New Haven, Connecticut

While regarded as one of Eero Saarinen's most distinctive works during his short career, the Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale University (1958–62) in New Haven have long seemed more appealing in photographs than in real life. Part of the reason is the surrounding competition: When you walk past the chunky, textured stone of the Collegiate Gothic residential colleges designed by James Gamble Rogers from 1925 to 1934, it's a little hard to adore the pasty, raw concrete and stone aggregate surfaces of Saarinen's stolid clusters. Even Vincent Scully, master of Morse College from 1969 to 1975, admits, “I liked Rogers's Branford and Berkeley better, but I didn't have a choice. [Yale president] Kingman Brewster assigned me to Morse because of my association with modern architecture.”

Saarinen, who had studied at Yale in the 1930s, was aware of Yale's obsession with residential Collegiate Gothic (or Georgian) quadrangles, many of which were coming to completion while he was there. By the time Saarinen got the commission to design Morse and Stiles in the late 1950s, he had studied such historic settings as Italy's village of San Gimignano and the Campo in Siena. His scheme for the Yale colleges featured four-story housing punctuated by a 10-story tower and a 14-story one. The complex embraced a grassy crescent courtyard, hemmed on the other side by Tower Parkway. Saarinen intended the complex at the western edge of campus to be a porous village, with pathways allowing more freedom of pedestrian movement than found in the enclosed quadrangles. But by the late 1960s, with student unrest, town-gown problems, and the admission of women, the village turned into a castle keep under lock and key.

Rather than resort to stone or brick, Saarinen built the colleges of poured-in-place concrete. He mixed in a large-scale, crushed granite so the aggregate would have a flinty, hard, angular quality. Yet the resulting exterior, notes Scully, is “kind of soft and flat-looking, like adobe.” The battlement massing was unforgiving. Scully recalls, “Paul Rudolph [chair of the School of Architecture from 1958–67] used to say it looked like a set for Ivanhoe.”

Today the modern-medieval fortress has softened with age—although it could stand a bit more ivy. When Yale decided it was time to renovate and expand the colleges, it hired KieranTimberlake Architects (KTA) to remedy problematic features that had existed since 1962. One of KieranTimberlake's assignments was to reconfigure the living quarters for the 500 students. (Each residential college also includes a Saarinen-designed house for the master, plus accommodations for each dean and two fellows.) Saarinen, in accordance with a wish expressed by a student survey, had designed the rooms as stand-alone singles. But over the years, it became clear that the students wanted single rooms that were integrated into suites, typical of Yale's other residential colleges. KTA, which already had redone Berkeley, Silliman, Pierson, and Davenport Colleges, carried out the mission with jigsaw-puzzle precision.

In its 285,000-square-foot renovation and expansion, the Philadelphia firm preserved the concrete and stone exterior but added 25,000 square feet of new construction underground. In doing so, KTA reclaimed basement areas and created a two-level addition extending underneath the crescent courtyard on the northwest side of the complex. Here now are new social and recreational spaces—a theater, as well as arts, dance, exercise, and music studios—that budget cuts hobbled in the original. “Putting in foundations and waterproofing was a structural tour de force,” says KTA's Stephen Kieran. “Conceptually, we poured forms and spaces like lava under the existing buildings and let them flow out.”

To get light into the underground spaces, the architects carved out a below-grade court in the space between the two colleges and redesigned the moatlike walls edging the colleges to incorporate skylights. They cut up the original concrete walls of the moats into panels and combined them with new board-form concrete ones. The subterranean concrete and steel-beam structure also includes massive tree wells for new planting above, while a steel and wood bridge spans the sunken court.

KTA also redesigned the two smaller sloping grassy courtyards on the south; now Morse's and Stiles's dining halls open onto outdoor ipé wood decks. Reclaimed storm water trickles down the terraced landscape the students refer to as “the beach.”

One of the more dramatic transformations involved reworking the common rooms across the entryways from the dining halls. Saarinen had hoped to create rathskeller-like spaces, which he did using a concrete hexagonal columns with radiating ribs that create triangular coffers. The architectonic ceiling was never appreciated because the rooms were so dark. Since KTA inserted concrete and glass monitors between the arms of the ribs, and changed the floors from a dark slate to oak, more students have been attracted to the lighter common rooms.

All in all, the renovation and spatially complex underground expansion keep Saarinen's architecture intact, while evoking as well Louis Kahn's rugged concrete forms and Carlo Scarpa's detailing of materials. More important, getting rid of the old palace-basement sensibility appears to be successful with the residents. According to the current master of Morse College, Frank Keil, and the master of Stiles, Stephen Pitti, the students now want to be assigned to the colleges—a far cry from the days when they asked to be transferred out.

Total construction cost: Withheld at client’s request

Completion Date:  September 2011

Gross square footage: 285,000 SF (260,000 existing/renovated, 25,000 addition)


Owner: Yale University

420 N. 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Design Partners: Stephen Kieran, FAIA and James Timberlake, FAIA
Associate in Charge: Evan Yassky, AIA
Technical Review: Chris Macneal, AIA
Core Design Team: Casey Boss, AIA, Andrew Cronin, Richard Hodge, AIA, Johann Mordhorst, AIA, Jason Niebish, James Unkefer, AIA, Kristine Wander, Paul Worrell, AIA, Zinat Yusufzai, AIA  

Interior designer: Marguerite Rodgers, Ltd.

Structural Engineer: CVM Engineers
M/P/E/FP Engineer: AltieriSeborWieber LLC  

Civil: URS Corporation

Landscape: OLIN

Lighting: ARUP

Acoustical: Metropolitan Acoustics

Food Service Consultant: Ricca Newmark Design
Theater Consultant: Theatre Projects Consultants
Specification Consultant: Wilson Consulting, Inc.
Signage Consultant: Strong Cohen
Elevator Consultant: Van Duesen and Associates
Code Consultant: Bruce Spiewak, AIA
Environmental Consultant: Atelier Ten
Geotechnical Consultant: Haley & Aldrich, Inc.
Waterproofing Consultant: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.

General contractor
Turner Construction Co. (Construction)

The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company (Pre-construction)

Richard Barnes/

Peter Aaron/

CAD system, project management, or other software used: Autodesk Revit, Vela Systems



Structural system
Cast in place architectural concrete bearing walls with structural steel beams.

Manufacturers of structural components unique to this project:
Shepard Steel
Manafort Brothers – architectural concrete for the building
R. Camputaro & Son – architectural concrete for site walls

Exterior cladding
Masonry: Architectural board marked concrete – cast in place

Metal/glass curtain wall: Schüco50+ S

Moisture barrier:
Using this for below grade waterproofing since the addition is all underground
Grace Bituthene 4000
Grace Preprufe 300R
Volclay Voltex

Exterior Wood Decking and Screens:
Ipe – Dining Hall decks, Sunken Courtyard screens
Black Locust - Sunken Courtyard deck, structural bridge deck- Citilog

Built-up roofing:
Firestone Board Insulation
Dens Deck Prime Roof Board
Garland Milleneum Membrane

Metal frame: Hopes Landmark 175

Glass: Old castle BuildingEnvelope


Metal doors:
Phillip Manufacturing

Wood doors:
East Coast Custom Doors – Exterior

Sliding doors:
Custom 3Form sliding door
Custom bifold door with 3Form panels and Pemko hardware

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
Kane Screens

Special doors:
Overly Door Company – Sound control doors

Upswinging doors, other:
Custom Vertical Sliding Doors with 3Form Panel



Exit devices:


Security devices:
GE Security

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Baswaphon Acoustical Plaster

Suspension grid:

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Custom woodwork by Whitehawk Construction and CW Keller

Paints and stains:
Benjamin Moore
Green Building Supply Colored Sealer for Concrete

Wall coverings: MDC Wallcoverings (Digital wallpaper for servery)

Custom Wood Panelling – Red Oak with custom stain

Plastic laminate:

Solid surfacing:
Corian (Student and Faculty Bathrooms)

Special surfacing:
Slate (Lobby tops)

Floor and wall tile:
Cotto d’Este Kerlite (Servery and Faculty Residences)
Daltile (Accent Tile in bathrooms, Accent Tile on Pizza Oven)
American Olean (Floors and Walls in bathrooms)
CeSi (Accent tile in Morse College bathrooms)
Graniti Fiandre, New Marmi (Student showers)

Resilient flooring: Marmoleum

Karastan Contract

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Reclaimed Greenheart Flooring – Armster Reclaimed Lumber
Slate flooring

Office furniture:
Restored 1960’s Saarinen, Eames, Breuer pieces

Reception furniture:
Custom Woodwork

Fixed seating:
Irwin Seating Company - Crusader

Malik – Arne Jacobson
Hightower Group
DK Vogue
Salon Modern
Bright Chair
Restored 1960’s Saarinen, Eames, Breuer pieces

Bassam Fellows
Blu Dot Design
Saladino Furniture
William Earle
Refurbished existing pieces

Hinson & Company
Rogers & Goffigon
Baer Group
Stark Fabric
Highland Court
Edelman Leather
S. Harris
Mokum Textiles
Momentum Fabrics
Brentano Fabrics

Other furniture:
Interior Crafts
Custom – TD Woodworking

IO Lighting
Louis Poulsen
Mercury Lighting
Winona Lighting
Cooper Lighting
Kirlin Lighting
Delray Lighting
Linear Lighting

Task lighting:
Gammalux (Built in lighting at student desks)


Dimming System or other lighting controls:
Cooper Controls


Accessibility provision:

American Standard
Sloan – waterfree urinal
Fiat – Terrazzo basins, service sinks
Elkay – sinks, drains, drinking fountain