The Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) is inaptly named. The word “gallery” doesn't convey the institution's size and its almost encyclopedic scope, with holdings that number more than 200,000 objects encompassing an array of eras, cultures, and media. Since completion in December of a sensitively executed renovation and expansion by Ennead Architects, about 4,000 pieces of this extensive collection are on display in the YUAG's three contiguous, but very different, buildings that stretch the length of one and a half New Haven city blocks. The oldest is the brownstone Street Hall, a Ruskinian Gothic building designed by Peter Bonnett Wight and completed in 1866. The youngest is a 60-year-old Modernist brick-glass-and-concrete structure by Louis I. Kahn. And sandwiched in between is the Old Yale Art Gallery, a sandstone-clad Italianate Gothic building completed in 1928, often referred to as “Swartwout” for its designer, Egerton Swartwout.
The $135 million revamp, which has increased exhibition space by more than 70 percent to almost 70,000 square feet, reclaims areas that had been occupied by other departments, updates antiquated building systems, and addresses general deterioration caused by a combined 280 years of deferred maintenance among the three structures, according to a tally by Jock Reynolds, the YUAG's director. But most significantly, the project unites the landmarks while preserving their distinct characters. “We were not trying to homogenize the buildings,” explains Ennead design partner Richard Olcott.