Unmocking mockup at Yale

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Mockups at Yale by James Gamble Rogers in 1917 (left) and RMASA in 2012 (right) (RAMSA)

The other day the U.S. Mail produced for me a gift from RAMSA – Robert A.M. Stern Architects. The New Residential Colleges at Yale: A Conversation Across Time came with an inscription to me from the great architect himself: “To David Brussat, in appreciation of support. Bob Stern.”) It is a big book, and, looking at it sit there on my coffee table waiting to be opened, I was a fool to think it would be nothing but glorious photographs by Peter Aaron of a project I have indeed praised to the skies.

But in fact there were, page for page, relatively few large-format shots of the two Collegiate Gothic campi, completed just a few months ago. No, this book was more like Stern’s huge volumes on the architectural history of New York City. Yes, this book is filled with photographs, maps, diagrams and extensive text about the history of the campus, especially the Collegiate Gothic work of James Gamble Rogers, and the construction of the current work. Thus the subtitle. Benjamin Franklin College and Pauli Murray College were inspired by Rogers’s buildings erected at Yale starting a century ago and continuing into the ’30s. The names James Gamble Rogers and Collegiate Gothic are virtually synonymous. Bob Stern knows a good thing when he sees one.

The paired photos above encapsulate the book and the sensibility. They are mock-ups erected by Rogers and RAMSA to show off the materials and forms envisioned for the work proposed for Yale in 1917 and 2012, respectively. But a mock-up is more than just a display of materials and forms, as the passage below from Stern’s book, written with Gideon Fink Shapiro, illustrates:

Prior to the start of construction, our research into building techniques and component assemblies culminated in the ultimate in physical study models, a full-scale mockup that helped solidify decisions about the composition and construction of the 1½ miles of façade that would wrap Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray Colleges. Erected a few blocks from the site on Winchester Avenue, and 30-foot-tall mockup effectively demonstrated technical and aesthetic qualities of the façade for both the builders and the client, tested assumptions about constructibility and cost, and set quality standards for subcontractors later asked to submit bids. It featured a fragment of a typical elevation of face brick, limestone and granite trim, cast-stone coping and window surrounds, a slate roof, a limestone-capped buttress, zinc gutters and downspouts, and a solid wood door. Its various types of windows, including a bay window, were supplied by five different manufacturers being considered for the job. The mockup also included invisible but equally important technical elements, such as flashing, waterproofing, insulation, and an air cavity.

Fascinating stuff. Many buildings today are built without mockups, and the mockups that are put up are intended, like most architectural renderings performed for clients, to disguise more than to reveal the nature of intended work. But Stern’s mockups are the real McCoy. The next paragraph describes Rogers’s mockups a century ago:

Rogers similarly relied upon demonstration walls, erected first in New York City and then in New Haven, “to get satisfactorily the stone jointing, texture, color, and mortar,” as reported in Architectural Record in February 1918, and he subsequently used mockups to facilitate the detailing and construction of the residential colleges after 1930. Robert Dudley French, writing about Rogers’s use of mockups for the Memorial Quadrangle, observd, “It is always easier to show a man what you want done than it is to tell him.”

Aaiyyyy! (To quote a common expression of frustration in the spirit of Federal Hill, now a restaurant mecca but formerly one of the major Italo neighborhood of Providence.) Mock me with your pictures! Always “worth a thousand words”! Gimme a break! Words are not just potted plants. We writers are not great fans of that bon mot. But I digress.

The New Residential Colleges at Yale has thousands and thousands of words, and many, many pictures. But a visit is important, too. I have no doubt that these tandem living spaces will be tourist attractions as well as educational facilities. To get back to sanity in architecture, people must see that beauty in architecture is not just a thing of the past. Ben Franklin and Pauli Murray will fill that role, too. The classical design of the colleges is a vital step in the history of the classical revival in the 21st century.

Thank you, Yale. And thank you, Robert A.M. Stern – for the excellent book as well as the excellent work at Yale and elsewhere. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you – and to all of my readers!

Below are some shots from an earlier post on the new campuses. Please go to that post to find out the photographers involved:

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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