New Yale humanities hub honored for its excellence in planning

The Society for College and University Planning recently honored the work underway to transform 320 York Street into a hub for the humanities at Yale.
Renovations underway in the common room of the former Hall of Graduate Studies at 320 York Street

Renovations underway in the common room of the former Hall of Graduate Studies at 320 York Street, set to become a central home for the humanities on campus. The intricate “wood” paneled ceiling — the target of a detailed restoration effort — is actually painted plaster. (Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

The transformative process of turning the 87-year-old Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) into a central home for the humanities on campus was recently recognized with an Excellence in Planning Award for a District or Campus Component from the Society for College and University Planning.

The project was lauded by the judges for “leveraging existing resources to the best of their ability” and for “a commendable approach to preservation and updating of a campus landmark building.”

The historic building at 320 York St., designed by James Gamble Rogers in the collegiate gothic style, is scheduled to reopen in late summer of 2020 as a central hub for the humanities at Yale. The facility is being redesigned to house 15 departments and programs plus the Whitney Humanities Center, marking the first time that the majority of humanities units in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences will be gathered under one roof. The reconstructed building will expand the resources available to each and will foster greater collaboration and cross-disciplinary scholarship between faculty and students across the humanities.

The newly renamed David Swensen Tower
The newly renamed David Swensen Tower, which will contain offices, graduate student study spaces, and a faculty lounge on the top floor, stands tall over the construction-in-progress at 320 York Street. (Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

The $162 million renovation of the former HGS building was made possible in part by a $50 million anonymous donation. The donation also established a permanent endowment to support humanities programming, with an emphasis on humanistic teaching, intellectual life, and projects that bring students, faculty, and the community together across disciplines. Grants from this endowment have already been enlivening humanities research and programming in advance of the building’s opening.

In addition, a $25 million contribution from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin ’78 announced in March 2015 will name the building’s central tower for David Swensen, Yale’s chief investment officer.

The co-presence of humanities faculty and students in the new facility will “create more of a community and a center of gravity” for humanities at Yale, says Lloyd Suttle, vice provost for academic resources.

More than 70% of the building and existing configurations are being repurposed, eliminating demolition and promoting sustainability. New open spaces will replace closed-end hallways to give the building flow and to make wayfinding more intuitive. The entry was reconfigured to be more accessible and welcoming, and flexible, open-plan tower floors will provide essential workspaces for graduate students. Undergraduates, teaching assistants, faculty, and visitors will have access to over two dozen informal spaces in which to meet, with a total of nearly 150 seats located in such collaborative areas.

The building is being completely modernized but in a way that “changes very little,” says Suttle. The woodwork in HGS is being preserved wherever possible and is also being replicated closely to retain the distinctive qualities in the building, he adds. “We want to keep as much of James Gamble Rogers’ design as possible.”

Some of the more noticeable changes are taking place below ground level, where a 180-seat auditorium and 90-seat film screening room are being built beneath the courtyard. 

In the courtyard of the future humanities quadrangle at 320 York Street
In the courtyard of the future humanities quadrangle at 320 York Street, the construction team has injected new concrete pillars beneath the original foundations to “underpin” the renovated facility. The area beneath the courtyard will house a new auditorium and a screening room. (Photo credit: Michael Marsland)

In my view, the excitement of this project is not the building but its programs and occupants and what we hope will be the collaborations and interactions that follow from their coming together. It is what is going on inside that counts,” says Amy Hungerford, who has guided the plan for the renovation and reconceptualization of 320 York and who stepped down as dean of the humanities at Yale on July 1.

Yale’s visionary approach to this renovation will bring new life to an iconic building that was made for a different time. The project is characteristic of Yale’s approach to preservation and campus space, ensuring that these beloved places are not merely preserved but are continuously vibrant, central to the university’s mission today,” adds Hungerford.

Ann Beha Architects has served as the architecture firm for the new Yale humanities hub from planning though construction.


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