Conserving the Yale Center for British Art: A History


The Yale Center for British Art opened to the public on April 19, 1977, three years after the death of architect Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974) and eleven years after the announcement of Paul Mellon's gift to Yale University.

Since the museum opened, routine maintenance and renovations have been meticulously researched and completed to uphold the architect's original plans. For nearly fifty years, Kahn's design has remained intact, and the building has been preserved as a structure of international artistic and cultural significance.


The vast majority of the windows were replaced to address the seals in the original windows, which had reached the end of their serviceable life.

The new windows are triple paned with adhesive UV filters.


The Yale Center for British Art's roof system was reengineered. A new drainage system was added and all 224 of the skylight domes on what Kahn referred to as the building’s fifth elevation were reassembled during the “Year of the Roof.”

Wool carpeting and linen wall coverings were replaced in the public galleries and nonpublic spaces.


The Yale Center for British Art received the Twenty-Five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects. The award honors buildings that have upheld standards of excellence for their architectural design and significance.


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

Commissioned by Amy Meyers, director of the museum from 2002 to 2019, this pioneering text outlined a plan to ensure the proper stewardship of the building, with descriptions of the design, construction, and subsequent renovation of the building. 

The conservation plan called for repairs to the Yale Center for British Art's exterior and the Lecture Hall lobby, which were carried out between 2010 and 2013 during the first phase of a three-part effort.


During the second phase of the conservation plan, the Study Room and areas used by the departments of Prints and Drawings and Rare Books and Manuscripts were refurbished.

Carpeting and linen wall coverings were replaced, and the finish on the white oak storage cabinets was renewed. New wood paneling was also introduced in the Study Room following designs found within the original Kahn construction drawings.


Knight Architecture, LLC oversaw the third and most extensive phase of the conservation plan, which featured major enhancements to the museum's public spaces as well as building-wide improvements to the mechanical and electrical systems. 

The Long Gallery was reconfigured to restore the function of the space as a teaching and study gallery.

The existing moveable partitions in the gallery, known as pogo walls, were dismantled and replaced by new designs based on a drawing completed by Kahn before his death. 

The Lecture Hall was renovated. Five seats for disabled patrons were added, alongside new stainless steel handrails and LED step lights for added safety. A new audiovisual system and lighting upgrades were installed, and finishes, including carpeting, wood flooring, and seating upholstery, were replaced to match the originals.

New stainless steel handrails were installed within the circular stairs following the exact detailing and finish of the original, but now offering a better grip to users. Select travertine treads within the stair were removed and repositions to provide a more uniform step height.

In the basement, two accessible gender-neutral restrooms and an accessible drinking fountain were added to the facilities, as was a new bank of white oak storage lockers for visitors. 

The building reopened to the public in May 2016. 


The 2015–16 building conservation projects received the Docomomo US Modernism in America Award of Excellence for Civic/Institutional Design


The conservation plan and resulting building project were awarded the Docomomo International Rehabilitation Award for Lasting Heritage. The award honors exemplary practices that consider conservation and maintenance plans as integral tools for a structure's sustainability. 


The Yale Center for British Art closed to the public on February 27, 2023, to replace the museum's skylights and roof. 

The renovation will realize a replacement of the 224 original domed Plexiglas skylights, which are an integral element of Kahn's design. The replacement domes take advantage of the many advances in technology since the 1970s, including materials that are more durable and environmentally sustainable than their predecessors. The new domes feature polycarbonate glazing, which will fortify the building’s envelope, improve performance, and enrich the building’s signature rooftop. 

The museum is also investing in a more energy-efficient LED lighting system, made possible in part by generous funding from the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative. The current system, which is original to the building, uses halogen lights. The transition to LED will substantially reduce energy consumption.

The YCBA will reopen in 2025.