Stand at the end of the walkway between Yale University’s two new residential colleges, and you will see what looks like an illustration for a bedtime story. Lines of lampposts and young trees soften the red brick and stone facades, punctuated by the occasional gable. At the far end, a Gothic bell tower, with four layers of round arches, reaches into the sky, while a street-level line of arched windows beckons you down the walk. The tower’s base is obscured by another building, making it look farther away than it really is, and creating an illusion that Yale might extend just as far in that direction.
It’s lively, it’s hierarchical, it’s picturesque. It could be the opening frame of any “college” movie. It could have been designed any time in the last 100 years. How you feel about that last statement will condition your reaction to Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray Colleges, fraternal twins housing almost 500 students each, on a 6.7-acre site just to the north of Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven.
But seriously, in 2017, will only neo-Gothic do? The walk, and the residential colleges flanking it, felt to me like a strenuous effort to sell Yale to an audience that was already in the bag.