Yale Center for British Art Completes Major Building Conservation Project and Reopens

Conservation Project Fact Sheet

Project Description

The Yale Center for British Art, an iconic modern building in New Haven, Connecticut, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn to house Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift to Yale University, reopened to the public on May 11, 2016, after completing the third phase of a multiyear building conservation project. Led by Knight Architecture, LLC, this was the most complex building conservation work undertaken at the Center to date, comprising the entire structure, from roof to basement. It renewed the Center’s public galleries, internal systems, spaces, and amenities, and has provided an opportunity to reimagine and reinstall the Center’s renowned collections of more than five centuries of British art—the largest outside of the United Kingdom.

Project History

After more than a decade of research on the history of the design and construction of Kahn’s final building, the reopening of the Center marked the completion of a three-phase renovation plan. The first phase of work included the rehabilitation of the Center’s exterior Lower Court (2008–11) and extensive repairs to the adjacent Lecture Hall lobby (2011–13). This was followed by two additional phases addressing the building’s interior spaces: the second phase focused on refurbishing the areas used by the departments of Prints & Drawings and Rare Books & Manuscripts (2013); the third phase included enhancing the Center’s public spaces (namely the galleries and Lecture Hall), extensive building-wide mechanical and electrical upgrades, and improvements to fire protection, security systems, and accessibility (2015–16).


1080 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06520–8280 (corner of Chapel and High Streets)


May 11, 2016


Amy Meyers, Director

Constance Clement, Deputy Director

Scott Wilcox, Deputy Director for Collections

Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections and Head of Collections Information and Access


Louis I. Kahn Architects (1969–1974), architect

Pellechia & Meyers Architects (1974–1977), successor architect

Knight Architecture, LLC, architect

Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects Limited, conservation architect

Yale University Office of Facilities, project planner and manager

Turner Construction Company, construction manager

Project Cost

The total cost of the three phases of the building conservation project is approximately $33 million (provided by the Center’s endowment).

Overall Area

114,153 square feet

The Louis I. Kahn building on Chapel Street includes the Yale Center for British Art, five independent retail shops, a restaurant, and a shared exterior courtyard.

Museum Area

95,311 square feet (five stories)

Exhibition Area

29,100 square feet

(second-, third-, and fourth-floor galleries: 25,600 square feet; Entrance Court: 1,600 square feet; Library Court: 1,900 square feet)

Design & Principal Materials

The Center’s concrete exterior structural frame, featuring matte steel and reflective glass infill panels, confers a monumental presence in downtown New Haven. The geometric five-floor interior is designed around two interior courtyards, and comprised of a restrained palette of natural materials, including travertine, white oak, and Belgian linen. The majority of the Center’s intimate galleries were designed by Kahn to maximize natural daylight. The building’s design, materials, and skylit rooms provide an environment for the works of art that is simple and dignified.

Project Highlights 

Long Gallery (Fourth Floor)

The Long Gallery was transformed into a teaching and study gallery as originally envisioned by Jules Prown, the Center’s founding director. Finishes were revived similarly to those found in the main galleries, circulation adjacent to public areas on the fourth floor was improved, and pogo walls (which had previously subdivided the space) were removed, allowing for an unobstructed view of the 140 foot-long space housing the collection in a floor-to-ceiling salon-style hang.

Collections Seminar Room (Fourth Floor)

A new Collections Seminar Room was created from a former administrative office at the east end of the Long Gallery. New floor-to-ceiling white oak wall panels incorporate discreet yet flexible art display systems, which allow faculty, students, and visiting scholars to engage in close study of objects from the collection under diffused natural light. The room also features new custom white oak furniture and cabinetry, as well as updated electrical and telecommunications systems.

Galleries (Second, Third & Fourth Floors)

The public galleries on the second, third, and fourth floors were renewed and reconfigured to preserve Kahn’s vision of intimate viewing spaces echoing the domestic setting of an English country house. Exterior walls were reinsulated and corrosion treated, the interior of the walls was rebuilt, and the display walls were refreshed with new natural Belgian linen. Worn synthetic carpeting was replaced with new wool carpet, existing white oak trim was refinished, and select damaged travertine floor tiles were repaired or replaced. Existing moveable gallery partitions, known as “pogo” walls, were replaced with new pogos, based closely on Kahn’s original design. A revitalized version of the original Chadwick modular gallery seating from the 1970s, which features an ergonomically correct seat height and fabric made from 100% British wool, has been introduced into the public galleries.

Library Court (Second Floor)

Evoking the spirit of a Great Hall in an English country house and featuring the iconic cylindrical stair tower, the three-story Library Court is at the heart of the Center and links the galleries, Reference Library and Archives, and Study Room. The original white oak wall panels and wood flooring also were refurbished during the building conservation project.

Entrance Court (First Floor)

The sun-bleached white oak wall panels of the four-story Entrance Court, the only top-lit space within the Center receiving unfiltered natural light, were refurbished in place and by hand using Greenguard Certified refinishing products.

Lecture Hall (First Floor)

Refurbished for the first time, the Lecture Hall features a completely renovated audiovisual system with state-of-the-art recording and presentation capabilities, new theatrical and house lighting, and enhanced Wi-Fi coverage. A central seating layout, which improves the original capacity of the Lecture Hall, was introduced to accommodate two hundred new fixed seats and five wheelchair and accessible spaces for a more comfortable patron experience. New stainless steel handrails and LED step lights flank the aisles for added safety. Worn carpeting and wood flooring were replaced to match the original materials.

Circular Stairs

The iconic concrete cylindrical staircase now has improved patron accessibility and safety features, including a standardized height for steps, fire and smoke precautions, and improved emergency lighting.

First Floor

A new egress door was added to the lobby, and an accessible lift was installed at the Center’s loading dock.

Lower Level

Improved patron amenities and accessibility, including the addition of new white oak storage lockers and two gender-neutral restrooms, were added in the basement lobby.

Infrastructure Upgrades

Major building infrastructure improvements to mechanical, electrical, fire protection, telecommunication, and safety services were implemented throughout the Center in order to expand resiliency, ensure the stability of the collections environment, and enhance the patron experience. The design team developed collaboratively a holistic approach to the infrastructure upgrades to meet the changing needs of the Center and conform to Kahn’s design principles regarding systems integration. Highlights of the upgrades include the following:

Fire Protection: New stainless steel sprinklers, fire pump, aspirating smoke detection system (VESDA) in the two interior courts, motorized fire shutters at the court openings

Electrical: New switchgear, digital lighting control system, rewiring of lighting circuits, emergency lighting control

HVAC: Rebuilding of air handling units in place, new digital control system, improved humidification and filtration system

Telecommunications: Improved Wi-Fi coverage to support the Center’s extensive exhibitions and educational programs

Security and Safety: Monitoring, motion detection, and access control

Key Dates

The gift of Paul Mellon’s British art collection to Yale University is announced.

Louis I. Kahn receives the commission to design the Yale Center for British Art.

Construction of the Center begins.

March 17, 1974
Louis I. Kahn dies.

Pellecchia & Meyers Architects complete building project (Pellecchia & Meyers worked in Kahn’s office).

April 15, 1977
The Center opens to the public.

2008–13 (Phase 1)
The Center’s exterior Lower Court and the adjacent Lecture Hall lobby are refurbished.

Louis I. Kahn and the Yale Center for British Art: A Conservation Plan, by Peter Inskip and Stephen Gee, in association with Constance Clement, is published by the Center in association with Yale University Press.

2013 (Phase 2)
The offices and spaces for the departments of Prints & Drawings and Rare Books & Manuscripts are refurbished.

January 2015
The Center closes temporarily for conservation.

January 2015–February 2016 (Phase 3)
Enhancements are made to the Center’s public spaces, including the galleries and Lecture Hall, improvements related to safety and accessibility, and extensive building-wide mechanical and electrical upgrades.

Spring 2016
The collections are reinstalled.

May 11, 2016
The Center reopens to the public.

Additional Conservation & Design Team

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., building envelope consultant, and structural engineer

Stephen Saitas Designs, exhibition designer

BVH Integrated Services, engineer–mechanical, electrical, and fire protection

Staples & Charles Limited, furnishings, fixtures, and equipment consultant

Hefferan Partnership Lighting Design, lighting consultant

Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, acoustics, audiovisual, and theater consultant

Philip R. Sherman, P. E., code consultant

Michael Morris, Metropolitan Museum of Art, architectural materials conservator

Strong Cohen Graphic Designers, graphic designer

Architect’s Security Group, Inc., security consultant

Nationwide Security Corporation, security consultant

Honeywell Security Group, security consultant

Vermeulens, cost estimator

Genesys Engineering P.C., commissioning consultant

LMB Facilities Solutions, LLC, move consultant

Reinstallation Highlights

The Center’s inaugural presentation, Britain in the World, features more than five hundred works from the Center’s holdings installed across two floors of the museum. The display traces the development of British art from the Protestant Reformation to the present, exploring the impact of foreign influences on British art and culture, and the role the arts have played in the history of Britain’s imperial vision.

Highlights include many of the Center’s renowned treasures, by artists such as George Stubbs, Joseph Wright of Derby, J. M. W. Turner, and John Constable, as well as masterpieces by artists from abroad, such as Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck (Flemish), Canaletto (Italian), Johan Zoffany (German), and John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West (American). Twentieth-century artists are also on display, including works by Francis Bacon and Rachel Whiteread.

In addition, the Center reopened with two special exhibitions—one highlighting Rhoda Pritzker’s unique and highly personal collection of twentieth-century British art and another featuring a Yale student-curated exhibition of nineteenth-century photographs that capture London’s architectural past.

Media kit

Download the document and image sheet related to this project.