
The overturned shoe box is made of a coarse mesh of steel members called a Vierendel truss. Each cell of the mesh is about ten feet square. Grey granite sleeves then encase the steel inside and out. These ripple jaggedly as metaphors of structural stresses locked deep inside the dollar-driven, strait-jacketed uniform steel cross-sections within. Think of this as muscle padding on a scrawny Superman wannabe, or think of them as shear diagrams made manifest:
The voids left over are irregular octagons, and they are glazed with marble:
Now here is the miracle: Bunshaft must have visited Ravenna, for the marble is translucent!!!
The granite cladding expressing shear:
In the basement, there’s a reading room in the corporate style (SOM at last):
This looks out on Noguchi’s metaphysical ruminations:
Books as treasure:
Gutenberg, not once but twice.
Each box-like character that forms the plaza is a discreet individual. Together they make sweet music, for they are all equally fanatical classicists –even the nominally Gothic Law Library: