Law school renovation raises the standard at Yale University

November 1, 2004
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A careful strategy was required when planning the renovation of the Sterling law buildings at Yale University in New Haven, CT. Designed by architect James Gamble Rogers in 1930, the original 250,000-square-foot structure covered an entire city block and did not possess any land for further development. The recent renovation, which was designed by Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects of Boston, MA, provided minimal increases to the building envelope, yet developed a more spacious and aesthetically pleasing working environment. In keeping with the building materials used in the original design of the Collegiate Gothic-style structure, granite and limestone were utilized for new architectural elements.

“The challenge of the renovation project for the Yale Law School was to accommodate an enlarged student and faculty population, to provide state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities and to house one of the largest law libraries in the country while respecting and restoring the distinguished existing structure,” said Project Architect Ted Szostkowski of Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects. “The renovation took the approach of minimizing any sense of confrontation with the richly eclectic exterior, preferring a seamless continuity with the existing building fabric. The interior renovation extended this theme of the continuity of the existing materials palette, but employed modern sectional strategies and relationships to bring daylight to previously unused or back-of-the-house spaces.”

The lengthy renovation project entailed several phases of construction. In the first phase, the area referred to as the Wall Street wing of the quadrangle was converted from dormitory use to administrative offices for admissions, career development, alumni affairs and a number of student organizations. A new entrance to the wing was created to permit direct access to these offices and to the primary occupant of the wing, the Legal Services Clinic, which provides legal assistance to the New Haven community.

Four-inch-thick, seam-faced granite -- ranging in color from light gray/yellow to rusty brown -- was the original cladding for the perimeter moat walls as well as for major portions of the building. The cladding of the building as a whole varies from predominantly stone on the Wall Street side to balanced blends of brick and stone to primarily brick with stone trim on other street and courtyard elevations, according to Szostkowski. The stone came from nearby quarries in Weymouth and Hingham, MA.

“Existing stone was re-used or matched, with most new stone used at the new Wall Street entrance and new window walls where newly exposed foundation walls were clad with new stone,” said the architect. “Small quantities of Deer Isle granite were used as the exterior base of new walls, for pavers and exterior stair treads.”

In total, approximately 80% of salvaged Rustic Buff limestone and 20% Hard Gray limestone -- all originally from quarries in the Bedford, IN, area -- were the predominant stone for window surrounds (head, sill and jambs), water tables, parapets, copings and other accent elements, including ornate carvings. “New limestone -- matching existing profiles -- was used for a new parapet and coping conditions, such as new elevator penthouses, planter and HCP ramp details, and enlarged and new basement window openings.”

“The new Wall Street entrance was modeled on existing Law School elements, historic sources and neighboring buildings by James Gamble Rogers,” said Szostkowski. “This entrance combined seam-faced granite wall cladding with elaborately carved new limestone. The pointed entry portal, with flanking windows, was carved in place after machine-cut blocks were installed, while the decorative frieze was carved by master stone carver Oleg Kokuroshnikov at the stoneworks of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, shipped to New Haven and installed as a new fascia above the doorway. This pair of stone panels features a free interpretation of a vine and fruit frieze above the original main entrance, and includes the donor's name in Gothic script.”

Accessing the damage

Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. of Arlington, MA, was hired to evaluate and repair the condition of the existing exterior stonework. “Our role as consultants was to investigate and develop the scope for the exterior masonry repairs,” said Project Manager Dean Rutila. “That's where the project started.”

According to Rutila, the majority of the work that needed to be completed was fairly minor repairs, such as re-pointing areas of the stone walls. One of the main problems that was found when accessing the condition of the stone was that the building did not have enough flashing. As a result, water had penetrated the stone in areas, causing damage.

“A lot of flashing was added to address those areas to prevent future water penetration,” said Rutila. “Stone was removed where we needed to replace the flashing. We matched the existing [stone] as best we could.” Because the intent of the original building design had been for the structure to look as if it had been built over time with intentional variations, making an exact match with new stone was not a primary concern.

In addition to repairing portions of the stonework and flashing, all of the exterior stone was cleaned with products from Hydrochemical Techniques, Inc. of Hartford, CT. Being that the project was so involved, Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. often had a large crew on the jobsite. “There were times when there were 100 laborers and me working away,” said Rutila.

Additional phases

Additionally, the first phase of construction involved renovating the basement level to provide spaces for student organizations and workrooms. This area was previously filled with steel pipes and used only for storage. According to the architect, the space was made usable by creating large new window openings into the perimeter moat and by careful coordination of new building services. This wing was named Ruttenberg Hall in honor of an alumni donor.

In the second phase of construction, existing faculty offices on the Grove Street side of the building were renovated and expanded. “As in the first phase, a new elevator core was added to make the structure fully accessible, and to facilitate the connection between the various wings of the building,” said Szostkowski, adding that the renovation of dormitory rooms that were retained was undertaken by a local firm. New limestone pieces were employed at interior locations affected by new construction, such as the elevator frames. The new pieces were fabricated to match existing profiles, said the architect. A “light buff-to-white” marble, which matched existing installations, was used at new interior stair treads and risers.

The final and most significant phase of construction involved upgrading the teaching spaces, the library and original faculty offices. “While seminar rooms were restored to their original location -- used recently as administrative offices -- classrooms were combined and enlarged to create a variety of up-to-date facilities, including several with tiered seating, featuring electrical and data outlets at each seat,” said Szostkowski. The library renovation developed, improved and computer-networked student seating and better staff work areas.

All ornamental and decorative stone that was affected by new construction was re-used at new locations. “This included a relief panel relocated to allow the creation of the new Wall Street entrance, and installed on the new elevator penthouse, facing the courtyard,” he said. “[Additionally], eight limestone medallions were relocated from the blind arches in the Main Reading Room of the Law Library -- opened up with new interior glazing -- and inserted into the back brick walls of the courtyard cloister and bordered by a basket-weave pattern of brick. Two pairs of stone triple-arch leaded-glass windows [were also] moved from corridor locations to allow the creation of new classroom doors, and added to the corridor side of the newly expanded student lounge.”

The extensive renovation of the Sterling law buildings took 13 years to complete. “To accommodate three transitions in the leadership of the library, the project design schedule was extended to incorporate the evolving concepts presented by each succeeding Law Librarian,” said the architect. “The renovation also had to be accomplished without curtailing the educational program.”

According to Szostkowski, feasibility and master planning on the project began in 1987. Phase I (Wall Street) was completed in 1995; Phase II (Grove Street) was finished the following year in 1996; and work on Phase III (High Street) ended in 2000, with substantial peak construction periods taking place during the summer and vacation breaks in the academic year. “During the course of the project, local firms renovated the dormitory (York Street) wing, the auditorium, the Annex Library (under the adjacent Beinecke Library), and the dining hall/kitchen,” said the architect. After its completion, the outstanding stonework on the project won the 2001 Tucker Award of Excellence, which was given by the Building Stone Institute.

End box

Sterling Law Buildings
Yale University
New Haven, CT

Architect: James Gamble Rogers
Renovation Architect: Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects, Inc., Boston, MA
General Contractors: Leach-Barton Malow, New Haven, CT (Phases I & II); Turner Construction (Phase III)
Exterior Envelope Consultant: Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc., Arlington, MA

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