Yale is well-known for its elite students and faculty, spooky Illuminati frats, and Collegiate Gothic architecture. However, there is one landmark building on campus that doesn’t fit that last category: Ingalls Rink, aka the Yale Whale.
Ingalls Rink was designed by Eero Saarinen, the architect behind the St. Louis Arch, the TWA Flight Center at JFK, and the “Tulip Chair,” an icon of modern furniture design. A graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, Saarinen was hired to design a new hockey rink for his alma mater. Building began in 1953 and the resulting Ingalls Rink officially opened in 1958, featuring a gracefully curving humpbacked roof and overhanging “tail” which gave it the rhyming nickname by which it is principally known.
The striking effect is achieved by the reinforced concrete arch that serves as the backbone of the building, forming a reverse catenary from which a cable net is suspended that supports the flowing contours of the timber roof. Another happy consequence of this design is that it involves no interior support beams or columns, allowing for unobstructed views from every seat in the arena, which accommodates a capacity audience of 3,500. The rink itself is 200 feet long and 85 feet wide, and the ceiling is 76 feet tall at the highest point of the “hump.”
Ingalls Rink received a great deal of attention when it opened, with coverage in Sports Illustrated and Architectural Forum, which called it “one of the most surprising new buildings in the world.” Not bad for a hockey rink. The superlatives keep being offered up decades later, with a 2011 report by the Wall Street Journal awarding the Yale Whale with the fairly niche accolade of “best-designed rink in college hockey.” And regardless of any press or praise, it remains one of the best-known and most easily identifiable buildings in New Haven.