At Yale art gallery, bigger is better

Galleries get $135 million renovation

It's not that money was no object in the renovation and expansion of the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG), the oldest college art museum in the country. But a $135 million budget certainly was an important contributing factor in this no-corners-cut, exhaustively researched and painstakingly executed project.

Officially opening to the public on Dec. 12, YUAG is in the final phase of the project that unite the three buildings comprising it: the landmark 1953 Louis Kahn building; the 1928 Old Yale Art Gallery, designed by Egerton Swartwout; and the 1866 Street Hall (former home of the Art History Department), designed by Peter Bonnett Wight.

The project began with the $44 million restoration and renovation of the Louis Kahn building, which was completed in 2006. In addition to bringing the three buildings together in a cohesive whole, this second, $91 million phase, which began in 1995, led by Ennead Architects, based in New York City, has expanded the YUAG from 40,266 to 64,375 square feet. This enables the gallery to display considerably more of its collections, present many more special exhibitions, and expand its educational offerings to both the Yale community and the public.

"It took 14 years of hard work and patience to get to this point," said Jock Reynolds, director of the YUAG, at a press tour held last month, noting that when completed, the gallery will join the ranks of the country's leading public museums.

Reynolds added that more than 150,000 works of art will be on view, stressing that YUAG is a teaching museum and therefore will continue to be free and open to the public.

"The goal was to have every space above the first floor (of each of the three buildings) dedicated to public galleries," he said.

The project scope included restoring the masonry façades of both of the older buildings and the old interior spaces that had been divided into small, disjointed spaces-their exquisite woodwork covered over with sheetrock and fabricated panels-and creating spacious new areas. Many fine original architectural details, such as wainscoting and crown moldings hidden behind walls, were recovered, and long obscured views and sightlines of downtown New Haven have been reestablished.

During the tour, Pamela Franks, deputy director for collections and education at YUAG, and Todd Van Varick of Ennead Architects pointed out that the old sculpture hall connected to the gallery's main lobby represented a true historic restoration. Layers of wax were extracted to return the floors to their natural sandstone. Leaded glass windows were removed, catalogued, restored and put back in place.

"We restored the original elements wherever possible," Franks said.

"A lot of the infrastructure and detailing was intact," Van Varick said, referring to the Gothic-style Street Hall, the oldest building. "We tried to cull as much as we could from the building, restore and replace it. We were able to bring back some of the original glory."

Modern and contemporary galleries in the Old Yale Art Gallery make a flowing transition into the Kahn Gallery.

Franks pointed out that 16-foot-high ceilings in several of the gallery spaces will allow for the exhibition of very large works that couldn't be displayed in the Kahn building, which has 12½-foot-high ceilings.

"We tried to preserve original views out to the city, as well," Van Varick added. "They really parallel the collections."

Among the many new elements of the renovation are a new stairway and glass elevator unifying traffic patterns into a logical flow, a rooftop structure in zinc and glass that houses a suite of temporary exhibition galleries leading out to a sculpture terrace that overlooks the city, and the Nolen Center for Art and Education, an almost-5,000-square-foot facility enabling the gallery to substantially expand its education programs.

The revitalized Yale University Art Gallery at 111 Chapel Street in New Haven will open to the public on Dec. 12. The Louis Kahn building's exhibition spaces remain open. For more information, call (203) 432-0600 or visit


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