2017 AIA Awards – Architecture
After 40 years of uninterrupted operation, the Louis Kahn–designed Yale Center for British Art faced a series of challenges that threatened to erode its distinct architectural character. This project refreshed aging finishes and outdated systems, and implemented new and exacting art conservation standards.
As a gallery and study center, it holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art located outside of the United Kingdom. Part of a $33 million conservation project begun in 2008, the project was phased strategically to ensure that the staff and artwork could remain in the building throughout the construction and refurbishment.
To correct a series of well-intentioned but unfortunate alterations that saw the design drift away from the original concepts, finishes in all of the gallery spaces were renewed with materials specified by Kahn. The existing palette of natural materials—white oak, wool carpets, travertine, and cast-in-place concrete—was reused wherever possible, and new materials were sourced to match the originals in quality and appearance as closely as possible.
Originally envisioned as one continuous lineal space that echoed the picture galleries of English homes, the Center’s Long Gallery was later partitioned into cellular spaces. The team eliminated the partition panels, reorganized the gallery’s doorways, and implemented a salon-style hanging in order to reclaim the dramatic effect found in Kahn’s drawings. The Center’s 200-seat lecture hall—refurbished with updated seating, audiovisual system, and lighting system—now boasts simulcasting and teleconferencing capabilities.
Working closely with consultants and technicians, the project undertook a complete enhancement of the building’s systems. The Center’s two air-handling units—which Kahn called its “lungs” and are nearly the size of a squash court—were rebuilt in place with new digital controls. New electrical switchgear in the building’s “heart” was installed alongside digital lighting controls, providing increased flexibility and energy efficiency.
A prime example of a thoughtful and prudent update to a building with deep architectural merit, this project restored to its dignified standing one of the most important pieces of the Yale Center for British Art’s collection.