Yale Bulletin
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The new 300 Cedar St. building features two wings reflecting its dual commitment to research and education.

Facility Marks Major Step in Yale's $500 Million
Investment in the School of Medicine

More than 15 years in the planning, the Yale School of Medicine's new $176.6 million building at 300 Cedar St. is the cornerstone of a $500 million investment the University is making in biomedical research and teaching.

At 457,000 square feet, the structure is the most massive facility the medical school has ever built, and the largest the University has constructed in more than 70 years. Only Payne Whitney Gymnasium and Sterling Memorial Library are larger -- and then only slightly larger.

And more construction and renovation is yet to come.

"This is only the beginning of an important period of investment in the School of Medicine," said President Richard C. Levin. "By the end of the decade, we will have invested half a billion dollars in facilities here and have a scientific research capability that is second to none." (See related story.)

Excavation of the site began in early 2000 following demolition of several structures, among them an eight-story brick building at 350 Congress Ave. that once housed the Yale School of Nursing dormitory.

Architectural Challenges

The challenge to the architects, Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates of Philadelphia and Payette Associates of Boston, was the relatively small footprint -- just one city block -- and the research and educational programs the medical school wanted the building to contain.

One goal was to give the medical school 25% more lab space for use by 700 of its scientists. Another was to give medical students a state-of-the-art anatomy laboratory, classroom space and a 152-seat auditorium.

"We were space poor. We were landlocked," said Carolyn Slayman, deputy dean of the medical school, Sterling Professor of Genetics, and one of the original guiding hands who helped shepherd the project from the conceptual and planning stages through to completion. "The only significant amount of new space was the Boyer Center. The Boyer Center made it all the more apparent that areas of the school were constrained beyond all reason."

Another challenge was to make the structure conform to its environment, which is a mix of three- to four-story medical school buildings on three sides, bordered by a residential area to the southwest.

"We had to incorporate many different kinds of programs on the site and yet organize them in such a way that the building was efficient," said James Collins Jr., president of Payette and the principal in charge of the project. "Another consideration was the transition of scale from the new building to those across the street."

The architects shared vision was a New England loft design, derivative of the textile mills that once operated across the region. The ceilings are high, the spaces vast and the windows large enough to flood the laboratories and classrooms with natural daylight. Warm maple wainscotting is found throughout much of the public spaces in the building.

"The desire of the University was to build a building that provides a wonderful workplace for the people, a fact you can lose track of when you have a building with this much sophisticated technology," Collins said. "A building with this kind of intense habitation -- people will be utilizing the space 18 hours a day -- needs light and extensive use of natural materials to create a human environment."

Bringing in Light

To break up the building's massive scale, the structure is divided into three distinct, though contiguous, parts -- two block-long wings that meet in a cathedral-like lobby area that opens up to a courtyard stretching back 450 feet to Howard Avenue on the west. The three-story north side abuts Congress Avenue, and the six-story south side adjoins Gilbert Street.

Architect Robert Venturi of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates said the purpose of dividing the building into two wings was to create more light while dedicating space to the building's two principal functions: teaching and research. Luckily, the block on which it was situated was not purely rectangular, which allowed the architects to build a slight kink in the south side to break up the long façade. A varied palette of colored and patterned brick and limestone above the new building's granite base breaks up the surface rhythm of the structure's 700 huge windows.

The entry to the building's lobby recedes from the street corner to create an inviting forecourt. The idea is to use this plaza and its low walls for sitting, chatting, lunching or enjoying the sunshine.

The lobby is the only area where the architects opted for a little drama. The entry is a concave opening intended to correspond to the entrance to the Sterling Hall of Medicine. "We wanted a sense of identity, that you are coming into a special place," Venturi said. "We wanted the lobby to say, 'This is an important building, like Sterling.'"

The lobby opens into a three-story-high, sunlit atrium, the complex's centerpiece. A glassed-in skybridge connecting the second and third floors of the two wings passes overhead and a large staircase leads up to a glass wall and out to the courtyard.

The one element of what Venturi calls "fanfare" will be six aluminum sculptures in the courtyard that look like trees with circles of bright colors. The intent is to counteract the simplicity of the building as a whole while offering a cheerful demeanor to the community, he said, noting the trees also will enliven what would be bleak space during the winter months.

The three-story north wing, which is connected to the medical center by a pedestrian bridge one story above Congress Avenue, contains six teaching laboratories in anatomy and histology, along with the auditorium, six seminar rooms and the Magnetic Resonance Research Center. The six-story south wing contains laboratories and researchers' offices.

Spaces To Gather and Exchange Ideas

Just as the exterior plaza invites a sense of community, so do the long wood benches in the lounges at either end of the research wing. Break rooms located between each laboratory create space where people can gather and exchange ideas. Two sets of communicating stairs in the south wing are also designed to promote chance meetings and conversation. These open staircases allow laboratories and offices in one area to communicate vertically with office and laboratories on another floor.

700,000 Cubic Feet of Fresh Air

A two-story roof above the south wing houses the ventilation and other mechanical systems. Collins, of Payette, said the architects had two choices -- to hide the infrastructure, which would have been extremely difficult, or to let it be what it is, which is what they decided to do. Massive air handlers and other heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment fill the penthouse space.

"There is a tremendous amount of fresh air in the building," said Reyhan Larimer, project manager and architect for Yale. "Every minute 700,000 cubic feet of air is going through the building. Laboratory designs these days are looking for 10 air changes per hour to dilute any kind of build up."

A watertight membrane wraps the entire building to ensure that it will last at least a century. "Water penetrates the exterior and then there are problems on the interior," Larimer said. "Every piece of stone, every piece of material, was made to shed water and to make sure water will not go into the building."


Facility Marks Major Step in Yale's $500 Million
Investment in the School of Medicine

Space Will Help Transform the Face of Medicine

Scientists Join Forces To Delve Mysteries of Human Disease

High-Tech Classrooms Promote State-of-the-Art Learning

Donors Helped Medical School Vision Become a Reality

Center Will Expand Breakthrough Research Using Magnetic Resonance

Building for the Future Continues

Yale Bulletin & Calendar