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  5. Louis Kahn
  6. 1953
  7. AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn

AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn

AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn
AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn, © Pfeiffer Partners and Levin & Associates Architects
© Pfeiffer Partners and Levin & Associates Architects

AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn +10

From the architect. Known for his fusion of the International Style and personal poetic influences in his architecture, Louis Kahn is notably one of the most respected architects of the 20th century. He often worked alongside engineers and contractors, which enabled his innovative designs to be structurally sound while continually advancing towards a new refinement.

One of his more famous structures and the first significant commission of Louis Kahn, the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut was designed when he was a visiting critic at the Yale School of Architecture as the first of three art museums to be designed and built. The project was built between 1951 and 1953.

longitudinal section
longitudinal section

With this Kahn was able to explore the ideas he had about transforming modern architecture which to him lacked the monumental and spiritual quality of ancient buildings. He was successful in his hopes of redefining architecture, as this building marks a significant turning point in the history of American museum architecture.

According to author Patricia Cummings Loud, “The commission brought about Kahn's discovery of structure, materials, and perhaps most important, the power of the forms he was capable of creating. The Yale Art Center served to catalyze many of his basic ideas and beliefs about architecture, both in words and in work.”

This art gallery is considered by historians to be a response to Kahn's desire for a new monumentality in the post-World War II period. His masterful sense of space and light worked to create structures that emotionally impacted those who encountered them, as he combined visually compelling spaces that varied under the transforming light during different times of the day.

While walking along the bordering street of the campus, the building's blank walls stand out against the neo-Gothic background of the university. 

As is apparent in this structure, Kahn typically tended toward heavily textured brick and bare concrete, which he wonderfully juxtaposes against more refined and pristine surfaces, like the large glass windows of this building beautifully lined by steel.

The front door is found in a recessed corner that is defined by an absent rectangle following the pattern of the glass fenestration. The door leads to a series of open loft spaces on the first floor, which flow horizontally until the space is broken by core circulation elements, including the main stair, elevator and mechanical core. The highly flexible space not only stores a portion of the University's art collection but also functions as a studio for architecture students.

The more prominent features of this building include the hollow concrete tetrahedral space-frame that allows for the omission of ductwork while also reducing the standard requirements regarding floor-to-floor height. 

His interest in pushing the boundaries with technology led him to design this waffle-slab that served as the floor of one room and just as functionally became the ceiling of another. The stairway in the center reflects the triangular patterns and lines of the exterior and also acts as an sculpture in the center of the gallery space.

Recently the art gallery underwent a three-year, $44 million renovation which hoped to restore the landmark to its original purity and integrity after years of repair and alterations. The hopes were to also update the building systems so that they may be of the most functional and optimal design.

© Elizabeth Felicella
© Elizabeth Felicella

The most laudable aspect of the renovation was the replacement of the signature window-walls of the building with a new system that addressed the original wall's technical shortcomings.The open-space layout of the galleries and the exterior courtyard were reinstated in the renovation, as well as the transformation of the first-floor lobby into a media lounge. 

third floor plan
third floor plan

The President of Yale University, Richard C. Levin says that the renovation “preserves and restores the architect's brilliant vision, and it also accommodates the Gallery's expanding scope and needs for many years to come.”

Said by New York architect Jeffry Kieffer, “Kahn's accomplishment was not the formal variation of elements as ends in themselves, but his constant ability to extract from this void means to express his belief in the institutions he was working for.”

west elevation
west elevation
Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: Megan Sveiven. "AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn" 21 Oct 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/83110/ad-classics-yale-university-art-gallery-louis-kahn/>
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26 Comments

Cody K · December 09, 2014

I really enjoy how Kahn utilizes Le Corbusier's Five Points of Architecture such using curtain walls - dressing the facade with windows, and complete opens spaces with only support beams - or pilotis. Now add the use of "pogo walls" and now you have a recipe for intimate spaces that can be rearranged in any manner fitting for exhibits. I did wonder however what would happen if any mechanical systems needed to be updated like the lighting run through the concrete ceilings. As it turns out, it took $44 million to fix that and the curtain walls that were compromised. Either way, for its time the building definitely seemed to look forward with its technological innovations and flexible spaces.

Zainab Gaafar · June 11, 2012

AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn | ArchDaily http://t.co/hrpaMHce via @archdaily

Elen · March 29, 2012

AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn | ArchDaily http://t.co/8Hdtwiu1 ? ??????? @archdaily

Nancy · May 20, 2011

I feel the drawing is very high.

R. Girardin · November 20, 2010

Anyone think that actually, this building is not so great...

The ceiling ruins the lecture of the paintings, its design is too present, i like the facade, but the natural lightning is poorly conducted...

I'm really a true L Khan fan, but this museum is nothing compare to what he's done 10 years later, in front of this building, with the center for british arts (True masterpiece)

Hashzeta · November 08, 2010

#z: AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn #arch #public http://goo.gl/fb/ec6r9

Kwangbae Lee · October 30, 2010
ReCUA · October 26, 2010

RT @aclaworks: Nothing like a classic in the morning. http://fb.me/MzIxpBmF

aclaworks · October 26, 2010

Nothing like a classic in the morning. http://fb.me/MzIxpBmF

aclaworks · October 26, 2010
Carel Munoz · October 24, 2010

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Diego Schmidt · October 23, 2010

Eterno! RT @ArchDaily AD Classics: Yale University Art Gallery / Louis Kahn http://archdai.ly/bsc89Z #architecture

ARCHANDY · October 22, 2010

renders > pencil drawings
what an amazing sectional drawing. A lost art in this age.

jonathan · October 22, 2010

"At Yale the students generally began to notice that everything they designed, everything the faculty members designed, everything the visiting critics (who gave critiques of the students) designed...started to look the same. Everyone designed the same box...of glass...and steel and concrete, with tiny beige bricks substituted occasionally. This came to be known as the Yale Box."
(From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe)

up_today_arch · October 22, 2010

Nothing special... but it is real mastership!

Ted Lott · October 22, 2010

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Ricardo Nieves · October 22, 2010

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S.Jahangiri · October 22, 2010

The classics never die...

Yoori Chung · October 22, 2010

Great article!

sommer · October 22, 2010

real classic

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