The Carp Web site displays what Centerbrook started with: conventional classroom and office modules with all the charm of shoeboxes. The modules are 12 and 14 feet (3.7 and 4.3 meters) wide and available in varying lengths. The long, narrow boxes were appropriate for Yale's long, narrow site.
Centerbrook came up with an overall building plan that is essentially three modules wide by seven long, using a total of 21 modules. The plan's midsection is six modules deep, containing meeting rooms and a reception area. There is an open space at the building's front entrance for a welcoming courtyard.
How did Yale get such a great-looking building from so many potentially ugly modules? The secret is that Centerbrook controlled a few key elements — primarily siding and windows — which raised the bar on quality.
The architects specified that the modules be constructed and delivered to the site without exterior finish cladding. Instead, each module had oriented-strand-board siding covered with house-wrap. The flat site was prepared with point-load footings, approximately eight footings under each building module. The modules arrived over several days and were set in groups of six to eight at a time. Connections between modules were made, and then the exterior finish was installed.
Working closely with Yale representatives, Centerbrook Architects studied how to clad the modules so that all 21 units would look like a single building. They chose corrugated steel panels to achieve an industrial esthetic, with the corrugations running horizontally to accentuate the building's low, sleek profile. Mechanical equipment on the roof is hidden behind fences made of the same material.
The steel panels were finished with a metal-flake silvery gray paint. "We studied about 15 different colors," says architect Susan Wyeth of Centerbrook, including blue (which was rejected as being too bright and not quite the right shade compared to the University's signature "Yale Blue"). The chosen color provides the building with a measure of contrast without making it look too alien, prompting some to dub it "the diner."
Windows by the Numbers
Centerbrook's architects designed the building's window system instead of using Carp's stock units. The Kawneer units that Centerbrook specified apply the Fibonacci series of proportion in their rectangular divisions.
(The Fibonacci series starts with 0, 1, with each successive number being the sum of the two previous numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc., and has long been used as a proportional system in architecture.)
The blue/green tinting of the operable windows contrasts with the silvery gray of the walls, and the reflection of green vegetation around the building. Inside, the windows are just high enough to admit generous daylight while providing a measure of privacy.
The elegance and style of this simple structure has not been lost on legendary Yale architecture historian Vincent Scully, who observed that it is "...neat and alert and lively on its site, and beautifully equipped within. It seems to break all the rules of contextuality but comes across as a real joy."
The finishing touches that give this building a "rooted" feel are the bluestone patios in the front and on each end. Most temporary buildings can't help but feel as though they have just dropped from the sky.
The patios provide outdoor places for the occupants to enjoy. Also, the bluestone, which is used as paving throughout Yale, lends just the right counterpoint of permanence and a connection to the larger campus.
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Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. He worked at Centerbrook Architects from 1985-1992 and is author of Centerbrook: Reinventing American Architecture.