George Knight, the principal of Knight Architecture LLC, described being the architect for the Yale Center for British Art’s current building conservation project as gratifying—both professionally and personally.
Maintaining the architectural intent of Louis I. Kahn, who designed the building, has intrigued Knight. Understanding the history of design decisions that went into the original building has helped him gain an even greater understanding of both the Center and one of history’s greatest architects. As Knight explained, “Kahn died during the course of constructing this building. He worked through a number of different schemes on this building, not to mention two art museums prior. Thus, the Center is unique in that it represents a refined culmination of many ideas that had been developing in his mind for years and years.”
Knight pointed to Kahn’s use of natural light, which was a radical departure from the norm for museums at the time the building was constructed. He also highlighted as architectural signatures the structure’s metal panels, natural wood, and its suitability to the external environs of Chapel Street and New Haven.
Knight, who received his MArch from Yale University, has long considered the Center as one of his favorite buildings in the world. As a graduate student, he came to the Center as a place of respite, to look at beautiful and inspiring artwork and architecture. As a young architect, he would come to the Center during his lunch hour. Now, teaching at the Yale School of Architecture, Knight uses the Center to illustrate lessons, which his students readily grasp within the physical majesty of the building.
In addition to the drama of architectural design, there remain the behind-the-scenes feats of keeping the building functioning in top form into the twenty-first century. Knight Architecture continues to work closely with Turner Construction, Yale Facilities, specialty consultants, and the Center. Knight had worked on the Center’s Lower Court and the Lecture Hall lobby, starting in 2008. He also had handled the architectural aspects of phase one of the building conservation project, which included refurbishment of the Study Room and spaces used by the departments of Prints & Drawings and Rare Books & Manuscripts. Phase one was completed in December 2013, and those areas of the Center were reopened in January 2014. Now, phase two of the project includes renewing all of the public galleries, reconfiguring the Long Gallery, creating a collections seminar room in a space that was formerly an office, renovating the Lecture Hall, adding new accessible bathrooms, and updating fire protection, HVAC, and electrical systems.
Amid what may seem like a great deal of heavy lifting in phase two, Knight maintains his perspective on the project. “I never once enter the building without being uplifted and excited to be in the space because it’s just an extraordinary, extraordinary place,” he said.
To learn more about the Center’s special architectural features, which Knight finds so compelling, watch the accompanying video.