Layout efficiency and menu diversity merge in the West Café in Yale University's West Conference Center at West Haven, Conn.
Nearly 7 years ago, Yale University purchased 137 acres from Bayer Pharmaceuticals for $109 million. The West Campus property, located about 7 miles and a 20-minute drive from the university's New Haven location, increased the size of Yale's campus by 40 percent. The purchase, which included 17 buildings furnished and outfitted with office equipment and bioscience laboratories, offered an opportunity for Richard C. Levin, Yale's president, and Scott Strobel, vice president of West Campus planning and program development, to further their mission to infuse new life into Yale's science program.
Today, Yale's West Campus is a hub for innovation and exploration, as well as a community for scientists, engineers, artists, scholars and administrative staff. The campus includes research institutes and the School of Nursing. Serving as a gathering place for the 1,500 people working in or near these buildings, a 6,000-square-foot conference center was renovated from an existing corporate cafeteria that was never operational. This new campus resource features 5 conference rooms, an auditorium that holds 260 people, a dining area for 220 people, a game room, lounge spaces, administrative offices and rooms equipped for videoconferencing and computer presentations, as well as a calming water feature.
"We were asked by Vice President Strobel to develop a concept that becomes a destination hospitality space that nurtures a sense of community," says Rafi Taherian, executive director of Yale dining. "The concept was also to provide integrated space for large meetings, seminars and working groups [and a space that] is scalable in scope and when the population of West Campus expands, new food modules can be easily added; takes sustainability at the heart to include reclaim and reuse of existing equipment and materials, all without sacrificing the ultimate desired look and feel of the space; and is fiscally sound."
A project like this requires input and collaboration from a variety of departments and disciplines. "Every single person involved understood the desire to create the vision and what it meant to be a Yale project that invokes curiosity in the observer," says architect Gary M. Lepore, principal, LDL Studio Inc. "Everyone from the senior administrators to project managers, including the chef, facilities and administrative staff, exhibited extraordinary awareness about the level of detail required to complete the project. We had discussions about the color of equipment, the noise level of ducts and the color of glass content in a counter's surface."
"All materials, such as natural stone and wood, had to be eco-friendly, sustainable or made from recycled content," Lepore says. "We were encouraged to use materials with high recycled-glass content so people viewing these would think about the glass, where it came from and how the product was made." Another example of evoking curiosity about materials and patterns in observers is the use of a recycled plastic membrane that was laser cut, creating a pattern of natural shapes and "Y" symbols in both positive and negative space, then adhered to the back walls behind several menu platforms to create a visual shadow pattern on the wall with a one-eighth-inch reveal.
In addition, one design element gives the impression of water dripping down from the ceiling to the ground of a seating area in a linear pattern. "We've been told that some 50 people a day walk up and touch the water to figure out how this effect was made," Lepore says.
In the servery, positioning culinary staff in front of customers encourages inquiry about the menu and specific foods. In addition, undercounter heat sources keep the dining platforms' chafing dishes warm, so observers might ask how this works.
"The university was very keen on visitors here feeling a sense of place," Lepore says. "The space creates a specific feeling and atmosphere that invokes positive appreciation of this as a world-class university and conference center. And all materials were considered as to whether they represent New England's colors and history. Whenever possible we created views to the exterior."
Attention to detail is seen throughout the facility, including the replacement of standard food shield glass with a material that contains foliage layered between the two layers of glass; in certain locations opaque material in the food shield conceals the back of the coffee brewing equipment. These details help evoke thoughts of New England. "We went further to work with the team to determine the positioning of the food shields to maximize food visibility and reduce the impact on sight lines from one side of the servery to another," Lepore says. "In fact, in several locations the vertical posts were reduced in height so staff can lower the food shields to allow customers to see more food options at another counter. As an architect, working with clients at every level, from the dean to the chef, who are keyed into that level of project detail and execution puts you on your A game very quickly."
"We took a holistic approach to the marketplace, so customers can find the type of food and beverages they want within close proximity to one another," Tucker says. "The front serving lines are also in close proximity to the delivery docks."
Food arrives at a loading dock on the building's lower level. Delivery staff bring products up to the main floor through a dedicated elevator. Dining staff place products into three dry storage areas, two walk-in coolers or a walk-in freezer. Culinary staff pick up food and take it to their stations.
In the cold prep area, staff produce mise en place for salads, sandwiches, entrées and salad dressings using worktables, a bain marie, an upright refrigerator, and a refrigerated table, slicer, hand mixer and blender. They also prepare sauces and dough for flatbread that is baked in the deck oven in the front kitchen area.
The kitchen's main cookline contains a steamer for heating vegetables; a flattop grill for cooking burgers, chicken breasts, stir-fry and pork carnitas; a fryer for French fries and beer-battered and other types of breaded fish; and a pizza oven for pies.
A back cookline holds a tilt kettle for sauces, a tilt skillet for brisket, and a double convection oven for cooking tilapia and other fish, pork loin, turkey meatloaf and bruschetta that has been heated on a flattop and is finished in the convection oven. The back kitchen space doubles as a prep area for catering as well.
In the front preparation areas, staff use four induction units to prepare meat and other proteins and vegetables. In between the main cookline and the front counter, a cooking suite with refrigerated drawers supports staff's cooking. On one side, staff use metal vessels sitting in a deep well to cook pasta, and on the other side staff use a flattop for making scrambled eggs and omelets, a holding oven for finishing menu items and a 6-burner range for cooking sauces and boiling eggs.
For flatbread and other sandwiches such as subs and paninis, staff place ingredients such as bacon, portabella mushrooms, tuna and avocado on bread and heat them in fast-speed ovens that sit in front of the à la carte station.
"The space is designed to be efficient so one person can work multiple areas," Tucker says.
A separate adjacent station features fresh-brewed coffee, espresso, tea equipment and blenders for smoothies and milkshakes. The menu here also features pastries purchased off-site.
In an area separate from the cooking platforms, customers find beverages in many forms: bottled beverages in a refrigerated display case and self-serve tea and lemon drinks in dispensers. A custom-designed soda machine with three heads on either side of a Yale logo sits nearby. "We wanted something with minimal size and aesthetic appeal," Tucker says.
Also near the kitchen, a catering space used by Yale Dining Catering, which handles the larger functions on West Campus, includes coffee and espresso brewing equipment, dry storage, an ice bin, and an upright refrigerator. "We asked a manufacturer to custom design buffet carts that have refrigeration and can double as bars so they can be used inside and outside," Tucker says. "With these, we can do in-room upscale catering for VIPs and buffet-style catering in meeting rooms." Small groups often buy meals at the marketplace and take them back to their meeting rooms.
For warewashing in a room next to the main cookline, staff use a dishwasher and three-compartment sink to sanitize dishes and pots.
The project's second phase, which is not yet scheduled and depends upon the growth in average daily population, will add two platforms in an area that now holds ice. "For now, we're building traffic by word of mouth and anticipate substantial growth in coming months," Tucker says.