MID-CENTURY EXPERIMENTS

Hill College House, University of Pennylvania (Eero Saarinen, 1958)

Hill College House, University of Pennylvania (Eero Saarinen, 1958)

In a recent article in Common\Edge, Duo Dickinson compares Eero Saarinen’s Morse and Stiles Colleges and Robert A. M. Stern’s Franklin and Murray Colleges and calls them “two well-built, rigorously planned dormitories.” Rigorously planned? I have read that Morse and Stiles have the least amount of fenestration per wall area of any of the Yale colleges (i.e. the rooms are dark), which may account for their unpopularity with students. And can a building that requires a $100 million dollar renovation after only 50 years really be “well-built”? I couldn’t find the original construction cost of Morse and Stiles, but another Saarinen college dorm, Hill College House at Penn, cost $4 million to build in 1958 ($33 million in current dollars). The building was just renovated for no less than $80.5 million. This covered not only improvements such as air-conditioning, but repairs to crumbling brickwork—after only 58 years! In a recent filmed interview, Kevin Roche, who was Saarinen’s chief design assistant at the time of Hill College House and Morse and Stiles, said “You’re lunging out into the future and so you do things that, in retrospect, may or may not work. That’s the nature of any experimental architecture.” It is, of course, the nature of experiments that they occasionally fail. Let us hope that the Stern Yale colleges fare better.

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