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Mending the Urban Fabric with Healing Steps
Behnisch Architekten's New Haven lab forms a gateway for Yale New Haven Hospital
Casually referred to as the Rubik's Cube, Yale's new lab uses color in a beige world.
Roland Halbe

New Haven, Connecticut is famous for its radical urban renewal experiments of the 1960s and ‘70s. Unfortunately, many of those projects turned out to be destructive to the city’s urban fabric. Today, the city and its most famous institution, Yale University, are gradually working to mend that fabric. The latest element in the process is a colorful laboratory building for Yale New Haven Hospital designed by the Los Angeles office of Behnisch Architekten with executive architects Svigals + Partners.

Four-story atrium at Yale's new lab by Behnisch Architekten
The four-story atrium connecting garage to hospital at Behnisch Architekten's New Yale lab.
Roland Halbe

Called alternately the Rubik’s Cube or the Kaleidoscope Building, the Park Street Laboratory stands out among its neighbors with its multi-patterned and colored facade. The building isn’t just meant to show off, though. “We wanted to do something more colorful, more playful, to accent the urban fabric,” said Christof Jantzen, Behnisch partner in charge. Inserted between a parking garage and the hospital, it is also intended to be a gateway to the medical complex. But the building serves primarily as a processing facility for lab results, so it could have been a nondescript box. “Most of the buildings nearby are gray or beige,” he said. “We’re always looking for a new angle.” Yale New Haven was initially surprised that the architects proposed something so colorful. “They took a bit of convincing, but in the end they were a very supportive client.” Inside, the building contains a four-story atrium with interior gardens and wooden staircases, which Jantzen hopes will act as a civic square of sorts. Its cheerful palette and sun-filled space is also meant to buffer outpatients—many with cancer—as they travel from parking garage to hospital.

Park Street Lab becomes a beacon for the medical campus at night.the Park Street Lab's multi-patterned facade becomes a beacon for the medical campus at night.
Roland Halbe

Importantly, the building serves as a link between two halves of the Yale campus—the main campus and the medical school campus—as well as a bridge over a significant breach in the city itself. Between the two halves of the city a massive parking garage, known locally as the Air Rights Garage, straddles a large ditch created by the unfinished Route 34 highway project as it follows the path of the highway right-of-way underneath the garage. Beyond the garage where the highway would have been, a series of parking lots and undeveloped land extends the divide in the city. The Park Street Lab hugs one side of the garage, creating an occupied building where there was once only dead space. “You see this in many American cities, where infrastructure projects from the 1960s were inserted into the downtowns,” Jantzen said. “New Haven has a different vision of what it wants to be now. We see this as a joint between the two campuses.” And now delivery trucks can drive directly into the building.

The 150,000-square-foot lab is one of the first buildings to bridge this divide. The building will help patients in their process of recovery, and it’s a small step in healing an urban-planning wound.

Alan G. Brake