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Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University | New Haven, Connecticut | 2018

Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University | New Haven, Connecticut | 2018

Architects: Weiss/Manfredi Architects
Client: Yale University
Structural Engineers: Thornton Tomasetti Associates
Photographers: Weiss/Manfredi Architect

The Center for Innovative Thinking establishes a new home for university-wide creative, research-based programs within Yale's School of Engineering and Applied Science. The center will bring together students from diverse disciplines to generate innovative solutions to real-world problems. The program, unique to the university, is based around team workshops and courses that allow students to bring their ideas to fruition.

The building's elliptical form becomes a counterpoint to the site, a rectangular courtyard shaped by the backs of six orthogonal structures. Curved transparent glass walls encourage circulation around and into the center, inviting the rest of the university to see and participate in the programs within.

Connections between the center and its surroundings create a new accessible circulation route and destination within the engineering precinct on campus. Within the center, continuous sightlines throughout unite spaces of creation and research, supporting interdisciplinary discourse. Open studios, meeting spaces, and offices foster opportunities for spontaneous discussion and provide links between public areas and adjacent instructional space.

In keeping with Yale's commitment to sustainability, the project will replace the current underused paved plaza rooftop with a new planted garden encouraging activity year-round. The building and the plaza renovation are currently on track for LEED gold certification. The combination of connectivity, sustainability, and new group workspaces will establish the Center for Innovative Thinking as a 24-hour nexus at a strategic location on campus.

Currently invisible to campus and the city beyond, the paved rooftop will be transformed into a newly legible garden destination for cross-disciplinary collaboration. The prow of the pavilion, framed by landmark buildings adjacent, will be visible from Prospect Street, announcing the location of the center.

The building is located atop an existing plaza roof deck near the center of the Yale Campus between the Becton Center, Dunham Labs, and the Sheffield Sterling Strathcona Building. A collection of leftover back faces of buildings line an empty plaza that forms the site. The area under the plaza is occupied by existing lab space and an auditorium. Continuing a campus tradition of garden courtyards, the center establishes a new pavilion and landscape at the center of the existing plaza. The site renovation work covers approximately 28,000 sqft.

The project includes a new two-story pavilion (11,100 sqft) and approximately 1,100 sqft of renovation to existing lab space below grade.

The location of the project presents significant technical challenges. Paving is replaced with planting. Existing structures must be painstakingly renovated and repaired. A new structure of AESS steel columns and castellated beams is carefully distributed to minimize the impact on the occupied basement below. The one-foot thick concrete retaining walls and twelve-foot level changes that currently divide the site are transformed into connective planted berms and accessible walkways.

Set in a courtyard defined by Brutalist and Gothic architecture in stone and concrete, the center contrasts the static opacity of masonry with a luminous, energy-efficient glass skin. The curvature of the glass allows it to span 22 vertical feet with no mullions and maximized transparency. The glass skin's reflective and transparent quality allows the pavilion to act as a chameleon, mirroring the surroundings and campus activity by day and creating a destination imbued with luminosity at night.

Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University
Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University
Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale University

American Architecture
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