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True To Its Creator's Vision
Renovation Of Yale Art Gallery's Louis Kahn Wing Nearly Done

 Yale african art gallery -Yombe

July 19, 2006 By ADRIAN BRUNE, found at the Courant

NEW HAVEN -- By the time Yale University President Richard Levin sat down with administrators to discuss renovation of the Yale University Art Gallery's venerated Louis Kahn wing in 2003, it had become clear that the crown jewel of the university's architectural empire needed its 50-year tuneup.

Five decades of condensation had corroded many of the beams supporting the building's signature glass window wall. Decades of student use had left graffiti as well as nail holes over its prized interior facade. Open galleries had morphed into crammed offices and storage areas.

Yale decided to tread lightly. The administration wanted the building to stay classic Kahn. Three years and $44 million later, from the tetrahedral ceilings down to the composition of the interior bricks, the gallery has achieved its goal: The famous architect's masterpiece, considered his first, remains true to form. 

"The goal and mantra of this building was to not necessarily create more gallery space, but to make our collection more accessible to the students, the people of New Haven and, quite frankly, to the world at large," said Jock Reynolds, the director of the Yale University Art Gallery, which hosted a press tour of the wing's nearly completed renovation Tuesday. 

To that end, those in charge of the gallery's redesign, Polshek Partner Architects, of New York City, have created an open, inviting and expansive museum with clean lines and lots of contrast. All five galleries on three of the Kahn wing's four floors feature not only the exposed brick that Kahn, who died in 1974, envisioned, but also his own pogo walls - completely removable white walls wedged between ceiling and floor by short aluminum poles - which he designed to create "rooms within rooms," according to Anna Hammond, one of the gallery's deputy directors. 

The first floor of the wing - part lounge, part visiting exhibit gallery - faces the building's new courtyard and sculpture garden. Sets of stairs lead from the first floor to the outside terraces, where patrons will be able to view a number of installations, including Richard Serra's "Stacks," which was ensconced in a outer wall last winter.

The gallery has planned the other two exhibit floors to house Yale's permanent collections of contemporary and early European, Asian and African art, to which the curators have been extensively adding since construction began. The fourth floor of the wing will serve as a home to administrative offices, classrooms and Yale's prints and drawings collection.

Achieving the illusion that nothing about Kahn's original building has radically changed required hundreds of hours of research from the university's head archivist to its arborist, according to Duncan Hazard, the chief architect on the project. 

"We kept two iconic images of the building from 1953 pinned to the drawing board to keep us going along the right path," Hazard said. However, engineers and architects altered many elements of the Kahn wing. They replaced Kahn's steel-framed window wall with a thermally broken aluminum one so that the metal on the interior wall never touches that on the exterior, keeping condensation to a minimum. They also installed a completely new mechanical and ventilation system, bringing the wing far from its days of no air-conditioning. Finally, they doubled the building's lighting and replaced its small, clunky elevator. 

"Kahn knew exactly what he wanted to do with the building, but I don't think the guys who built it knew exactly how to do what he wanted," Hazard said. "They tried. The whole thing was experimental." 

The renovated Kahn wing commences a significant makeover of the university's arts campus, according to Barbara Shailor, Yale's deputy provost for the arts. Shailor announced a $500 million overhaul of several arts buildings, including renovation of the architecture school - already underway - the construction of a new art history building next door to it and the replacement of the Yale Repertory Theatre's Gothic church with "something much more appropriate." 

When the Kahn wing reopens to the public on Dec. 10 it will offer art enthusiasts access to recent acquisitions from artists such as Gerald Murphy and Anselm Kiefer, along with long-cloistered, rare items from gallery's storage. 

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