SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 17 October 2019

Case Study: Air Infiltration Testing of a Mid-Century Modernist Architectural Icon


The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) and constructed between 1960 and 1963, is considered an iconic and highly influential work of modern architecture. The building houses a world-renowned, priceless collection of rare books and manuscripts, and thus, the interior is maintained at strict temperature and relative humidity levels. Although the majority of the building is below-grade archives and offices, the above-grade portion of the building is the most architecturally iconic element. The above-grade building is primarily a large, open atrium-like space, with a six-story glass “jewel-box” of rare books set in the center. The exterior walls of the atrium are glazed with thin panels of Vermont marble that appear to glow like stained glass when backlit by the sun. This interior space is among the most iconic in all of modern architecture, but the façade is an extremely thin, uninsulated barrier wall that relies on the performance of sealants for airtightness.

This paper presents a case study of the air infiltration testing conducted at the above-grade portion of the building. Air leakage testing was performed to determine the airtightness of the stone-glazed façade system and to identify any significant hidden air leakage paths. The paper describes the test protocol implemented to target specific areas of concern and the challenges encountered during testing because of the unusual existing construction, and the fact that the below-grade portion of the building needed to be excluded and isolated from the testing. Finally, the paper presents the results from the air leakage testing and recommendations for rehabilitation and improvements to reduce air infiltration and exfiltration, without changing the highly significant and iconic appearance of either the exterior or interior of the iconic stone-glazed facade.

Author Information

Wissink, Katherine, S.
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., Waltham, MA, USA
Lyon, Edward, G.
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., Waltham, MA, USA
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Developed by Committee: E06
Pages: 140–159
DOI: 10.1520/STP161520180030
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-7676-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-7675-1