Equipped with the knowledge acquired from this series of activities and discussions, the students are now prepared for their first site visit. They have developed some categories and methods for analyzing space and some skills for recording their responses. Students should be encouraged to take notes, draw, touch, examine materials more closely, and to photograph the buildings and spaces they visit. They should observe their movement and the movement of others.
I have chosen a site on the Yale campus to utilize these skills. It presents us with many of the issues we have been discussing. It provides a perfect example of the historical contrasts I have mentioned and offers a large open exterior plaza to examine as well as well as intriguing and fascinating interiors. It is the Hewitt Quadrangle located on Wall Street. The major buildings to examine are the Woolsey Hall/Commons complex and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The building is to be approached from the Old Campus and as we approach the plaza some examples of the Gothic Revival can be pointed out to contrast with the Classical that will be observed at Woolsey/Commons.
Woolsey Hall and the Commons, with their connecting rotunda, are like three separate buildings. Woolsey and the Commons are large rectangular volumes radiating from the central rotunda and form the major structure which enclose and defines the plaza. The building should be examined both inside and outside to see how the themes and ornamentation are carried out. This ornamentation is a rich blend of the Classical Order (column, capital, and entablature). A colonnade of columns and pilasters spans the length of the Commons and the pilasters are also present in the interior.
Beinecke is a floating rectangular solid with slabs of marble suspended in a grid framework of granite. The building should be entered to observe the splendid visual effects of light passing through the translucent marble. The exterior plaza can be used to illustrate the concept of hepatic responses to a defined space.
Although the students have yet to discuss the connection between form, organization, and function, these ideas can be introduced to show their relation to the buildings’ visual appearance. Beinecke is composed of a single geometric form and the building performs a single function of enclosing space for the purpose of storing materials for study and research. Woolsey and the Commons house a variety of functions that are temporary. The use of repetitive forms expresses two very different feelings that suggest different associations. Beinecke’s repetitive shapes-of marble and granite are amassed to stop the motion of the eye in the space. The building represents the static function of a wall. The row of columns presents us with a contrasting use of repetition that leads the eye in a progression toward the entrance at the rotunda. These two uses conflict in their purposes with the Library frustrating the natural progression created by the columns.
Another comparison can be made of the buildings’ memorializing functions. Beinecke achieves this via its function of storing precious historical documents. Woolsey/Commons achieves this with its elaborate ornamentation and inscriptions. The language of permanence takes very different expressive paths. The Library sits there, closed ~ to us, like a book requiring our action to discover its seemingly secret function. However, its entry is “covered” and interrupted by a sunken courtyard that contains a monumental sculpture. The regular forms should be considered for their possible implications. Like the building itself, they are abstract and suggest cryptic associations. The flag staff and cenotaph around Woolsey/Commons, unlike the sunken courtyard, do not impede passage and openly admit to their memorializing purposes. The two can be discussed for their contrasting visual and verbal means of achieving this function.