Silliman College, Yale University

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Silliman College, Yale University
Silliman College is the largest and last of Yale University’s ten original residential colleges, completed in 1940 and housing 400 undergraduates in an immersive residential, academic and social environment. Occupying an entire city block, the College is composed of structures from three different building campaigns begun in the 1890s and extending through 1940. The oldest part of the college consists of the gothic revival Vanderbilt-Sheffield dormitories and the neo-classical Byers Hall. The Georgian brick portion of the college, opened in 1940, connects the separate structures. The present work represents a fourth campaign in this ongoing conversation across histories, involving not only comprehensive renovation and systems upgrades of these structures, but also insertion of new program and form throughout. The art here is surgical, not invasive – strategic and subtle, not pervasive. It is about judgement: what to retain, repair and restore? What to develop anew? It is about a dialogue of material respect and admiration between old form and new purpose; simultaneous histories making each other better. Byers Hall, with its adjacent 1940s dining hall addition, provides the locus for several new interventions. At the courtyard entry, vertical slots cut into the masonry provide glances through old walls into new program spaces. Beyond the entry, an elegant glass oculus provides the first view up to the newly enclosed light well above. A folded glass skylight brings this exterior light court within the college interior, providing improved access to the dining hall and separating the common room to permit independent programming. The walls of the light well have been retained and internalized with carefully inserted new openings on three sides. A new elliptical floor opening with an elegant steel and wood rail provides daylight and presence in the entry lobby below. Relocation of the kitchen to lower level back-of house spaces allowed for an expansive new servery infused with daylight through the broad sixteen-foot high neo-classical windows of Byers Hall. The wonderful proportions of the underlying classical room remain. A new wood ceiling combined with carefully scaled wood and granite serving furniture give new purpose to this interior. Beneath the dining hall, outdated squash courts are transformed into vibrant new student life programs opening to both upper and lower levels, including a fitness center, basketball court, dance studio, café, printmaking and recording studios, library, and computer center. A new art gallery inserted into the upper level of the squash courts overlooks a student-run café, game room, and lounge with study alcoves below. The walls of the former courts remain, outlined in steel, with new trays of gallery space inserted between, bounding different activity areas and creating a lively and rich dialogue between new and old programs, past and present forms, details and materials. New slate tabletops in the lounge and café turn vertically up the old squash court walls, transforming themselves from tables to blackboards, writing new form within an old frame. Opposite the entry to the upper level gallery, a new steel and pre-cast concrete stair with slate runners extends to the lower level, passing beneath an elaborate iron fence salvaged from the 19th century Vanderbilt Sheffield Hall. This new stair provides glancing views at top and bottom into the new basketball court beyond, as well as views from the entry passage. It is the principal threshold from the historic college to the vibrant new student activity areas in the lower level. The art of this project was in knowing when to extend and repair existing form and when to insert compatible new form. Much of the building fabric fell squarely into the former category. In these instances, acts of design were the insertion of high performance systems that invisibly restored and extended the existing fabric, allowing the historic to be a foil for the new program insertions. Wood windows were removed and reconstructed with unique integral vented wood storm panels that do not alter sight lines, yet remain balanced for simple double hung operation. Stone with corroded fasteners was shearing and spalling off the towers was painstakingly removed and replaced with new anchors. New heating and air conditioning systems were inserted in historic halls with no visible changes to the treasured interiors. However, in cases where the new insertions at the exterior were programmatic and substantial, as with the entry to newly formed academic space from Wall Street, the conversation shifts again from replacement and extension to new form. A new stair, ramp and entry here engage in a contrasting yet compatible dialogue with the historic granite façade and cast iron and granite fence and wall.


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Building Activity

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