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Yale Opens BIM-Designed, Transparent Campus Building

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

A curvy, glass-enclosed building designed by Sir Norman Foster opened this month on the Yale University campus, providing the first consolidated home for its School of Management.

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The new home of Yale University’s School of Management is a $243-million, five-story, geometrically complex steel-and-glass building. A double-height library and two glass-encased spiral staircases present interior spaces as architectural elements at the front of the building. Chris Choi

January 21, 2014—With a history that dates back more than 300 years, it is unsurprising that the Yale University campus in New Haven hosts a variety of architectural styles, including New England Colonial, High Victorian Gothic, Moorish Revival, and modern. The most recent addition to campus opened just this month, with classes beginning the week of January 13. The 242,000 sq ft building is a sleek, transparent structure designed by Sir Norman Foster—who graduated from the university's architecture school in 1962—that integrates elements of traditional Yale architecture with a distinct Foster twist. It is the first consolidated home for the School of Management, which welcomed its first students in 1976 and eventually grew to occupy space in 10 buildings.

The $243-million, five-story building is a geometrically complex steel-and-glass structure that surrounds an internal courtyard. "Most Yale buildings and colleges have courtyards in them," says Stanley J. Garstka, Ph.D., a professor in the practice of management at the Yale School of Management and the school's lead on the building projects. A courtyard "is really the heart of the building," he says.

The three themes that the School of Management gave the architect to guide his design were transparency, integration, and globalization, says Garstka. Because the needs of management are constantly evolving, the school also desired flexible spaces that could be adapted as necessary over time, he says. 

As a result, Foster has taken typically interior elements and turned them into architectural details that are visible from the exterior of the building. Eight oval drums that appear to bisect the interior floors from the top of the structure to the second floor hold the classrooms for the school, and offer a dark blue counterpoint to the clear views through the remainder of the building. Lounge and informal meeting areas are located just outside these drums, and elsewhere in the building, so that the informal collaboration that is one of the campus' hallmarks of learning can thrive.

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The curved glass facade of the wall facing the courtyard is supported only at the top and bottom. The weight of the façade is supported at the roof, with the bottom support used only for lateral bracing. Tony Rinaldo

At the front of the building, a double-height library and two glass-encased spiral staircases present the interior spaces as architectural elements in their own right. A 350-seat auditorium defines the rear geometry of the building. Unbraced, slender exterior steel columns that reach up to 64 ft in height, depending on location, support the roof canopies that extend over these elements.

Within the building, mezzanines further the vision of transparency, offering sightlines and open spaces between floors and spaces. The transparency of the building's design allows sightlines into, and out of, the structure at multiple angles so that occupants feel—and are visibly—part of the Yale University campus, Garstka says. 

Exposed exterior columns, slim interior vertical elements, and intricate steel connections were all laid out with the Tekla building information modeling software, produced by Tekla, USA, based in Kennesaw, Georgia. These elements together fulfilled the demanding architectural vision, according to Erleen Hatfield, P.E., AIA, LEED-AP, M.ASCE, a partner in the New York City office of the international engineering firm Buro Happold and the engineer of record for the design.

With the transparency the building and exposure of the structure, there was very little room in the ceiling voids for structural systems and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) lines, according to Hatfield. In addition, a zoning decision early in the process reduced the building's plan area but did not allow for increased building height, so those few ceiling cavities that existed were further reduced when an additional floor was added to the structure. For this, the Revit BIM software produced by Autodesk, of San Rafael, California, which is geared specifically toward structural and MEP design, was useful. "Revit modeling was embraced by the entire design team at the start of construction documents, allowing real time 3-D coordination of all trades," Hatfield says.

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From the building’s internal courtyard, four oval classroom drums are visible through the glass wall, which curves to mimic the lines of the drums. Unbraced, slender exterior steel columns support the roof canopy. Harold Shapiro

"The challenge really was trying to design this building with two different constraints," Hatfield says; the structural engineering had to fulfill the architect's vision of a clear, exposed structure, but also meet the owner's needs for a value-driven approach. To meet both these needs, "we created a fabrication model and the contractors bid from that model," Hatfield explains. "It is highly unusual to do this but it helped the structure come in under budget and on time, which is amazing, because this is a highly detailed, exposed structure." 

"By designing the connections during the [structural] design process, we could control what they looked like," Hatfield says. Doing so allowed the fabricators to fully understand what they were bidding on, and for the exposed connections to be detailed in a manner that fit the aesthetic vision of the architects. As a result, the steel tonnages in the bids were all within 1 percent of one another, Hatfield notes. Additionally, when it came to the erection of the steel work, fit-up issues were "practically nonexistent," she says.

Building information modeling also made possible a curved glass facade that faces the internal courtyard and is supported only at the top and bottom, creating an internal atrium, according to Hatfield. "To achieve this long, vertical span without large members interrupting the view, the facade weight was hung entirely from the roof, with the bottom support used only for lateral bracing," she says. The facade's vertical elements were integrated with the structural steel of the floor via custom steel sleeve connections. "This allowed seamless integration between the floor steel and the facade, which were provided by two different contractors, and allowed vertical movement between the floor and the facade," says Hatfield.

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Eight oval drums that appear to bisect the interior floors from the top of the structure to the second floor hold the classrooms for the school and offer a dark blue counterpoint to the views into, and out of, the building. Michael Marsland

To ensure that the external columns that support the roof canopy could remain as slim as possible, Buro Happold conducted detailed fire engineering studies to illustrate that the columns would perform better in a fire than indicated in the codes, according to Hatfield. This reduced, or in some cases eliminated, the need for fireproofing on these elements, she says.

A 90,000 sq ft, two-level concrete parking structure is located under the building. The aboveground building features 16 double-height classrooms—all of which include state-of-the-art multimedia technology, and two of which are wired for simultaneous translation—as well as 22 breakout rooms, 3 library spaces, 13 interview rooms, and office space for roughly 120 faculty and 195 staff. The building also includes a cafe, dining room, and outdoor terrace.

The Structural Engineers Association of New York awarded the new building's design their "Excellence in Structural Engineering Best New Building Over $100 Million" award in 2013.


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