Louis Kahn’s 1953 Yale University Art Gallery building is one of the first examples of Kahn’s distinctive style. Located across the street from the British Art Center, one of Kahn’s last buildings, the Gallery (known as the Kahn building) is an architectural landmark in the city of New Haven. As part of a decade-long restoration by Polshek Partnership Architects, Open developed a comprehensive signage system guided by two basic principles. First, all of the signage needed to be reversible so that the original condition of the building could be restored. Avoiding damage to the building drove the choices of mounting methods. Second, the team wanted to honor Kahn’s design philosophy by maintaining the integrity of all materials used in the building. The result of these principles is a set of elements that is simple, elegant, and modest.
The system includes ADA-compliant room plaques (manufactured in integrated reverse-etched zinc), door signs (silkscreened directly on various materials), directional signs (dimensional metal letters mounted on the wall), and various projected signs (using light to both protect and draw attention to the building’s materials). The new front entrance sign interprets Kahn’s original design in both old and new materials, integrating a traditional carved-stone address plaque with an LED display. Overall, the signage system is designed to not call attention to itself. But a closer look reveals austere-but-beautiful materials and a close attention to detail. For instance, when selecting security screws for the room plaques, Open chose one style that features a small six-pointed star on its surface, honoring Kahn’s Jewish heritage.
“Nothing is more challenging to a designer than sensitivity to a landmark project. It is a choice of the designer to make a point or a counterpoint or to work as an insertion. This project accomplishes the delicate balance of integrating and honoring the architectural integrity of the building. Its use of zinc materials is time honored, while other areas integrate the ‘wayfinding’ needs of the user through new technologies with light.”
Scott Stowell (principal in charge), Susan Barber, Robert A. Di leso Jr. (project manager), Gary Fogelson, Zak Jensen
West Side Systems (lighting)
Visual Graphic Systems (interior signs), Design Communications Ltd. (exterior entrance sign), The John Stevens Shop (stone carving for front entrance), Art Guild (lobby donor wall and signage), West Side Systems (projected gobo signs)