Old Yale, new spaces: A campus construction update

During the pandemic the campus has been transforming. Soon Yale will introduce several impressive new spaces for thinking, studying, and finding inspiration.

Yale’s campus is always evolving to serve the university’s mission. Buildings go up, come down, and transform — even during the pandemic. Yale soon will introduce several impressive new spaces for thinking, studying, relaxing, and finding inspiration.

Four major construction projects have wrapped up in the past year, despite a two-month pause at the pandemic’s onset, and a fifth project, a new field house at the university’s athletic complex in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood, is slated for completion in May. Other projects are now in progress.

Construction is an in-person endeavor — you can’t build remotely — and we’re proud of the work that our team, our contractors, and the workers have done to safely complete these projects under difficult conditions,” said Keith Fordsman, director of capital projects for Yale Facilities. “We’re looking forward to unveiling these exciting new facilities for the Yale community.”

Recently completed projects include the Yale Schwarzman Center, a new hub for cultural programming and student life in the heart of Yale’s central campus; the Humanities Quadrangle (formerly the Hall of Graduate Studies), now expanded and renovated into a home for humanities education and scholarship; the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY), located on Becton Plaza; and an ambitious redesign of Sachem’s Wood, the gateway to Science Hill.

Major renovations of Kline Biology Tower and the Peabody Museum of Natural History are under way. Learn more about each below.

A world-class center for student life

At the heart of campus, a massive renovation united two historic buildings, University Commons and Memorial Hall, making way for the world-class Yale Schwarzman Center — the first university-wide center for student life and the arts. The project, which was completed in February, overhauled and updated the Beaux-Arts classical buildings, which were constructed for Yale’s Bicentennial in 1901, while preserving the core of the original Carrère and Hastings design.

Interior of a great hall.
Commons’ eight chandeliers appear largely unchanged but have been outfitted with LED lighting and automated to rise and descend as programming requires. (Photo: Dan Renzetti)

Commons, which remains Yale’s central dining hall, boasts a new 13,600-square-foot terrazzo floor that recreates the original’s elegance. A sleek new servery will offer diners a rich variety of meal options.

The hall’s rafters now conceal state-of-the art audio-visual equipment and can support up to seven 50-foot lighting trusses for theatrical or music performances. Its eight chandeliers appear largely unchanged but have been outfitted with LED lighting and automated to rise and descend as programming requires. The space’s technology facilitates virtual engagement with the world by streaming performances, lectures, and other events.

It looks like the old Commons, but it’s outfitted to function as a multi-purpose space,” Fordsman said.

The building’s basement, which once housed a coal-fired powerplant, has been transformed into a vibrant concourse extending beneath the Hewitt University Quadrangle and now features a pub, a bistro, and a performance venue, among other spaces and amenities.

Construction revealed previously hidden charms. For example, the pub, called “The Well,” exposes the original granite walls, discovered when workers removed the sheetrock in what most recently was a storage room for Yale Hospitality.

We knew those walls were there,” Fordsman said. “We didn’t know they’d look so nice.”

An addition to the center’s northern (Grove Street) side provides new offices, meeting rooms, and space for The Good Life Center, a wellness center that is expanding from its current space in Silliman College. Performing arts spaces and rehearsal studios are located throughout the building.

A large hall under construction.
In transforming the landmark Hall of Graduate Studies into the new Humanities Quadrangle, great care was given to restoring architect James Gamble Rogers’s signature decorative flourishes. (Photo: Phil Handler, Fly on the Wall Productions)

A home for the humanities

The Humanities Quadrangle, a reinvention of the landmark Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS), provides a new campus headquarters for the study of the human world and society. When its doors reopen, the building — an exemplar of James Gamble Rogers’s 1889 B.A. collegiate gothic architecture — will house 15 academic departments and the Whitney Humanities Center as well as shared meeting rooms and study spaces, lounges for students and faculty, more than two dozen classrooms, and a large common room with a coffee shop. The David Swensen Tower, the building’s iconic central tower, will provide updated offices and meeting rooms for faculty members and graduate students, and, on its top floor, a meeting and event space offering broad views of New Haven. Gamble Rogers’s signature architectural flourishes — stained-glass windows, inventive carvings, and ornamental ceilings — were carefully restored.

Workers excavated the building’s main courtyard to create space for a 190-seat lecture hall and a 90-seat film-screening room — subterranean venues that will host humanities courses and public programming, including events supported by the Whitney Humanities Center, and the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities.

Faculty began moving into their new offices in February.

A makerspace for innovative ideas

A two-story oval prism of rippling glass nestled into the southern end of Becton Plaza houses Tsai CITY, a campus center where students from diverse backgrounds and across disciplines can hone their entrepreneurial skills and hatch all varieties of innovative projects to improve the world. The 12,500-square-foot facility features an array of spaces — a large studio, smaller meeting rooms, and quiet corners — where students can cultivate ideas and make them reality. Construction was completed in August 2020; Tsai City continued to host programs remotely during the fall due to the pandemic. Once the building can safely open, it will host workshops, talks, and other programming.

A wall with signage that says TSAI Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.
The new Tsai City on the southern end of Becton Plaza provides space and programming to help students nurture innovative ideas, including initiatives to address climate change and other global challenges. (Photo: Dan Renzetti)

In December, crews completed a makeover to the Sachem’s Wood Landscape — a park that serves as a gateway to Science Hill from Sachem Street. The project created new landscaping, pathways, and strategically placed seating and lighting, yielding an attractive space that connects Kroon Hall, Kline Tower (formerly Kline Biology Tower), and the Yale Science Building.

Looking ahead

Work continues on the new field house adjacent to Reese Stadium, home of the university’s soccer and lacrosse teams. The 34,800-square-foot facility, located just southwest of the Yale Bowl, includes a new athletic medicine and sports performance area, film room, team center, locker rooms, and offices for the lacrosse and soccer teams. A new raised crosswalk over Central Avenue, which divides the athletic complex, will improve pedestrian safety.

As work on these projects and others has unfolded, the team at Yale Facilities has adapted its construction-management practices to the pandemic, Fordsman said.

Digital imagery has replaced paper drawings. Regular meetings with contractors and architects are held remotely. The construction management team uses “Holo Builder,” a digital platform that facilitates remote access to construction sites, providing detailed 360-degree views of ongoing work.

metal framing for a large building.
A new field house will benefit Yale’s soccer and lacrosse teams. (Photo: Phil Handler, Fly on the Wall Productions)

As one major project is completed, another gets under way. Work is now under way on two large projects: a reconfiguring of Kline Tower and a major renovation of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

The top-to-bottom renovation of Kline Tower will convert research labs into office space and create an entry-level common space connecting to the Yale Science Building and Sloane Physics Laboratory. The Peabody project will increase the museum’s exhibit footprint by 50%, construct new spaces for research and teaching with its collections, and create a new glass entry tower and a skylit central gallery.

The Peabody will be a marquee project for the next couple of years,” Fordsman said.

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