From the Accademia di San Luca through the École des Beaux-Arts to the creation of accredited schools of architecture in the United States, education has played an influential role in the formation of the architect. As the academy goes, so goes the profession. Judging by its graduates, one of the most influential institutions during the past century has been the Yale School of Architecture. What differentiates it from competitors such as MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, and Columbia? In this brilliant and detailed history, Dean Robert A. M. Stern and Jimmy Stamp offer a comprehensive explanation of Yale's unique qualities and the people, both students and faculty, who have made Yale one of the most revered places to study architecture in the United States.
How much did the members of Yale's faculty and their pedagogy influence the trajectory of American architecture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? The authors claim that Yale was at the forefront of architectural debate and new movements. Yet at the same time they give credit to the students’ individual creativity, which the school has sought to foster. Stern defines Yale as a pluralist school within a college of art. From the debates between Paul Rudolph and Louis Kahn to student juries attended by opposites such as Léon Krier and Peter Eisenman, Yale has prided itself on being a place where disparate theories of architecture can be explored. This can be very exciting or very confusing, depending on the student's background. My own experience with the school's pluralist pedagogy in the 1980s was less that all ideas were equal and more that everyone was welcome to get beaten up in the boxing ring.
From its founding under Chairman Everett V. Meeks, Yale's architecture school was modeled on the École des Beaux-Arts. Unlike at MIT and Columbia, architecture at Yale was part of a school of fine arts, and this meant cross-pollination from painting, sculpture, and photography. This may also be the genesis of Yale's reputation as an “artsy” (some would say undisciplined) architecture school. Architecture left the School of Art in 1972 while remaining in the Art and Architecture building. In 2000 the School of Art moved out of the A&A, yet some of its artsiness has remained in architecture.
Under Deans George Howe and Paul Rudolph in the 1950s, Yale fully embraced modernism and began the “star” system of teaching, in which up-and-coming or famous architects came to Yale on a visiting basis. Rather than emphasizing a particular program of study or a methodology of teaching, as at IIT or the École des Beaux-Arts, Yale emphasized the validity of many styles. The strong personalities of the visiting faculty and the modern jury system encouraged debate and discussion, leading some to describe the result as “talkitecture.”
Yale has long been associated with leading modernist architects and has produced many internationally known stars, such as Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Charles Gwathmey, James Polshek, David Childs, Marion Weiss, Soo Chan, and Lise Anne Couture. Less well known perhaps is that Yale, more than any other graduate program, has been associated with the major practitioners of eclecticism. The artistic freedom given to students and the emphasis on architectural history are responsible for this. Thus, during the height of modernism, Yale welcomed visiting faculty and deans who questioned architectural orthodoxy and believed in the relevance of history and context. Among these was favored alumnus Eero Saarinen, who was known for his eclectic approach, designing Miesian boxes for General Motors and an expressionistic concrete sculpture for TWA. Philip Johnson, who famously said, “You cannot not know history,” visited Yale often. Charles Moore, one of the fathers of postmodern eclecticism, was chairman in the 1960s. He, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown taught studios that questioned heroic modernism and encouraged studying the vernacular. Venturi and Scott Brown's studios led to the countercultural book Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form.1
Cesar Pelli, who was dean at the height of architectural postmodernism, brought in some faculty with an interest in learning from history. Perhaps the “starchitect” who had the longest influence, from the 1960s through the 1980s, was James Stirling, who started practice as a high-tech modernist and became an eclectic postmodernist late in life. Three of the best-known practitioners of traditional architecture, Tom Beeby, Robert Stern, and Allan Greenberg, were classmates at Yale under Paul Rudolph. Beeby and Stern both went on to become deans of the School of Architecture. Not surprisingly, Yale graduates have been some of the best-known practitioners of the Shingle Style, a term invented by famed architectural historian Vincent Scully, who taught future architects and their patrons for decades. Yet while allowing latitude for contrary or even traditional views, Yale has remained a staunchly modernist school, even after eighteen years with Stern as dean (1998–2016).
Even if one does not agree with every conclusion of the authors, their book is refreshingly critical of various faculty as well as candid in its assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of previous deans. While the book claims for Yale a place of preeminence in American architectural education, this is the history of Yale “warts and all.” As the title makes clear, a great amount of ink is spent on the different places architecture has been taught at Yale. The greatest focus, however, is on the Art and Architecture building, designed by Chairman Paul Rudolph and completed in 1963, one of the most loved and hated buildings in New Haven. In homage to his teacher, Stern had the Brutalist structure restored and enlarged in 2008 for $126 million. In the book's presentation of the history of the people and ideas that made Yale architecture what it is, one strong theme is the different emphases that various deans brought to the school. In the hope of finding some unity among the members of this disparate group, I crunched the numbers. Between 1947, when Everett Meeks retired, and fifty-one years later, when Robert Stern became dean, almost every dean of the Yale School of Architecture was between forty and fifty-five years old, up-and-coming rather than famous, and known for practice rather than scholarship. Most served for a period of seven years or less, and many saw their professional practices take off during their tenure.
Some of the highlights of Pedagogy and Place include discussions of less well-known but influential faculty, such as Eugene Nalle and George Ranalli, who during different periods had followings among the students that could be described as religious. The book also covers President Kingman Brewster's heroic challenge to the faculty during the 1969 student protests and their refusal to work: “‘I'm doing my job. Are you going to do yours?’ Everyone stood up and roared. He gave us our spine back. Then he left. He walked through the students proudly and they parted like the Red Sea” (309). Later that year the Art and Architecture building was set on fire.
Less well known is the case of Jaquelin T. Robertson, who, as a young architect, accepted the deanship from President Brewster in 1971, only to turn it down a few days later. One of the most amazing stories is about Maya Lin, who as an undergraduate produced the winning design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Afterward, she went to Harvard for graduate school but was not impressed. Returning to Yale, she was more famous than many of the people she was studying with. In addition, reading Stern's version of the hullaballoo surrounding his acceptance of the deanship is entertaining. Some of the alums feared he would turn the A&A into a postmodern confection and hothouse for historicism. Instead, Stern continued the pluralism and modernism for which Yale is best known while producing lecture series, conferences, and publications that are the envy of other schools.
In summary, Stern and Stamp's book is a convincing account of Yale's influence on the architectural profession (especially since World War II). In fact, given its enjoyable narrative and thorough scholarship, it is hard to think of a more detailed history of a school of architecture, outside that of the École des Beaux-Arts. One might predict that Pedagogy and Place will become a new yardstick for the historiography of architectural education and hope that future monographs will further broaden our understanding of the symbiotic and sometimes stormy relationship between academia and the profession.