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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

Sketches of Yale’s New Residential Colleges

— A collection of artist’s sketches of the new residential colleges planned for Yale University has been published today by the Yale Daily News. The sketches, prepared for Robert A.M. Stern Architects, show lovely buildings of traditional style that will fit in well with most of Yale’s existing collegiate architecture.

Many of the design elements illustrated in these sketches will be familiar to long-time readers of the Collegiate Way. The main Junior Common Room of one of the colleges, for example, includes multiple seating circles, natural and filtered light, a fire place, and (as far as we can tell) no television—it’s very similar to the Josselyn House JCR at Vassar College, described here earlier this year, and to other JCRs in residential colleges around the world.

[Proposed Junior Common Room design for a new residential college at Yale University]

Proposed design for the Junior Common Room of one of Yale University’s new residential colleges. Drawing by Jeff Stikeman via the Yale Daily News.

Similarly, the proposed courtyards for the new Yale colleges are very much on a human scale, with short residential wings, varying roof lines—Christopher Alexander’s Pattern 116—and with the landmark tower we always recommend. The depicted dining hall, as well, shows that the architects understand that room’s function as a universal Great Hall for the college—a room that will host concerts, plays, and formal dinners, as well as daily meals.

But none of this should be surprising, since collegiateway.org received quite a few visits from ramsa.com during the project’s early stages. (Our commission has yet to arrive in the mail…)

Yes, we say that tongue-in-cheek, since most of the collegiate design principles we advocate here are principles of long standing, whether your stylistic preference is neo-Gothic or neo-Poriferan. Even so, if you are contemplating residential college construction or renovation, there isn’t a better place to start than right here, where you’ll find hundreds of detailed recommendations and collegiate architectural notes from around the world.

But what if you’re not Yale, and celebrity architects bearing imported marble are unlikely to be in your future? Fear not. You can do just as well, and maybe even better, because buildings do not make a college—the lives of people make a college.

The architecture of a residential college, whether magnificent or modest, is good architecture only to the extent that it allows the members of the college to construct meaningful lives within it. A modest building can do this just as well as a luxurious one. And if a residential college building does not support the creation of meaningful lives, it makes no difference whether it is made of marble or straw. “Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact”—a story or fact vital to the lives of the people in it, said Ruskin—“than the richest without meaning.”

Update · 29 May 2009: Today’s edition of the Yale Daily News reports on the official public unveiling of the new residential college designs at a reception at Yale’s Sterling Library.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2016