The Gallery's main building was built in 1953 and was among the very first designed by Louis Kahn, who taught architecture at Yale. A complete renovation, which returned many spaces to Kahn's original vision, was completed in December 2006 by Polshek Partnership Architects. The older Tuscan romanesque portion was built in 1928 and was designed by Egerton Swartwout. A 10-year renovation project is due to be complete in 2011.
Designed while Kahn was a visiting critic at the Yale School of Architecture, the building—the first of three art museums that he would design—represented a dramatic point of departure for American museum architecture as a whole.
Constructed of brick, concrete, glass, and steel, and presenting a windowless wall along its most public façade, the building was a radical break from the neo-Gothic buildings that characterize much of the campus, including the adjacent Swartwout building. Kahn’s design has been celebrated not only for its beauty, geometry, and light, but also for its structural and engineering innovations.
Among these is the housing of electrical and ventilating systems in hollow concrete tetrahedrons that make up the ceiling, appearing to float overhead. When Anne Tyng moved to Philadelphia, landed a job at Louis Kahn's architectural practice, Stonorov and Kahn, in 1945. Her fascination with complex geometrical shapes had a strong influence on several projects, such as the Trenton Bath House and the triangular ceiling of Yale Art Gallery.
When it opened in November 1953, the “Yale University Art Gallery and Design Center” included expansive, open spaces for the exhibition of art, as well as studio space for use by art and architecture students.