Yale University Art Gallery, Kahn Building
Polshek Partnership, LLP
New Haven, Connecticut
When the Yale University Art Gallery first opened in 1953, this magazine included it in a roundup of new art museums. Calling it a “working museum,” the paragraph-long article mentioned the building’s exposed concrete construction and the presence of its unique tetrahedral ceilings. However, the piece did not anticipate that the gallery would come to be thought of as architect Louis Kahn’s first significant institutional project, widely admired not only for its engineering innovations and treatment of materials, but also for its pure geometry, flexible open plan, and handling of light.
Paradoxically, over the decades as Kahn’s reputation grew, the building was much changed by unsympathetic alterations. For example, fixed partitions multiplied to create space for offices, storage, classrooms, and other functions. But, as part of a $44-million renovation of the building, completed in December, Polshek Partnership Architects and its consultants sought to return the exhibition spaces to their original loft-like and light-filled state. The work also included upgrading the building’s infrastructure to meet current museum standards, and replacement of the elegant, but thermally problematic, west and north window walls.
As record noted 50 years ago, one of the building’s most distinctive features is its tetrahedral ceilings, which although muscular, seem to float overhead. These poured-in-place concrete elements integrate the mechanical systems with the building’s structure and make possible expansive and flexible galleries unencumbered by columns.
Replacement of the gallery lighting was a puzzle. The original, a precursor to modern day track systems, had been designed by Richard Kelly and specially fabricated for the gallery by Edison Price. Despite its pedigree, the system was worn out and no longer complied with code.
To replace the obsolete system, the architect and lighting designer specified short and flexible sections of track that could be threaded through the ceiling hollows.
The new lighting design provides more flexibility for the display of artwork and allows curators to maintain proper lighting levels without fixtures that drop below the bottom of the ceiling.
Flexibility and modularity are evident in the lobby’s new media lounge, designed by Yale professor and New York City-based architect Joel Sanders. Here mobile furniture and display cases on casters can be reconfigured to suit a variety of activities, including informal study, receptions, lectures, or films. The spare units, made of ebonized oak, are different from, but sympathetic to the architecture’s powerful forms.
Principal-in-Charge: Stephen Johnson, AIA
Project Manager (design): David Hart, AIA
Project Manager (construction): Edward Carfagno, AIA
Project Manager (construction): Steven H. Hall, AIA
Historic Architect : Stephanie Kingsnorth, AIA
Construction Architect: Lalida P Nakatani, AIA
Architect of record:
Partner in Charge: Duncan R. Hazard AIA
Design Partners: James S. Polshek FAIA and Richard M. Olcott FAIA
Project Manager: Steven C. Peppas AIA
Project Architect (Construction Phase): Lloyd L. DesBrisay AIA
Project Architect: Robert S. Condon AIA
Senior Technical Detailer: Gary L. Anderson AIA
Interior Design: Charmian C. Place
Lobby Design: Joel Sanders, Architect
Lobby Media Design, and Millwork: Art Guild Inc.
Conservation Environment Consulting: Garrison/Lull Inc.
General contractor: Barr & Barr Inc.
CAD system, project management, or other software used: Microstation
Metal/glass curtainwall: Wausau Window and Wall Systems
Interior Concrete Restoration: Jahn
Precast Concrete: Precast Specialties, Inc.
Limestone: Alabama Limestone
Metal doors: Ellison
Wood doors: Algoma Hardwoods
Upswinging doors, other: Cookson
Hinges: Rixson, Bommer
Closers: Rixson, Norton, LCN
Exit devices: Blumcraft
Security devices: Rixson, Von Duprin, Locknetics, ACSI, Deltrex, Folger, Adam
Cabinet hardware: Blum, EPCO, Outwater, Doug Mockett, Best, Hafele, Knape and Vogt, Brass Works, Idea, Ives, K & E Hardware, Timberline, Rakks
Misc: Rockwood, Zero
Suspension grid: USG
Demountable partitions: Custom “Pogo” Panels (designed by Staples & Charles)
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Legere Group, Ltd.
Paints and stains: Martin Senour, Benjamin Moore, Pittsburgh
Mesh Ceilings: Expanded Aluminum Mesh
Paneling: Legere Group, Ltd.
Plastic laminate: Formica
Special surfacing: “Mini-Block” Concrete Masonry Units, by Smithtown Concrete
Floor and wall tile (cite where used): Dal-Tile, American Olean
Resilient flooring: Azrock
Raised flooring: Maxcess (Canada)
Reception furniture: Sofas: Jasper Morrision, Elan Series by Cappellini
Diamond chairs and bar stools: Harry Bertoia, by Knoll
Reception stools: Kevi counter stool by Fritz Hansen
Carpet: Custom Eurotex Tretford rug
Chairs: Gordon International
Tables: Fixtures, Herman Miller, Thomas Moser
Upholstery: Knoll, Sina Pearson
Other furniture: Gallery benches – Harry Bertoia lounge bench by Knoll
Gallery Diamond chairs: Harry Bertoia, by Knoll
Compact Storage Units: Biblio/Montel
Paint Storage Screens: Biblio/Montel and Porta-Storage
Downlights: Lighting Services, Inc. and Zumtobel
Task lighting: Nulux, Columbia, Lightolier
Exterior: Bega, Design Plan, Exterior Vert
Controls: Lutron, Square D
Accessibility provision (lifts, ramping, etc.): Hontz
SunrocAdditional building components or special equipment:
Exterior Signage: Design Communication, Ltd.
Exterior LED Signage: Daktronics
Stair Railing Mesh: Gantois (France)
Granite Setts: Cold Spring Granite
Metal Shelving: pH Product Inc.
Terrazzo Restoration: Joseph Cohn & Sons