Yale Center for British Art to close to public for exterior renovations
While drafting his plans for the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), architect Louis Kahn made the building’s roof integral to its design.
The acclaimed architect, who called the roof of the iconic modernist building its “fifth elevation,” aimed to maximize daylight in the museum’s atriums and galleries. To that end, the rooftop features 224 domed plexiglass skylights arrayed in square bays of four. Anyone who has gazed upward while standing in the museum’s entrance and central courts knows them.
The skylights, which have been there since the YCBA opened in 1977, will be replaced as part of a conservation project focused on exterior improvements and significant upgrades to the building’s lighting system. Due to the work, the museum will close to the public on Feb. 27, reopening in 2024 with new lights and skylights.
When it reopens, the museum will also have a reconceived installation of its collection of more than five centuries of British art — the largest such assemblage outside Great Britain.
“As the museum approaches its 50th anniversary in 2027, we have begun to consider how to address the building’s infrastructure and overall sustainability,” said Courtney J. Martin, the Paul Mellon Director of the Yale Center for British Art. “These improvements serve as a symbol of our commitment to the future of our landmark building and will help safeguard our collections for generations to come.”
The project constitutes the latest phase of a comprehensive conservation plan for the museum, which was Kahn’s final building, completed three years after his death in 1974. An interior renovation undertaken in 2015 refurbished the museum’s lecture hall and galleries, including a reconfiguration of its Long Gallery on the fourth floor. That project also added a collections seminar room, improved accessibility and patron amenities, and upgraded the building’s fire prevention, electrical, telecommunications, mechanical, and plumbing systems.
The upcoming project will include the installation of a more sustainable, energy-efficient lighting system — an upgrade made possible, in part, through funding provided by the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative. The new system will use LED bulbs in place of the current halogen lights, which substantially reduce energy consumption, said Dana Greenidge, the YCBA’s building and preservation project manager.
The roof renovation will happen in two phases. First, the skylights will be replaced followed by installation of the new roof, Greenidge said.
“There is so much care and thought about this building, which we have the privilege to work inside,” she said. “We think of it as the largest and most complex work within the museum’s collection. And that’s how we approach it. Everything is very carefully thought through.”
While the museum is closed, more than 60 paintings from its collection will be on view across Chapel Street at the Yale University Art Gallery. The new exhibition, “In a New Light: Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art,” will highlight key works, including Angelica Kauffman’s “Rinaldo and Armida” (1771), George Stubbs’s “Zebra” (1763), and J. M. W. Turner’s “Dort or Dordrecht: The Dort Packet-Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed” (1818), as well as paintings by Francis Bacon, Gwen John, John Everett Millais, and James McNeill Whistler.
“In a New Light” will be on view in the special-exhibition space on the fourth floor of the Art Gallery’s Kahn building, which opened in 1953 and was the architect’s first significant commission and the first modernist structure on Yale’s campus.
“I am thrilled that a substantial number of our paintings will remain on view for audiences to enjoy while our building is closed,” said Martina Droth, deputy director and chief curator at the YCBA and the exhibition’s co-curator. “The exhibition also offers a rare opportunity to view the collection in another Louis I. Kahn building, designed by the architect some 20 years before our own.
“This is an exciting time for us to reimagine the collection as we plan a complete reinstallation of our own galleries over the coming months. I look forward to experiencing our paintings in a new context and configuration at the Gallery while envisioning our reopening.”
Other works from the YCBA’s collection will be on loan to museums and institutions across the United States and in Britain.
While the YCBA’s public galleries will be closed throughout the renovation, onsite access to the museum’s archives, collection, reference library, and study room will be determined as the work progresses. The museum will maintain a full schedule of online programming, including artist conversations, book discussions, lectures, and symposia, throughout the building closure.
A series of special exhibitions will accompany the reinstallation of the permanent collection after the building reopens, including a show examining the place of Mexican antiquity in British visual culture through the work of Agostino Aglio (1777–1857); the premier U.S museum exhibition of watercolors by Trinidadian artist Michel-Jean Cazabon (1813–1888); the museum’s first exhibition on the landscapes of John Constable (1776–1837); and the first major North American exhibition highlighting the career of British artist Hew Locke (b. 1959).
The YCBA has planned and executed all conservation projects in partnership with the Yale Office of Facilities; EwingCole, an architectural and engineering consulting firm; New Haven-based Knight Architecture, LLC; and Turner Construction Company.