CHAPTER 26. NEW HAVEN'S MODERN ARCHITECTURE

 

As Elizabeth Mills Brown points out in her book, New Haven: A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design, New Haven has a long history of having big-name architects improve the look of the city. In the 1860s, for instance, Yale brought in architects Peter B. Wight, Russell Sturgis, Richard Morris Hunt, and J. Cleveland Cady. New Have continued this tradition into the post- World War II era. The recent burst of architectural fever started in 1951 when Yale's President A. Whitney Griswold commissioned Louis Kahn to design the New Art Gallery.

The modernist trends was strengthened by the election in 1953 of Richard Lee as mayor of the city. Lee was determined to arrest the decline of New Haven's center city area. A special friendship developed between President Griswold and Mayor Lee that made possible a unique contribution to the city's development. The new mayor began a program for the city's redevelopment, which brought leading architects to New Haven. So many famous architects came to the city that it is now a major stopping place for students of modern architecture.

Before beginning the tour, a brief introduction to the architects and architecture of the post-World War II era will be helpful. The Art Deco style of architecture dominated skyscraper design and interior decoration in the 1920s and 1930s, but from the late twenties onwards the International Modern style came on strong. Some characteristics of this style include asymmetrical composition, cubic shapes, and large-scale use of glass windows often in horizontal bands. Modernism dominated American architecture from 1940 to 1965.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was one of the leading architects working in this style. A noted American firm working in the same tradition is that of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. This firm is famous for the Lever House in New York City, which started the vogue for skyscrapers with glass curtain walls on a podium a few stories high.

Also stemming from the International Modern style, but going beyond it, is the work of Eero Saarinen. He designed the Trans- World Airline's Kennedy Terminal in Queens, New York. New Haven architects Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo inherited Saarinen's office after the famed architect's death. They have expanded on the master's more modernist architecture. This firm uses a great deal of glass in the vein of modernism, but does it more picturesquely. An example of their work is the Ford Foundation in New York City.

In the 1960s, postmodern architecture broke away from modernism and its functional austerity. Three architects in particular have helped develop post-modernism (and all three taught at Yale): Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi (a one time student of Kahn's at Penn), and Charles Moore (who succeeded Paul Rudolph as head of the architecture department at Yale). One of the postmodern trends is Brutalism, which uses exposed concrete in big sections that often collide with each other in a rough manner. Two architects with New Haven connections who have worked in this style are Kahn and Rudolph.

Another architect who has designed buildings in New Haven was Philip Johnson (a cousin of architect Theodate Pope), who co-wrote the book The International Style in support of the then new International Modern style. He switched from being an architectural critic and museum curator to being an architect in the mid-1940s. At first working in the style of Mies van der Rohe, he moved beyond this style in the early 1960s. The new trend in architecture emphasized ornamental building tops so that all skyscrapers would not look alike. Together with his partner, John Burgee, Johnson moved away from the glass box in such works as the A.T.&T. building in New York City.

Oak Street Connector

When coming into New Haven, drive in on the Oak Street Connector. Oak Street had been a slum area, but in 1959 redevelopment buried the old slum under a new six-lane highway linking the Connecticut Turnpike with the heart of the city. The designers idealistically hoped that this would help bring back suburban shoppers to New Haven. Along the Oak Street connector many buildings went up: offices; shopping malls; and medical buildings. In the nearby Church Street Project similar changes occurred. The city's core seemed reborn. Mayor Lee's last term ended in 1969 and by that time there was a realization that nothing could stop the relentless flow of the more affluent to the suburbs. There was also a sharp decline in federal funding. These trends combined to bring a decline in New Haven's urban renewal activities. (If the same project was being done today, doubtlessly many of the older buildings would have been saved rather than blithely torn down.)

Church Street South and Oak Street Connector, New Haven, CT

Moore and Trumbull completed this building in 1969. They used colored air-conditioning units to ornament the building's facade. The color combination matches the color scheme on the nearby Church Street South Housing.

The Church Street South area (just to the south of the Oak Street Connector) became the target for massive redevelopment when the Oak Street Connector was built. Mies van der Rohe began the plans for the area, but Charles Moore soon succeeded him.

Columbus Avenue and Church Street South

Charles Moore Associates completed this housing in 1969. A perennial urban problem is how to design low-cost urban housing that is attractive. Moore and associates' answer was to design Georgian terraces around an inner plaza.

Lee High School (private)
Church Street South and Columbus Avenue

Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo, and Associates built this school in 1964. It is located across the street from the Church Street South Housing and is named for Mayor Lee. The school is unusual in that the concrete building sits in a low lying area and is tied to the street by bridges.

Department of Police Service
Union Avenue and Water Street, New Haven, CT

Constructed in 1973 by Douglass Orr, deCossy, Winder, and Associates, this building has narrow window slits. Douglass Orr (1892-1966) dominated New Haven architecture in the mid-twentieth century. He designed at least a dozen buildings along Church Street and Whitney Avenue, but was less in tune with the newer architectural styles, having started designing in the neo-Colonial and Art Deco modes.

Knights of Columbus
1 Columbus Plaza, North Frontage Road and Church Street

Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo, and Associates completed this building in 1967. It is one of the highest points on the New Haven skyline. Brown tiles are used to cover the cylindrical corner towers, which contain stairs and utility stacks.

Church Street Park
Church Street

This park, constructed in 1972, has benches that are reproductions of ones at the New York World's Fair of 1939. The park is part of the plaza of the Knights of Columbus building.

New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Corner of George and Church Streets

Roche, Dinkeloo, and Associates finished this building in 1969. Sports fans park their cars on the buildings top, which can hold up to 2,400 automobiles. The arena is directly below the parking area.

Temple Street Parking Garage
Temple Street near the Knights of Columbus building

Close to the Knights of Columbus building is this parking garage with unusual concrete supports.

Community Services Building (private)
State Street and George Street

In 1965 Douglas, deCossy, Winder, and Associates finished this building that looks something like a concrete bunker. It is located across the street from the Coliseum.

Along the Oak Street Connector, further to the west, are:

Yale Laboratory of Epidemiology and Public Health (private)
Located at 60 College Street, South Frontage, and College streets

This building was designed by the noted architect Philip Johnson and the office of Douglas Orr, 1963.

Crawford Manor
North Frontage Road and Park Street, New Haven, CT

The architect of this housing for the elderly is Paul Rudolph; the year 1965. The concrete is cut to look like tiles.

Yale University
Guided tours of Yale start at Phelps Gateway, 344 College Street (Mon-Fri 10:30 and 2; Sat-Sun 1:30, all year).

On the Yale campus itself there are a number of examples of modern architecture. We begin with the building that kicked off New Haven's frenzy for modern architecture.

Yale University, New Art Gallery
1111 Chapel Street, corner of York and Chapel streets (Open Tues- Sat 10-5, Sun 2-5, Thur 6-9, all year)

Built in 1953 by Louis Kahn, this building was begun when the architect was fifty years old. It was his first major work and the one that launched his career. The exterior is not much to write home about, but the interior, in the Brutalist style, caught many a person's notice. All the concrete in the building was left unfinished, which gives the walls a rough, blemished look. In addition, the concrete ceiling is exposed. The altering of the interior has now tamed somewhat the brute in Brutalism.

Yale Center for British Art
1080 Chapel Street, across from the New Art Gallery (Open Tues-Sat 10-5, Sun 2-5, all year)

Louis Kahn, 1973, designed this building around two interior courts. Shops line the street sides. Inside are exposed concrete and floating partitions.

Yale University Art and Architecture Building
180 York Street, corner of York and Chapel streets

This building by Paul Rudolph (1961) caused a furor--even becoming the victim of arson. The architecture broke away from the clear geometry of the International Modern era. Instead, the building offers irregular masses, multi-levels, and recessions.

Walk north of York Street, turn left after passing Broadway.

Yale Co-op
77 Broadway

This very small building, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1961, flows from the overall plan of the Morse and Stiles College. At the Co-op students buy Yale souvenirs and clothing, as well as books and school supplies. Now walk behind the Co-op:

Morse and Stiles College
Yale University, New Haven, CT

The architect of this section of the Yale campus is Eero Saarinen, 1960. Here is a crooked route channeled between building walls, inspired by the villages of northern Italy. There are changes of level and direction which keep the viewer's eyes jumping. One of the most attractive views is that of the Payne Whitney Gymnasium framed by two sides of the college buildings. Walk around the college along Tower Parkway and turn right on High Street.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
121 Wall Street, corner of Wall and High streets (Open Mon-Fri 8:30-5, Sat 10-5 all year; closed Sats in Aug)

This marble box by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (1961) is floating above a granite plaza. In the court is a marble sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. Don't miss the interior of the building. The windows are made of thin marble that is translucent, letting in just enough light to produce a beautiful golden glow.

Walk one block past Grove Street Cemetery (where the inventor Eli Whitney is buried) and north on Hillside Avenue. You will pass over the cut for the Farmington Canal, which now carries railroad tracks instead of water.

Kline Biology Tower
Sachem Street and Prospect Avenue

Walking north on Hillside Avenue, just to the left of the avenue's center line, is a brownish-red building by Philip Johnson Associates, 1964, which clearly dominates Pierson-Sage Square. (To the right is the Gibbs Laboratory of Physics by Douglas Orr, 1955.) Johnson's assignment was to integrate the buildings for the proposed square. He built the three buildings of the Kline Science Center, of which the Kline Biology Tower is the most outstanding. Another impressive view of the tower is north from the head of Broadway, up Tower Parkway.

Yale Computer Center (now Watson Astronomy Center)
Sachem Street and Prospect Avenue

This building with lots of black glass and dark green roof was designed by the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, 1961. The building has been compared to a floating island, connected to the street by a narrow bridge.

Ingalls Hockey Rink
73 Sachem Street at the corner with Prospect Avenue, New Haven, CT

This 3,000 seat building was designed by Eero Saarinen (1957). The rink is of concrete with a suspended aluminum roof. Locally it is affectionately known as the Yale Whale. The building was scheduled to cost $700,000 dollars, but wound up costing $1.3 million.

Other Sites

Combine this tour with the other sites of New Haven and nearby Guilford. Or you may want to see the Eli Whitney factory museum just north of the New Haven city line in Hamden.

 

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