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 skylit rooms combine to provide an environment for the works of art that is simple and dignified.
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 second phase of a building conservation project is now underway. These renovations will allow the Center’s collections to be experienced in the building as Kahn originally envisioned and will bring vital systems, spaces, and amenities to state-of-the-art standards for future generations to enjoy. The project follows more than a decade of research on the history of the design, construction, and renovation of the building, as well as the publication in 2011 of Louis I. Kahn and the Yale Center for British Art: A Conservation Plan. The first plan of its kind in the United States, this book sets forth a series of policies that identify significant features of the building that must be protected and others that might be changed.