2016 Building Conservation Project

The Yale Center for British Art, an iconic modern building 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 the completion of the third phase of a multiyear building conservation project.

Project History

Led by Knight Architecture, LLC, this was the most complex building conservation work undertaken at the Yale Center for British Art to date, comprising the entire structure, from roof to basement. It renewed the YCBA's public galleries, internal systems, spaces, and amenities, and provided an opportunity to reimagine and reinstall the museum’s renowned collections of more than five centuries of British art.

After more than a decade of research on the history of the design and construction of Louis Kahn’s final building, the YCBA completed a three-phase conservation plan in 2016. The first phase of work included the rehabilitation of the museum'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 YCBA'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).

Project Highlights

Long Gallery

The Long Gallery was transformed into a teaching and study gallery as originally envisioned by Jules Prown, the YCBA'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 ft.-long space housing the collection in a floor-to-ceiling salon-style hang.

Collections Seminar Room

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.


The public galleries on the second, third, and fourth floors were renewed and reconfigured to preserve Louis 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

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 YCBA 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

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

Lecture Hall

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 upon 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 YCBA'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 Yale Center for British Art 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 YCBA and conform to Kahn’s design principles regarding systems integration.