How did this project develop? Didn't it start as a planning exercise?
Mack Scogin, AIA: The project was a design competition for the site plan for this building. Yale gave us the site, a building program, and talked about their aspirations in terms of the site's location to the rest of the university—and that's about it. Right off the bat, it was obvious why they were concerned about the site—it was fairly small for the program. They wanted to build a health services building and substantial parking deck, and one of the stated goals was for the site to be a gateway when moving from east to west on the campus. But the site was also in the middle of two green spaces that would never change: a public park and a cemetery.
So you were really bounded by these green spaces.
Scogin: Yes. The site is an odd shape—when you put the parking garage on there, it became more of a triangle than anything else. So we understood why they were going through the site planning process, but there was a little bit of mystery because they seemed to have completely dedicated themselves to using this site in what seemed like a very odd spot at the back of the university. Once we got into it, we realized that in the near future, it will be almost at the center of the university, as Yale develops the eastern part of the campus. I think we probably were the only ones that went ahead and let the site be controlled by this geometry, and it led to a very odd shape for the building.
The Yale campus has such a strong architectural identity. How did you work with the context, but also put your own stamp on it?
Merrill Elam, AIA: I think we did that through the whole idea of the planning, using the inner space of the site. The tradition at Yale is to go from the street, through a passageway, into an open area. Bringing the public circulation into the interior of the site, between this parking deck and the building itself, is a play on that idea, even if it's not a direct correspondence.
How did the form of the building develop?
Scogin: The aesthetic of the building is related to our observation of this place being about the human body and human frailty. It also didn't escape us that we were next to the cemetery—even the inpatient care rooms overlook the cemetery—and that side of the building has the most radical form to it. And you can read it as something that's being put together, or you can read it as something that is falling apart, which I think is a trait of the human condition. You never know if you're falling apart or coming together—basically, diapers to diapers, as they say.
A hallmark of your work has always been the exploration of materiality on the skin of your projects. How did design of the brick develop here?
Elam: In all of our drawings, we were using a series of horizontal lines to give some continuity across the façade, to hold it together—the structural idea of the horizontal line. And then, in order to get a scale that was meaningful in terms of the overall size of the building, we used bull-nosed brick alternating with flat brick, so that it would create another whole scale.
Scogin: It's fair to say, though, if you're really honest about it, that we've spent our whole careers trying to do architecture with no budget. We never had big-budget projects. This building had a pretty big budget, but it's a health building—a lot of it was spent on equipment. We spent almost 20 years doing nothing but really utilitarian architecture, and trying to make something out of it. The only thing we had to play with was that last layer. We couldn't play with form, that was a direct result of "form follows function."
Elam: The industrial engineer would hand us the plan!
Scogin: It was always a box; we did everything in the world that you could think of to try to make some kind of architecture. We never talked about materiality until the last minute—every model we made was white on white. It drove our clients nuts. One said, "No more fucking blank models."
Elam: But I think we are always searching for a solution that is specific to the project. Even when an idea may carry over from an earlier design process, it becomes different in terms of size, shape, and technical detail. It's just an abiding interest we've had for years.
You mentioned that there is a lot going on at this site. What were you contending with, programatically, with this project?
Scogin: There are 350 rooms—well, that's how many doors were on the door schedule—which is an enormous number for this site. The building contains all of the campus health services. You have doctors that represent all the different disciplines, and everybody goes to this service center, not just students—faculty, staff, family, people that have retired from Yale—so you get, essentially, everything that you find in a hospital. All the departments are in this building: eyes, ears, noses, unmentionable parts … everything.
Elam: It's like a Whitman's sampler.
With all of those departments, how did you choreograph the interior?
Scogin: It may look like there's a repetitive plan on several floors but there's actually not—there is no coordination between each floor, medically. We've privileged the patients, but we also privileged the doctors by giving them the best perimeter spaces in the building. What that allowed us to do is to separate out the departments, such that the closer you get to where you are going, the more private it becomes. That’s a pretty big thing in a facility where you've got this awkward cultural ogling of people who know each other, coming in together at reception. The issue that is sensitive to most people is that when they are going to the doctor, they're not really keen on talking to people.
The bright interior spaces really contrast with the dark exterior.
Scogin: We're kind of anti-atrium architects, but we designed a large collective area when you come into the building. This brings light in right to the center. The most important thing for us was that if you work in that building, and more so if you are a patient, the minute you step in the door you feel like you're in a really beautiful, bright, reassuring, soft building—that you feel uplifted. There are very few signals that it is a institution—it's bright and filled with light—and the optimal way to achieve that was actually disassociating the exterior of the building from the interior, in terms of color and finish. The bottom line is that it's a very humane building. At first, you may not think so, because of its aggressiveness and weirdness on the outside, but it's incredibly peaceful on the inside.
Project The Yale Health Center, New Haven, Conn.
Client Yale University
Architect Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta—Mack Scogin, AIA (principal-in-charge); Merrill Elam, AIA (collaborating principal); Jennifer Pindyck, Bud Shenefelt (project managers); Michael Filisky, B. Vithayathawornwong, Christopher Agosta, AIA, David Karle, Anja Turowski, Clark Tate, Misty Boykin (core team); Christopher Almeida, Jonathan Baker, Bo Roberts, Mack Cole-Edelsack, Tim Do, Laura Edwards, Margaret Fletcher, Helen Han, Jason Hoeft, Carrie Hunsicker, Jeff Kemp, Trey Lindsey, Reed Simonds, Matthew Weaver, Rubi Xu (project team)
Interior Designer Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects
M/E Engineer and Lighting Designer Arup
Structural Engineer DeSimone Consulting Engineers
Civil Engineer Nitsch Engineering
Geotechnical Engineer Haley & Aldrich
Construction Manager Turner Construction Co.
Landscape Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Health Services Design Consultant Perkins+Willuxazyvvavydrfdxb
Landscape Architect of Record HM White Site Architects
Specifications Consulting Collective Wisdom
Environmental Engineer Atelier Ten
Façade Consultant Front
Façade Engineer Ryan-Biggs Associates
Parking Consultant Tighe & Bond
Food Service Consultants Stephen Bang Consultants
Size 147,000 square feet
Cost $78.6 million Material and Sources
Acoustical System Armstrong armstrong.com; Hunter Douglas hunterdouglas.com; USG usg.com
Carpet Constantine millikencarpet.com
Ceilings Armstrong armstrong.com; Barrisol barrisolusa.com; Hunter Douglas hunterdouglas.com; USG usg.com
Exterior Wall Systems Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope oldcastlebe.com
Filter Fabric and Water Retention Mat American Hydrotech hydrotechusa.com
Flooring Precast Terrazzo precastterrazzo.com
Glass Viracon, viracon.com; Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope oldcastlebe.com
Guards, Rails, Bumpers C/S Acrovyn c-sgroup.com
Gypsum National Gypsum Co. nationalgypsum.com
Insulation Johns Manville jm.com; Owens Corning owenscorning.com; Roxul roxul.com
Masonry and Stone Endicott Clay Products endicott.com
Metal VM Zinc vmzinc.com
Paints and Finishes Sherwin Williams sherwin-williams.com
Pedestrian Pavers Hanover Pavers hanoverpavers.com
Wallcoverings ACGI acgiwood.com
Walls Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope oldcastlebe.com