The Yale Center for British Art was designed by the internationally acclaimed American architect Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974) to house Paul Mellon’s (Yale College, Class of 1929; 1907–1999) extraordinary gift to Yale University. Located across the street from his first major commission, the Yale University Art Gallery (opened in 1953), the Center was Kahn’s final building and was completed after his death, opening to the public on April 15, 1977. It was the first museum in the United States to incorporate retail shops in its design.
The Louis I. Kahn Building
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 interior courtyards and is comprised of a restrained palette of natural materials including travertine marble, white oak, concrete, 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.