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A building for the 22nd century

The Congress Avenue Building, seen from the south.
Photo by Matt Warco
The Congress Avenue Building, seen from the south. Altogether the structure packs 457,000 square feet into a single city block.

When the planners and architects set out to create the Congress Avenue Building, they needed to think 100 years ahead, since the expectation is that the new structure will still be around and contributing to medical science a century from now. That's hard to do when even a year can bring huge changes in science.

The building’s architect, Robert Venturi, head of the Philadelphia firm Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, said, “You’re changing, always changing in science. We purposely designed it in the tradition of the general American loft building, a simple form and space to make it as flexible as possible.”

That flexibility had to take into consideration Yale’s need for a major increase in research and educational space and the limits of the long narrow building site between Cedar and Howard streets. The result is two slender, elongated wings that extend two stories underground. The complex packs an enormous amount of space—nearly half-a-million square feet—into a single city block. While meeting space and programmatic needs, the new building needed to fit in with the largely Georgian, low-scale buildings along Congress Avenue. The three-story north wing complements the other buildings and reduces the street-level impact of the six-story south wing behind it. Venturi said he chose a varied palette of colored and patterned brick and limestone above the new building’s granite base to break up the surface rhythm of the structure’s 700 huge windows, “so it would not appear so big and would seem more cheerful.”

The entry to the building’s lobby is a concave opening intended to correspond to the entrance to Sterling Hall of Medicine and is the only sculptural form in the structure. It opens into a three-story-high, sunlit atrium, the complex’s centerpiece. A glassed-in sky-bridge passes overhead between the wings and a large staircase leads out to the courtyard.

To ensure that the building will be around to contribute to science in the 22nd century, according to Reyhan T. Larimer, AIA, the Yale project manager in charge of the building’s construction, “no expense was spared in making it watertight.” A watertight membrane wraps the entire building. “Every piece of stone, every piece of material,” she said, “was made to shed water and to make sure water will not go into the cavity of the building.” A century from now, scientists and students should still be working comfortably in what is today’s most advanced medical sciences facility.