HARTFORD, Conn. — The Yale Center for British Art, the largest museum of British paintings, manuscripts and other works outside the United Kingdom, is set to reopen this spring after the completion of an interior conservation project.
The New Haven building, designed by Louis Kahn, a leading postwar architect, and opened to the public in 1977, is being renovated to upgrade mechanical, electrical, plumbing and telecommunications systems and improve accessibility to the disabled. The center that houses a collection of more than 500 years of British art also will reconfigure the Long Gallery, restoring it to Kahn’s conception of it as a study gallery with more than 200 works. A space that had served as an office will be a seminar room for faculty, students and visiting scholars.
Asked if the building will look different after the project is finished, Amy Meyers, director of the center, said, “We hope not.”
“This is to make sure this architectural monument is in the best of health and guarantee it has a long, healthy life in the future,” she said. “This is not a spectacular rebuilding of the museum.”
“Mechanical systems might not be working as well, the surfaces of the building are beginning to show some wear,” Meyers said.
Old linen and plywood were removed from the walls and insulation stripped from the exterior walls revealed the inside of exterior stainless steel panels, allowing corrosion to be treated and the interiors rebuilt.
Conservation work at the building goes back more than a decade. The center established a committee in 2002 to assess how the building has changed since its opening, helping to guide design and maintenance decisions. For the next nine years, the committee developed a conservation plan with advice from London architects.
The results were published in 2011 by Yale University Press as “Louis I. Kahn and the Yale Center for British Art: A Conservation Plan.” The book details the history of the building’s design and construction and outlines maintenance plans.
Meyers did not disclose the cost of the project, which began in 2013. She said it’s financed by the endowment established by Paul Mellon, an art collector, philanthropist and 1929 graduate of Yale who gave the building, art works and endowment that established the Yale Center for British Art.
The building has been closed since January and is set to open to the public in the spring. Art treasures that will be again be available for viewing will include works by artists Francis Bacon, John Constable, George Stubbs, J. M. W. Turner and James McNeill Whistler.
The center — free and open to the public year-round — will mark its reopening by focusing on “Britain in the World,” presenting a history of the development of British art from the time of the Protestant Reformation to the present.