Left to right: Former Yale Law Dean Robert Post, Christina Baker, Robert Baker, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken, and Yale University President Peter Salovey at the Baker Hall ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo: Harold Shapiro

 

Yale Law School’s campus has expanded its footprint for the first time in nearly nine decades.

The elite school last week dedicated Robert C. and Christina Baker Hall, a $60 million, 137-square-foot building with student housing and academic space. (That size includes courtyards and gardens.) It sits one block away from the law school’s main facility, the collegiate Gothic-style Sterling Law Building, which was completed in 1931.

“The exhilarating space we celebrate today affirms one of our school’s most essential and animating principles: that human reason and imagination, articulated through the exchange of ideas and borne by collaborative labors, can create the community in which we do our very best work,” said Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken during the ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 20.

Baker Hall features 61 apartments; a three-tier student lounge; nine residential lounges and 13 quiet study areas; a 58-person lecture theater; and six classrooms. The project was designed to be an academic and residential hub for law students, and will also be used for conferences.

The project returns student housing to Yale Law. It hasn’t offered housing to students since 2007, when it converted an existing dormitory into space for clinics, student journals, and administrative offices. Supporters have lamented the lack of a residential community at the law school during the past decade.

“Generations of law school graduates trace their intellectual development to the intense and far-reaching debates that continued from the classroom to their campus suites,” said Yale University President Peter Salovey. “Now, with Robert Baker’s generous and visionary commitment to reintroduce residential living to the Yale Law School, new generations of students will benefit from this unique and dynamic feature of our teaching and learning environment.”

The idea to bring back student housing got a major boost in 2013, when alum Robert Baker and his wife, Christina, pledged $25 million to the project. Other funders followed suit, eventually raising more than $60 million. Former dean Robert Post spearheaded the fundraising efforts.

Baker Hall isn’t new construction. Rather, the school opted to renovate an existing space the university had been using for overflow undergraduate housing. Construction began last summer and was completed in September. The building is designed to be sustainable, with water-efficient landscaping, LED lighting, furniture made from locally sourced wood, and vacancy sensors that detect when spaces are in use.

Robert Baker graduated from Yale Law School in 1959 before embarking on a career in real estate development. He’s the chief executive officer of National Realty & Development Corp., which owns more than 67 shopping centers in addition to office and industrial buildings. Baker’s brother and two children also graduated from the law school, to which he said his family owes a great deal.

“I considered this a unique opportunity to truly give back,” Baker said of first hearing the proposal to bring student housing back to Yale Law.