Louis Kahn's brilliant (leaky) Yale University Art Gallery is about to put a Polshek Partnership restoration job on display
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Nothing imperils delicate works of art like the weather. Dampness, fluctuating temperatures, and direct sunlight are an environmental triple threat that bedevils the collections of museums worldwide. And the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven is no exception. With advanced building science and enormous ingenuity, Polshek Partnership Architects partner Duncan Hazard has led a campaign to restore and improve Louis Kahn's historic 1953 experimental wing, thereby protecting the art inside.
"Anyone who walks into the building in its restored condition cannot help but feel it was a starting point for so much that we've since come to recognize as modern architecture," says Hazard, who first encountered the structure decades ago as a Yale undergraduate. For instance, the museum was arguably the first to use track lighting. To modernize it, workers began by snaking the original lengths of track out of Kahn's crystalline cast-concrete ceiling. New tracks, too stiff to snake back in, had to be inserted in short segments linked by connectors. No such luck with the ductwork, cemented in place and not going anywhere. Reuse was the only option.
Old window frames of bronze-finished cold-rolled steel, partially rusted reddish-brown, could not be salvaged. So Hazard replicated them in aluminum, adding a hidden plastic "thermal break" to reduce heat migration through the metal. For the double glazing, he doubled up on low-E coatings. The interior pane's coating keeps radiator heat inside during the winter, preventing condensation; the outer pane's coating keeps heat out in the summer. Both mitigate extreme temperatures whatever the season. Come closing time each day, new mechanized blackout shades will descend automatically behind scrims that are similar to Kahn's original off-white sliding shades, the better to preserve precious pigments from unnecessary exposure to the lingering sun's harmful rays.
As curators install prints by Carroll Dunham and Kiki Smith in the upstairs galleries in anticipation of a December 10 opening, Joel Sanders Architect is finishing a separate technology-driven upgrade. It's a ground-floor media lounge where visitors will enjoy free wireless Internet access and surroundings replete with a Sol LeWitt drawing and Harry Bertoia furniture.