Kahn's Yale University Art Gallery
by Jeffry Kieffer
The Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut (1951-53) was the first significant commission of Louis Kahn and his first architectural masterpiece. Historians Kenneth Frampton and Vincent Scully consider this work Kahn's response to the desire for a new monumentality in the post-World War II period.
Much emphasis has been placed on his structural innovations, expressed in the hollow tetrahedral concrete ceiling and floor slab system, which accommodate the mechanical and electrical systems. Yet little attention has been paid to the formal and poetic aspects of the Yale Art Gallery.
The building's blank walls along Chapel Street mark a radical break with the neo-Gothic context of the university. Kahn's critics called this a "brutalist" gesture. Such a radical architectural statement could probably not be realized today in a traditional context like Yale University because the modernist ideology that supported it no longer exists.
The main exterior wall with its stone coursing expresses both the position of the interior floor levels and the horizontal continuity with the automobile and pedestrian traffic along Chapel Street. The position of the brick infill bands of wall just inches behind the projecting coursing also expresses a true "edge condition," a seemingly nihilistic gesture. >>>
This article is excerpted from the first chapter of Readings from the Architecture of Louis I. Kahn by Jeffry Kieffer, with permission of the author.