Architecture

Louis I. Kahn Building; photo by Richard Caspole

The Louis I. Kahn Building

The Yale Center for British Art was designed by the internationally acclaimed American architect Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974). Located across the street from his first major commission, the Yale University Art Gallery (opened in 1953), the Center was Kahn’s final work and was completed after his death. It was the first museum in the United States to incorporate retail shops in its design.

The Center’s exterior of matte steel and reflective glass confers a monumental presence in downtown New Haven. The geometrical, four-floor interior is designed around two courtyards and is comprised of a restrained palette of natural materials including travertine marble, white oak, and Belgian linen. Kahn succeeded in creating intimate galleries where one can view objects in diffused natural light. He wanted to allow in as much daylight as possible, with artificial illumination used only on dark days or in the evening. The building’s design, materials, and sky-lit rooms combine to provide an environment for the works of art that is simple and dignified.

AIA Twenty-Five Year Award

In 2005 the Yale Center for British Art was awarded the Twenty-Five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects. This prestigious honor recognizes architectural landmarks of enduring significance completed within the previous twenty-five to thirty-five years that have withstood the test of time. Only one such award is given each year. The Center was the fifth building by Kahn to receive AIA’s Twenty-Five Year Award, joining the Yale University Art Gallery (1979; built 1951), the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (1992; built 1959), Phillips Exeter Academy Library (1997; built 1965), and the Kimbell Art Museum (1998; built 1966).

Building Conservation Project
The Center has completed phase one to refurbish the departments of Prints and Drawings and Rare Books and Manuscripts. This was the first building conservation project to be undertaken since the publication of Louis I. Kahn and the Yale Center for British Art: A Conservation Plan, and the first plan of its kind in the United States. The book sets forth a series of policies that identify significant features of the building that must be protected and others that might be changed. See project details. Phase two of the project will begin in 2015.