Last Look

Homage to the circle

A senior society's subtle façade.

Mark Morosse

Mark Morosse

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For all their supposed secrecy, most of Yale’s senior societies occupy buildings that shout “Look at me!” But when Manuscript built its Elm Street headquarters in 1962, architect King-lui Wu ’43ArtA used a more understated approach. The building is virtually unnoticeable from the street, with just a blank white brick wall. But Wu, an architecture professor at Yale, felt the wall was too austere, so he turned to his good friend and Yale colleague Josef Albers for ideas. Albers—the former Bauhaus teacher best known for his series of Homage to the Square paintings—thought a circle would be a fitting symbol of the bond uniting members of the society. He proposed chipping out some of the mortar between the bricks, allowing the shadows to subtly define the figure. As it turned out, the gesture was too subtle: the circle was visible only in direct sunlight, a rare condition on a north-facing wall in New Haven. So Wu created an artificial shadow by painting the recessed areas of mortar brown.  

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