AD Classics: Kimbell Art Museum / Louis Kahn

© Parker

Located in Fort Worth, , the by Louis Kahn has become a mecca for all who are interested in modern architecture. The element of natural light is the main focus of the design, and creates elegant spaces that are perfectly suited for the art that it houses.

More on Louis Kahn and the Kimbell Art Museum after the break.

© Zereshke

The distinct form of the Kimbell Museum’s cycloid barrel vaults are rimmed with narrow plexiglass skylights, providing room for natural light to penetrate into the spaces. To diffuse this light, pierced-aluminum reflectors shaped like wings hang below, illuminating the smooth surfaces of the concrete vault while providing elegant and enchanting light conditions for the works of art.

© Andreas Praefcke

Three 100-foot bays that are each fronted by a barrel-vaulted portico comprise the main facade to the west, where the central entrance is marked by it’s glazing and recession from the rest of the facade. The building is punctuated by three courtyards, allowing for more light, air flow and relationships between interior and exterior spaces.

© Parker

Completely modern in it’s revivalist detail and lack of ornament, the hints of Roman architecture include the grand arches and vaults. These were made possible by the use of concrete, travertine and white oak, all the key materials of the project. Most of the galleries are located on the upper floor, to allow for most natural lighting. Air ducts and mechanical services are located in the spaces where edges of vaults come close to meeting.

© Parker

Kay Kimbell and his wife Velma Fuller set up the Kimbell Art Foundation in 1935 as an established art institute. Upon his death in 1964, they had collected one of the best selections of old masters, and so the estate was bequeathed to the foundation with the intentions of building a first class museum. A “Policy Statement” by the foundation director Richard Brown set clear guidelines regarding the new building as a work of art.

© Andreas Praefcke

He specified that “natural light should play a vital part” in the design, and interviewed many architects including Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Pier Luigi Nervi, Gordon Bunshaft, and Edward Larrabee Barnes, but commission was awarded to Kahn in late 1966. The two couldn’t have been a better pair, as Brown had always admired Kahn’s emphasis on natural light.

© Renzo Piano

Architect Renzo Piano has been hired to design an add-on structure to the existing museum, with the intentions of providing extra gallery spaces that will be used for classrooms and studios. The auditorium is acoustically impressive and considerably large.  Interestingly enough, most enter the building through what he considered the back entrance to the east. With the new proposed deadline, the new building and garage act as a block against entering this way, and it will direct visitors to the intentional entrance. The new project is not attached to the Kahn building, but it respects its scale, plan and materiality while also exploring it’s more open and transparent character.

Architect: Louis Kahn
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Project Year: 1967-1972
References: Kimbell Art Museum, Patricia Cummings, Michael Brawne
Photographs: Andreas Praefcke, Zereshke, Flickr- username: grabadonut, Parker, David Rifkind, Yale University Press

Cite: Sveiven, Megan. "AD Classics: Kimbell Art Museum / Louis Kahn" 31 Mar 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • Josh Mings

    I was able to visit the Kimbell twice this past summer, once when raining and once when sunny. The way Kahn controlled both artificial and natural light kept the ambiance just right for viewing the art under both conditions.

    Bar none one of the greatest buildings that I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Walking up the steps into the main gathering area directly across from the grove, I was in awe and with my mouth agape in a constant “wow” for a good 10 minutes.

    If you do go and plan on seeing Ando’s Fort Worth Modern, go to the Modern first. If you do what I did and go to the Kimbell first, you will have a very biased opinion that effects your experience with the Modern (due to the difference between Kahn’s and Ando’s thinking).

  • mohinder

    Beautiful building but these particular photographs don’t do it justice.

  • joseph n. biondo

    The essence of architecture.

  • jules.gianakos

    The Kimbell Art Museum remains unparalleled in its mastery of light and materials. Visiting this museum changed my life. No photographs can convey the power behind the natural lighting techniques and the importance of its connection to the Western lawn. It is also interesting to me to think how under appreciated Ando’s Modern Art Museum next door is solely because of its proximity to a masterpiece such as the Kimbell. I can not wait to experience other Louis Kahn buildings ASAP.

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