AD Classics: Yale Center for British Art / Louis Kahn

Photo by joevare

Across the street from Louis Kahn’s first significant piece of architecture stands his last. The Yale Center for British Art was completed in 1974, the year of Kahn’s death and 23 years after its neighbor, The Yale University Art Gallery was finished. A style and theoretical change throughout a career is visible in one scene.

Photo by joevare -

Unlike most galleries, the design prompt for the Yale’s British Art Gallery called for very specific needs. Being part of an educational institution the agenda called for several learning oriented spaces. The program consisted of stipulations for exhibition space and storage space for paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints; a rare book collection; a research library; a photograph archive; an auditorium; classrooms; workshops and offices; and conservation facilities.

Photo by joevare -

The exterior of the structure is clad in dull metal with intermittently penetrated by glazed openings. This gives the external surface an austere feel yet it still blends serenely with its institutional surroundings.

Photo by joevare -

The transition to the interior is met by a mix of elemental spatial and material evolutions. The entrance sequence proceeds from outdoor expanse through a covered exterior space and into an interior courtyard with expansive ceilings. The warm brushed metal panels carry to the interior but are mingled with warm wooden cladding in a glowing top-lit space.

Photo by joevare -

From this liberal space allotment the occupant is sent through a much more cavernous space in order to reach the galleries within. Straight ahead is a cylindrically enclosed staircase which seems the logical circulation path. However a circulation around this central stair leads to a central unreserved and open space.

Photo by Ani Od Chai -

Typical of Kahnian modernism the plan of the structure is based on a 20 foot square grid. This grid is used to create a series of rectangular and square galleries interconnected and overlooking a central courtyard space. The inner courtyards and upper galleries are naturally lit from by a system of gridded skylights.

Photo by joevare -

Kahn’s thoughts on galleries had been developed throughout a career of institutional design. He believed that museums should be secondary entity that fades behind the artwork. It should pay homage to its holdings and display them well. The museum should be spread out and be completely free.

Architect: Louis Kahn
Location: , , USA
Project Year: 1974
References: Yale, GreatBuildings
Photographs: Ani Od Chai, Flickr user: joevare

Cite: LeMaire, Greg. "AD Classics: Yale Center for British Art / Louis Kahn" 19 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 May 2015. <>
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  • Nandita Rajakumar

    The Yale center of British arts is an ode to modern Architecture. Louis Kahn has created, like always, a monumental building, following and redefining the ideals of a modern building with experiential spaces, interplay of light and astute use of modern materials. The exterior facade of the building is designed using modern material and it plays a oxymoron role in its context by positioning the windows in relation to the interior spaces which give the exterior facade a random feel but has functional organisation. By simplifying circulation within the gallery spaces, one is able to easily identify the service and servant spaces that help to immediately visualize the floor plan of the building.