Kroon Hall, a classroom building frequently touted for its environmentally efficient design, is now playing the part of an environmentally aware art gallery as well.

Robert Haas ’69, an investor and photographer for National Geographic, spoke yesterday at the opening of an exhibition in Kroon Hall featuring 12 prints from his most recent book of photographs, titled “Through the Eyes of the Vikings: An Aerial Vision of Arctic Lands.” Haas’s work — aerial photographs of natural settings in Africa, the Arctic, among others — decorates the walls of all three floors of Kroon Hall.

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Haas’s show is the first formal art exhibition in Kroon Hall since its opening in 2008. Peter Crane, Dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said that since Haas’s work presents nature, the School’s focus, in a “fantastic and unusual” view, the show is a perfect way to debut Kroon Hall as an exhibition space.

“It’s like looking at the world through the eyes of the Gods,” Haas said of his chosen mode of photography. “It’s a spiritual experience.”

As an aerial photographer, Haas flies over landscapes in a helicopter that has had its door removed to eliminate any visual obstructions, he said. Then, he added, he puts himself on a harness and leans out the window to take pictures while parallel to the ground.

The curator of the show, Jock Reynolds, who is also the Director of the Yale University Art Gallery, said he hoped that the photos he chose will provoke thoughts and conversations among the students in the building. For the photos on the third floor, where there is a high-ceilinged lounge area with tall windows, Reynolds said he purposely enlarged the photographs to “fit the architecture of the building.”

“We thought it was very appropriate to have [Haas’s photography] here because he spends a lot of time working with the land,” Crane said. “There’s no better way to begin this use of these buildings.”

While the show focuses primarily on Haas’s recent trips to the Arctic — 13 within the past four years, Haas noted — the exhibition also features older prints from Haas’s show in the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library in the Loria Center last November.

But with this exhibition, Haas focused specifically on the environmental troubles plaguing the Arctic, placing his work in the context of global warming.

“The Arctic is worth preserving for its own inherent beauty — it’s part of our home,” Haas said. “I thought I can make a better impact by saying, ‘Isn’t this region beautiful?,’ than by saying, ‘Look what we’re doing to goof it up.’”

Both of the students from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies interviewed said they enjoyed the talk. Matt Decker FES ’12 and Angela Orthmeyer FES ’11 said they felt inspired by how much Haas has been able to do with his wide array of interests, from photography to business.

Switching back and forth between an investor and an aerial photographer in his everyday life, Haas said his art allows him to escape from his everyday world of stock markets to a “pristine place” with a simpler view of the world.

“You also learn up there that man is not the whole story,” Haas added. “You lift off form the earth — you put man in a different perspective.”

Haas also periodically returns to campus to give lectures in the School of Management. On Wednesday, he will be speaking about the interface between art and the environment. On this trip to campus, Haas will also be sitting in on a few classes on government regulations and the environment in the environment school.

Haas’s most current project is a book that just went to press yesterday, titled “Miracle Man — 100 Days with Oliver,” a nonfiction work about his oldest dog, Oliver, who went into intensive care after falling down a hill.

“I talked to Oliver. ‘If you make it through intensive care, I’ll write a book about you,’” Haas said. “Oliver’s recovery and his fighting for his life taught me a lot about myself and the crisis that I’ve been through and that we all go through.”

The photography exhibition will be on display until March 15, 2011, in Kroon Hall at 195 Prospect St. The show features work captured during 13 trips to the Arctic within the last four years.