Spotlight: Louis Kahn

  • 20 Feb 2015
  • by
  • ArchDaily Architecture News mini
Looking at His Tetrahedral Ceiling in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1953. Gelatin silver print. Image © Lionel Freedman. Yale University Art Gallery Archives Transfer.

Louis Kahn, (February 20th 1901 – March 17th 1974) was born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky in Pärnu, in what is now Estonia. His family emigrated to Philadelphia when he was just a child, where Kahn would remain for the rest of his life, completing many of his later works there. Though he did not arrive at his distinctive style until his early 50s, and despite his death at the age of just 73, Kahn became known for combining Modernism with the weight and dignity of ancient monuments, and in a span of just two decades came to be considered by many as part of the pantheon of modernist architects which included Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

Salk Institute. Image © Flickr CC User dreamsjung

Kahn might be categorized as a late Modernist, and a hugely influential one at that. In a trip to Europe in 1928, he took more interest in Medieval architecture such as castles and walled cities than in the emerging modernist scene there. In later life this translated to a depth and solidity to his architecture which in many ways resonates with the brick edifices of Alvar Aalto and the brutalist late works of Le Corbusier, who by the 1950s had moved away from his early, machine-led influences. Kahn is perhaps best known for the Salk Institute, the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, the Exeter Library and Kimbell Art Museum. His last completed design, for the Four Freedoms Park in New York, was also finally finished posthumously in 2012.

Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library) . Image © Flickr CC user ryan_d_cole

The impression he left as an individual is equally as mythical. His sometimes esoteric but always insightful understanding of architecture led to him to being often described as a ‘mystic’ or a ‘guru’, and a complex private life inspired his son to film the Academy Award Nominated documentary “My Architect” in 2003. In the film, his contemporary Philip Johnson said of Kahn that “he was his own artist. He was free, compared to me.”

Yale University Art Gallery. Image © Flickr User caprilemon

See all of Kahn’s works on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below:

And for even more Kahn:

Films & Architecture: “My Architect”Light Matters: Louis Kahn and the Power of ShadowVideo: Salk Institute / Louis Kahn

Cite: Stott, Rory. "Spotlight: Louis Kahn" 20 Feb 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed 24 May 2015. <>