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Yale Center for British Art Renovation

Knight Architecture

Project Name

Yale Center for British Art Renovation

Project Status



90,000 sq. feet

Construction Cost



Yale University


  • Knight Architecture
  • Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects
  • Yale University Office of Facilities
  • Construction Manager: Turner Construction Company

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2017 AIA Institute Honor Award Winner in Architecture

The motto for Knight Architecture’s recent renovation of the Yale Center for British Art might be: “Keep Kahn and Carry On.” As one of Louis Kahn’s last significant projects (which happens to be directly across the street from his first major institutional commission, the Yale University Art Gallery), the 1977 building is a landmarked structure from a designer who, despite his outsized influence, died at a relatively early age and completed remarkably few projects in his lifetime. The local firm’s double responsibility—to transmit this piece of architectural history untouched while simultaneously rendering it durable enough for continued use—involved some 10 years of study and analysis into the building’s development, followed by a phased construction timeline that began as far back as 2008.

Preservation was priority number one: Inside, everything from the white oak trim to the travertine floor tiles to the Belgian linen covering the display walls has been repaired or replaced; the concrete exterior walls were treated for corrosion and improved insulation, without losing the any of the mottled texture that was Kahn’s hallmark. But the architects weren’t content to leave it there, adding new and important features like additional seating in the auditorium, a new teaching and study gallery, and wheelchair accessibility throughout, including to the famed barrel staircase with its triangular skylight. With its 2,000-item collection, the center is now fully operational again, a research facility that is also, by dint of Kahn’s genius, an intensely intimate environment for encountering art.

Project Credits
Project: Yale Center for British Art Building Conservation Project, New Haven, Conn.
Client: Yale University
Architect: Knight Architecture, New Haven, Conn. . George Knight, AIA (principal-in-charge); Daphne Kalomiris, AIA, Nikolaos Tombras, Megan Milawski, Jeffrey Pollack, AIA, Kyle Dugdale, AIA, Dylan Hayn, Thomas Day, Dan Shea, Amrita Raja, Britton Rogers (project team)
M/E Engineer: BVH Integrated Services
Structural Engineer: Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates
Construction Manager: Yale Facilities Office of Planning and Project Management
General Contractor: Turner Construction
Lighting Designer: Hefferan Partnership Lighting Design
Building Conservation: Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins Architects
Furnishings/Fixtures/Equipment Consultant: Staples & Charles
Acoustics/AV/Theater Consultant: Cavanaugh Tocci Associates
Code Consultant: Philip R. Sherman
Size: 90,000 square feet
Cost: $33 million

To see the rest of ARCHITECT's coverage of the 2017 AIA Institute Honor Awards, click here.

For information about the original building by Louis Khan, see the Yale Center for British Art in ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.

Project Description


After more than a decade of research on the history of the design and construction of Kahn’s final building, the reopening of the Center marks the completion of a three-phase renovation plan, during which the Center was closed to the public [only during the third phase]. The first phase of work included the rehabilitation of the Center’s exterior Lower Court (2008–2011) and extensive repairs to the adjacent Lecture Hall lobby (2011–2013). 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 Center’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 (2015–2016).

The Center’s concrete exterior structural frame, featuring matte steel and reflective glass infill panels, confers a monumental presence in downtown New Haven. The geometric five-floor interior is designed around two interior courtyards, and comprised of a restrained palette of natural materials, including travertine, white oak, and Belgian linen. The majority of the Center’s intimate galleries were designed by Kahn to maximize natural daylight. The building’s design, materials, and skylit rooms provide an environment for the works of art that is simple and dignified.

Led by Knight Architecture, LLC, this was the most complex building conservation work undertaken at the Center to date, comprising the entire structure, from roof to basement.

The Long Gallery was transformed into a teaching and study gallery as originally envisioned by Jules Prown, the Center’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 140ft-long space housing the collection in a floor-to-ceiling salon-style hang.

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 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.

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 Center 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.

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

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 200 new fixed seats and 5 wheel-chair 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.

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.
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