The Architecture of New Haven
Portrait of a city with centuries of style
Enjoy history? If you do, then the life of New Haven, Connecticut couldn’t be more interesting: the prehistoric Quinnipiac River peoples; its odd theocratic founding as a colony; the invention of the hamburger at Louis Lunch; Robert Moses being born and raised—events that changed America forever. New Haven’s rise and fall (and rise again) as a big, bad, beautiful northeastern city is astonishing.
Think of it as a massive, ongoing experiment in humanity. And all of this happens while bathed in the austere glow of Yale University. The story of city and institution are as inseparable as those of Oxford or Cambridge.
If you have a taste for architecture, then Yale is a wondrous assortment of structures. With its deep history and wealthy endowments, Yale architecture crosses time and culture. From the colonial solemnity of Connecticut Hall, Old Brick Row to the comparative whimsy of Ingalls Rink, to the idiosyncratic Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, it is a medley of architectural styles that resists definition.
The presence of the ultra influential Yale School of Architecture is significant: it isn’t so much a steward of the city’s architecture—it’s been more of an incubator.
Throughout town, the past is present in its edifices. The antique Palazzo flair of the United Illuminating Company Building is in every way compatible with the federal-style New Haven Water Co. Building, built 50 years earlier. The intricate Queen Anne fantasy of William Converse House coexists with the temple-like Berzelius buildings in a city of squares. The Art Moderne style of Chapel Street lives alongside hipster-reclaimed industrial districts like Ninth Square.
Sharply contrasting this city’s old guard palaces are newer sanctuaries like Marcel Breuer’s pragmatic Armstrong building, and the stark modernity of The Knights of Columbus tower. The centering affect of New Haven Green—itself a living gallery of monuments—brings together old school and new, between the Beaux-Arts New Haven County Courthouse and iconic Chapel Square.
As Dominick Dunne writes in his book Another City, Not My Own, “The conscientious reporter sets aside his personal views when reporting events and tries to emulate the detachment of a camera lens…” Dunne was talking about objectivity, but appreciation also comes into the picture for reporters and observers of any kind.
The architecture of New Haven has to be experienced, not merely observed. From the shimmering facades of downtown high-rises to the interior whispers of grand theaters, reconstituted castles of industry, and houses of worship, the city’s buildings are alive. They are a reflection of a place that endlessly reinvents itself.