Amit Khanna of Amit Khanna Design Associates (AKDA) recently did a prospective photographic essay which highlights the Kimbell Art Museum by architect Louis Kahn, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth by architect Tadao Ando. His writing emphasizes his experiences as they relate to the architectural exterior and interior spaces, while beautifully capturing the buildings themselves. He describes such elements as organization, materiality, and unique details while comparing both works. His essay and images can be viewed after the break.
On a cold wintry morning in Dallas, I went to see one of my heroes. As a student of architecture in India, I revered Kahn’s work and no building embodied his skill better than what my nieces affectionately call “The Hotdog Museum”. Now, even as a practicing architect, The Kimbell Art Museum is still one of my all‐time favorite buildings and my visit helped renew my faith in Kahn as one of the last century’s greatest architects.
Across the road, Tadao Ando has built a very different kind of museum. It’s only when you experience the two of the together that you realize the subtle ways in which Ando has paid homage to the older building while creating spaces generous enough for “modern” art, not always a simple thing to achieve.
In the end, these photographs are not meant to compare the two architects and decide who is better, only to look at how two great architects create simple, monumental space using concrete and light.
As one ascends the hill over Camp Bowie, two long grey walls come into view. The first, unrelenting concrete, burnished by age, betrays its mid‐century age. The second, crisp and metallic, seems more recent, albeit a little flat.
The walls slowly reveal another, more delicate material. The concrete gives way to travertine and the metal unwraps to reveal cool blue glass. Both also have ledges that hide the roof form, almost like classical cornices that cap the horizontal nature of these buildings.
The entrance lobby areas are both organized as linear rectangular spaces. Despite the abundance of dull grey concrete, the luminosity of the spaces is maintained by the dramatic light sources, but in very different ways in either building.
There are two main floors in both buildings, with the art collections mainly on the upper floor with the lower floors carrying ancillary functions. Ascending & descending are powerful architectural tools and both architects employ them to create dramatic vistas.
Kahn prefers to let the light in from above, letting the time of the day and year dictate the user experience. Ando, on the other hand, prefers to bring in the light from the sides, saving the roof for a dramatic white plane that controls the light quality of the space.
The art in both museums have different needs of space. The Kimbell has classical framed pieces and sculptures that are served well by its domestic sized spaces. The art in the Modern, on the other hand, seems to be made specially to fit in the cavernous volumes that make up the building.
In the larger gallery spaces, the similarity between the two museums is almost uncanny. The oakwood floors, large white planes of white background for colourful art and most importantly, the diffused daylight from the unseen slots in the roof.
The skylights above the main staircases are dramatic, but the Modern seems to achieve it with an absolute simplicity of materials. It makes one wonder whether Kahn would have designed differently if he had access to modern glass technology.
The Modern provides dramatic, screened vistas from the upper floors, elegantly framed by the exterior supports of the massive roof. The Kimbell looks inward, save for a few small courtyards that are almost residential in their scale.
The Modern reveals its true exterior from within the courtyard, a shallow reflecting pool that emphasizes the simple projecting roofs. The Kimbell’s repeating roof form are a little less heroic, more concerned with regulating interior light.