David S. Ingalls Rink is the hockey rink of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. It is located in a quiet residential neighborhood inside Yale Old Campus, with several educational buildings on its south side. The design of the building was assigned to prominent architect Eero Saarinen. The construction began in 1953 and was completed in 1958. 

Ingalls Rink by Eero Saarinen: The Yale Whale - Sheet1
the exterior of Ingalls Rink ©Dronerct Atlas Obscura

The rink is officially named after the former Yale ice hockey team captains David S. Ingalls and David S. Ingalls Jr., as the Ingalls family provided most of the funding for the project. Because of its distinctive form, though, is widely known as the Yale Whale.

1. The Innovative Structure

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The structural frame ©Yale Bulldogs

The innovative structure of Ingalls Rink marks its remarkable architecture. A 91- meter reinforced concrete arch serves as the backbone of the building. A cable net is suspended from the catenary arch to support the timber roof. The cables give the building its iconic double curve and establish its identity. 

Exterior cables link the arch directly to the outer edges of the roof to stabilize the structure against wild winds. The sidewalls are the same shape in the plan as the arch is in section, acting as a counterpart of the arch. The exterior walls are sloped to increase the structural integrity, a gesture that enhances the visual expression of the arch.

The structural system involves no interior support beams or columns, allowing for unobstructed views from every seat in the arena. The expansive interior accommodates up to 3,486 spectators. Ingalls Rink is 61 meters long and 26 meters wide. 

The ceiling is 23 meters tall at the highest point and the roof is at 92 meters. The ceiling forms a curve above the upper seating area and the perimeter walkway. Glass, oak, and unfinished concrete are combined to create a striking visual effect.

2. Visually Striking And Engaging Architecture

Ingalls Rink by Eero Saarinen: The Yale Whale - Sheet3
Inside the Whale ©Yale Bulldogs

A critique on Saarinen’s plan in the December 1958 issue of Architectural Forum called Ingalls Rink “one of the most surprising new buildings in the world,” and claimed that Eero Saarinen had “shaped a structure loaded with personality.” Kevin Roche, who was at the time working with Saarinen and then overtook the restoration of the rink, has explained that “It was important to establish an identity for it because it was at a somewhat remote distance from campus at that time” and that Saarinen “wanted students to gravitate towards it, and the public, too”.

Eero Saarinen wanted to design a rink that would express the excitement of the hockey game. He combined old construction methods with new spanning techniques and highlighted the power of the form, creating a building that can also be considered a sculptural object. On the roof, he extended the structure creating lighting, but also an emblem that defines Ingalls Rink in an iconic way. 

Saarinen was interested in what images the buildings evoke and he wanted to make architecture visually interesting, almost in a picturesque approach. At the same time, he believed that architecture should allow visitors to engage emotionally. 

So, different from the prominent modernist standards of the ’50s, Eero Saarinen created an emotionally compelling building. The suspended cables create a fluid-looking roof that reflects the speed and grace of ice skaters, while the polished floor signifies the motion. Thus, Ingalls Rink contributes to hockey games and magnifies the experience.

3. A Timeless Architecture

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Ingalls Rink ©Architectural Record October 1958

Saarinen incorporated diverse stylistic elements into the design of Ingalls Rink. He embraced Gothic, Roman, and Asian architectural components and connected them through innovative technology. His vision was rooted in the historical past allowing him to envision an architectural future. When he asked art historians, including architectural historian Vincent Scully, to endorse his design for Ingalls Rink, the professors were impressed by the character and integrity of principle as carried out with Twentieth-Century means — quite up to date, yet never likely to go out of date.

4. The Restoration of Ingalls Rink

Ingalls Rink by Eero Saarinen: The Yale Whale - Sheet6
Original sketches and photograph of the completed building ©Yale UniversityArchives and Manuscripts

Ingalls Rink underwent some minor renovations in 1991 and a major, multimillion-dollar restoration in 2009, completed in 2010. The latter was completed by architectural firm Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, former collaborators of Eero Saarinen. 

The three phases of the restoration involved extensive work to enhance the facilities by adding new spaces and updating the existing ones according to the new standards. The architects preserved Ingalls’ Rink distinctive design while creating functional capacity for the users of the rink.

5. Not Just Another Rink

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The Whale’s main entrance ©Yale Bulldogs

Ingalls Rink is more than just an ice hockey rink. It is the place, where the athletes and the audience come together to share memorable experiences. The rink accommodates the games but also becomes part of the spectacle. 

The flowing form of the roof and the walls mirrors the enthusiasm for the sport while the visual power of the merged architectural elements evokes emotions of belonging and participation and reflects the playful nature of the sport. Eero Saarinen has created a signature building for the Yale hockey team and an exemplary structure that has inspired sports architecture.

Author

Evgenia is a young architect interested in interdisciplinary urban projects. She believes that the urban environment defines social relations and that people should actively claim the right to the city. Her interests embrace mapping and cinematic spaces. Besides architecture, she loves illustrations, fables, and science fiction.

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