Kahn’t Do It

A photograph by New York Times photographer Bruce Buck accompanies an article on the wonderful renovation of the Yale University Art Gallery. The gallery was built in three stages: a tall 1866 Ruskinian Gothic first phase by Peter Bonnett Wight (right); a 1928 Florentine Gothic horizontal portion by Egerton Swartwout; and a 1953 addition by Louis Kahn. What Buck’s photo clearly shows is the insensitivity of Kahn’s addition. It is not a question of style—Swartwout did not follow Wight’s lead either—but of massing. The Swartwout wing was rudely truncated by a brick party wall, and was obviously intended to be completed at some future date. Not only does Kahn not complete the work of his fellow architect, he insensitively pulls back to reveal the utilitarian party wall, leaving Swartwout with his metaphorical pants down. In addition, the cavity along Chapel Street does nothing to balance the composition, and only accentuates the difference between Kahn and Swartwout’s buildings—as it was presumably intended to do.

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