New building brings connectivity (and sustainability) to Trumbull Street

A new economics building at 87 Trumbull St. boasts environmentally friendly features while seamlessly connecting neighboring structures into a single complex.
87 Trumbull St. exterior

The new building at 87 Trumbull St. connects with three neighboring buildings to create a home for the Department of Economics and a campus hub for world-class social-science research. (Photos by Chuck Choi)

At a quick glance, the thin lines stretching across the glass façade of the new building at 87 Trumbull St. resemble opened blinds, but they serve a different purpose. The rows of lines are a film that enhances the windows’ visibility to chickadees, sparrows, nuthatches, and other feathered friends, preventing deadly crashes.

The bird-deterrent system is one of several special features of the building, the new home to Yale’s Tobin Center for Economic Policy, which opened earlier this year. Those attributes, which recently earned the building “gold” certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, offer a glimpse of the university’s emphasis on promoting environmental sustainability through its built environment.

Thin lines stretching across the windows at 87 Trumbull to prevent birds from crashing into the glass.
Thin lines stretching across the windows prevent birds from crashing into the glass.

The building, designed by Schwartz/Silver Architects, also creates a new connectivity to this part of campus — and to the economics community at Yale. Ingeniously nestled in a small footprint between the Institution for Social and Policy Studies’ offices on Prospect Street and the historic mansions at 28 and 30 Hillhouse Ave. that house offices for the Department of Economics, the four-story building’s construction transformed this high-traffic campus corner into a perceivably large, interconnected complex devoted to world-class social-science research and teaching.  

The new building links the three existing structures while seamlessly blending with the character of its historic neighborhood,” said Cathy Jackson, director of planning administration for Yale’s Office of Facilities.

This project demonstrates how to connect historic buildings with a new structure in an architecturally sensitive fashion that creates a whole much greater than the sum of its parts,” Jackson said. “The two mansions are gorgeous buildings, but they were isolated from each other. Now we have a connected community that, from the sidewalk, doesn’t look like a bulky complex at all.”

Funded through generous gifts from Anita and Josh Bekenstein ’80, Amandine and Stephen Freidheim ’86, and an anonymous lead donor — along with more than 50 other individuals — the project created a headquarters for the Tobin Center, which supports rigorous, data-driven research on policy-relevant issues, and endeavors to expand the impact of that work by regularly engaging with policymakers. It also established a single home for the Department of Economics, which was previously housed in multiple, disconnected buildings on either side of Hillhouse Avenue.

It’s great to have the entire Department of Economics and its three affiliated centers under one roof for the first time, ushering in a new era for Yale Economics,” said Tony Smith, the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Economics, and the department’s chair. “Housing our faculty and staff in one physical space fosters camaraderie and collaboration in ways that were simply not possible before. The department is deeply grateful to the donors for their vision in creating this new complex and to the hard work of the designers, planners, and builders who brought it to life.”

Students sitting in a common area at 87 Trumbull St.
The building created a headquarters for Yale’s Tobin Center for Economic Policy.

Filling a gap, preserving history

To make space for the new building, a historic house that had previously stood at 87 Trumbull St. was moved about a block away to a vacant lot at 85 Trumbull St.. The house, which was sold to Yale chemistry and natural history professor Benjamin Silliman in 1814, originally stood at 28 Hillhouse Ave., being among the first residences built by the lawyer and real-estate developer James Hillhouse on the avenue that now bears his name. It was taken apart and rebuilt on Trumbull Street between 1871 and 1872 to accommodate construction of the Charles H. Farnam House — the brick mansion that is part of the new complex. 

By moving the house, we preserved a historic structure while filling a gap in the fabric of the neighborhood,” said Jim Elmasry, senior program planner at the Office of Facilities, who led the project’s planning and design teams.

The new building was designed to fill the space vacated by the Silliman house while emphasizing the adjacent mansions, allowing them to shine, he explained. 

We could’ve built a taller, larger building, but we felt strongly that it was important for it to be an appropriate scale for the historic neighborhood,” Elmasry said. “Working closely with representatives of New Haven Preservation Trust, we pared it down to something that was very contextual and successful in that way.”

The complex allows people to easily access the historic buildings, which were not initially designed to connect, through a series of new glass and steel bridges, corridors, and standard doorways.

The work required opening sections of the mansions’ exterior walls as well as infrastructure work in the attic of 28 Hillhouse to facilitate the connection to the new building,” said Michael Douyard, associate director of planning and construction management for the Office of Facilities.

That required a lot of planning and heavy engineering,” he said.

The connections to the new building made the complex’s three older structures fully accessible and compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. It also provided the two mansions with a central air-conditioning system, eliminating the need for inefficient and cumbersome window units.

The new building joins the Tsai Lacrosse Field House, which opened near the Yale Bowl in 2021, as one of the few university facilities equipped with electric heat pumps used for both heating and cooling. The heat pumps are unique in that they recirculate refrigerant, instead of water, to heat and cool spaces in the building and reject excess heat to the campus chilled water utility, rather than to the air or the ground — a campus first.

Electric heat-pump system at 87 Trumbull St.
The complex is the first structure on campus equipped with a cooling and heating system that uses electric heat-pump technology, rather than steam or fossil fuels.

It’s the proof of concept for this type of system, which is unique and cost effective,” said Dan Disco, construction project manager for the Office of Facilities. “We expect this type of system to become commonplace at Yale moving forward.”

Electrification of is one of the key strategies identified by Yale leaders to meet the university’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2035 and zero actual carbon emissions by 2050, Disco said.

The project also included renovations to the two mansions, including a restoration of the Charles H. Farnam House’s front entrance. Double aluminum doors that clashed with the mansion’s Queen Anne architecture were replaced by a single wooden door with a glass panel in its top third. Sidelights flank the new door, which is topped with a detailed fanlight that matches the character of the arched windows to the entrance’s left. Removal of the window air-conditioning units also enabled the restoration of the mansion’s ornate leaded glass windows.

These windows are phenomenally beautiful,” Elmasry said. “We dismantled and restored them to their original grandeur.”

The bird-deterrent system on the windows of 87 Trumbull St., which involves applying a film on the glass, was chosen in consultation with The Yale Bird-Friendly Building Initiative, which aims to accelerate the adoption of bird-friendly design on Yale’s campus and elsewhere. A similar system was installed on windows of the Yale Science Building, which opened in 2019.

The thin lines could become increasingly common on windows across campus, Jackson said. 

It’s a simple and aesthetically pleasing way to prevent bird strikes and protect local birdlife,” Jackson said.

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