Context and Place

The Living Village is part of Yale Divinity School at Yale University, situated in New Haven, Connecticut. Located in southern New England, New Haven has hot, humid summers and cool to cold winters.

At left, a map of Science Hill in New Haven showing the Divinity campus and other Yale buildings on Prospect Street. On the right top is the Yale Divinity School Sterling Divinity Quadrangle in 2023. On the left bottom is a view of other Yale buildings on Science Hill, notably Klein Labs tower.
At left, a map of Science Hill in New Haven showing the Divinity campus at 409 Prospect Street and other Yale buildings on Prospect Street. On the right top is the Yale Divinity School Sterling Divinity Quadrangle in 2023. On the right bottom is a view of other Yale buildings on Science Hill, notably Klein Labs tower.


Yale is located approximately two miles north of the Long Island Sound, within the Long Island Sound Coastal Lowland ecoregion (Level IV 59g) and approximately two miles southeast of the transition to the Connecticut Valley ecoregion (Level IV 59a).1 Both of these ecoregions are characterized by their irregular plains with low to high hills and inceptisol soils that often lack thick soil horizons (or layers) due to glacial activity. The campus is located on a north-south ridgeline between East Rock and Marsh Botanical Garden.


The Divinity School lies toward the northern highpoint of Science Hill, with Yale’s core downtown campus transitioning downhill toward the surrounding community. Several amenities are located within walking distance, and will therefore be an asset to the LV. The Divinity Farm, is a small-scale farm on-campus that has a growing following and interest (60+ participants) in progressive and regenerative agriculture techniques. The Yale Farm, located within a 5-minute walk from the Divinity School, brings agriculture into the heart of New Haven and serves as an important testing ground for food and agricultural systems. The Marsh Botanical Garden and Farnam Memorial Garden are also within walking distance. The former serves as a living laboratory with an extensive collection of botanic specimens, while both provide spaces for students to socialize between classes that are removed from the campus’ urban core. The Yale Experimental Watershed research center, located south of the LV, serves as design inspiration and potential amenity for the LV. This center is dedicated to educating students and the community about Yale’s sustainability initiatives and on-the-ground testing of the efficacy of those initiatives.


The LV landscape will respond to the physical and biological needs of its users (prospect & refuge, habitat & function) and strive to embed resiliency into the design by building upon the: 1) Eco-regional diversity; 2) Integrated performance of the landscape; and 3) Site development systems. This multi-functional landscape will provide places for people—moments for reflection, contemplation, and communal gathering—that are interwoven with places for the natural systems needed to sustain life in the village. The LV landscape provides an opportunity to enlighten students and strengthen the connection between the mission of the school and the natural environment. Through the use of the Recovery Wheel methodology, the landscape design will aim to vastly improve and track the ecological performance of the current site by transforming an existing parking lot into the core of the Living Village where vehicular circulation is minimized to provide access to emergency and service vehicles and a limited number parking spaces for staff, drop-off, and deliveries. This strategy allows for the restoration of close to half of this area into a high-performance landscape. Every surface on this project must provide several functions. By embedding multiple Imperatives into each element of the landscape design we are able to stack functions that not only reduce the scale and cost of required infrastructure, but also create spaces where people can see, touch and hear the natural systems. By pairing pedestrian site circulation with native, edible species (e.g. fruit, nuts) we can advance the LBC requirement for Imperative 02 Urban Agriculture, while also using the space below the pathways to manage stormwater. The landscape design aims to have a net positive impact on the ecological performance of the site and respond to the needs, opportunities and challenges faced by the community.

Historically, the Divinity School has faced inwards toward private, interior courtyards. The LV redesign conversely places emphasis on making the campus more open and welcoming to students and the community. A network of paths and routes through the LV will connect to Yale’s larger campus and create varied opportunities for gathering and socialization, as well as quiet places for meditation and solitude. The LV landscape will also be designed to make students and those visiting and/or working at the Divinity School feel welcomed, safe, and nurtured, regardless of their religious and spiritual beliefs. The circulation hierarchy through the LV landscape will support a pedestrian-first, campus core. This strategic decision will reposition vehicular traffic to the periphery, while maintaining access for emergency and service vehicles. The vehicular circulation is thus, subservient to the universal access, pedestrian path network.


How Sterling Divinity Quadrangle came to be built can be traced to the early 1920s, the historic decade-long building boom that transformed Yale between 1922 and 1932, thanks to the vast John Sterling bequest. …The architectural firm Delano and Aldrich was recruited to design a new divinity quad. William Adams Delano (1895 BA) had already produced Yale’s Wright Hall, William L. Harkness Hall, and, in 1911, the YDS Day Missions Library. In 1930, Delano submitted a blueprint for a new YDS quad, but very soon it became clear that the location—the southwest corner of Hillhouse Avenue and Sachem Street—would be too small for the School’s projected growth.

A few months later, the University received fateful news: Thomas Gray Bennett (1870 PhB), owner of a large estate on Prospect Street, had died, and the property was now available. He was a son-in-law of Oliver Winchester, former head of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the firearms manufacturer, in New Haven.

Acquiring the Prospect Street tract would give the Divinity School the room it needed in a beautiful setting at a New Haven geographical high point, despite some faculty concern that the new location, a mile from the downtown campus, was a formidable distance. With the new location secured, the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle was drawn up by Delano, inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s design of the University of Virginia. In decisive ways, it differed from Jefferson’s secular “academical village.”

Foremost in the new Quad design was its religious identity: the prominence of Marquand Chapel and its steeple declared the centrality of faith, theology, and worship. As Dean Gregory E. Sterling later described it: “UV A had the library at the center. We have Marquand, a striking symbolic difference. At present the main entrance to the library is directly beneath Marquand. We have intellect on the ground floor and faith above it, a relationship that captures the essence of the School.”

Setting the new building high on Prospect also honored a revered New England spiritual trope—“a city set on a hill cannot be hid,” from Matthew 5:14. “In Georgian Colonial, a style simple and functional,” historian Bainton would write, “dormitories were provided for the unmarried men and buildings for administration and teaching in addition to a refectory, gymnasium, library, and a chapel chaste and worshipful.”

From “This Grand Errand”: A Bicentennial History of Yale Divinity School