Harvard Looks to Yale as House Renewal Approaches

Danielle E. O'Neil

Photos courtesy of the Yale Daily News. Photo of Morse College post-renovations courtesy of Jane Long of the Yale Daily News.

As a junior at Yale University, Willis “Chip” Arndt Jr. lived with eight other people in a dorm room that had originally been built to house only four.

Arndt, a resident of Calhoun College who graduated from Yale in 1990, describes the Calhoun he lived in as “antiquated.”

“People were living on top of each other,” Arndt says.

According to Arndt, in addition to a lack of space and leaky faucets, Calhoun failed to provide adequate accommodations for female students after Yale began admitting women in 1969.

Yale attempted to hastily renovate Calhoun College in 1989, planning construction in the summer months in order to minimize the impact on students. The original renovation was incomplete and required far more money and resources than Yale had anticipated.


“Corners got cut in ’89,” Jon E. Olsen, the project manager overseeing the 2008 renovation of Calhoun, told the Yale Daily News that year.

By the end of the century, when even the youngest colleges began to show wear and tear, Yale decided to embark on the ambitious renovation of all of its residential colleges. The construction process would cost Yale University about $1 billion and take over a decade to complete.

Harvard’s 12 Houses and Yale’s 12 colleges both serve as academic and social communities. Furthermore, the residential systems at these two Ivies trace their roots to donations from the same philanthropist—Yale alumnus Edward S. Harkness.

And the systems will soon take similar paths yet again, as House renewal at Harvard—which is slated to begin with the renovation of Old Quincy House as a test case in June of 2012—represents an undertaking similar in mission and in scope to the renovation of the residential colleges at Yale.

Although the plans for Harvard are far from finalized, those involved with House renewal have said that they have gained insight from observing the experiences of Harvard’s longtime rival.


Housing systems at Harvard and Yale are quite comparable. Although Yale assigns its students to their colleges before the beginning of freshman year, both universities provide upperclassmen with a similar residential experience, including dining halls, common rooms, and traditions.

Members of the committee that drafted the 2009 Report on Harvard House Renewal, which developed recommendations for House renovations, toured recently restored undergraduate dormitories at Yale and Princeton. According to Quincy House Master and committee member Lee Gehrke, the tours were helpful in teaching them about residential renovations, although the final plans, he says, will be “distinctly Harvard.”

“We have learned a great deal from Yale and Princeton about what worked and what didn’t work,” Gehrke said in January. “So I feel very confident that what happens will be very good for Quincy and for the entire housing system here at Harvard.”