Louis Kahn, the American architect known for combining Modernism with the weight and dignity of ancient monuments, was born 113 years ago today. His contemporary Philip Johnson once said of him that “he was his own artist. He was free, compared to me.”
Kahn might be categorized as a late Modernist, and a hugely influential one at that. He 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 completed in 2012
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.
On the occasion of his birthday, we think there is no better celebration than to rediscover his stunning catalog of works - see them all, after the break.
For architects, Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Museum has long been hallowed ground. For Renzo Piano, who designed the museum’s first major expansion, it was also an enormous difficulty to overcome. His addition to the museum could be neither too close to Kahn’s building, nor too far. It had to solve a parking problem, yet respect Kahn’s distaste for cars. It had to respond to Kahn’s stately progression of spaces—and that silvery natural light that make architects’ knees go wobbly. And yet it could not merely borrow from Kahn’s revolutionary bag of tricks.
Though Louis Kahn turned down developer Steven Korman numerous times, the would-be patron persisted and eventually convinced Kahn to accept the commission for a residence which was to contain “rooms large enough to play football in.” Located in Forth Washington, Pennsylvania, the Korman house would be Kahn’s final residential project.
The house, considered a masterpiece, is characterized not only by Kahn’s assiduous sense of order, but also a unique combination of materials that create a play of structure and light. Decades after the original 1971 commission, Korman’s son Larry has now selected New York based-designer Jennifer Post to take on the task of redesigning the interior space of the house.
Light matters, a monthly column on light and space, is written by Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting, has published numerous articles and co-authored the book „Light Perspectives“.
Does shadow have the power to give form to architecture? The increasing number of transparent buildings and LED installations would enforce the impression that light has eliminated the relevance of shadow. But to answer that question, let’s look back to a master of light whose architecture was shaped by shadow: Louis Kahn.
More Light Matters, after the break…
In this jaunty little clip, Louis Kahn stresses the importance of honoring your materials to a group of students at the University of Pennsylvania.
Estonia-born in 1901, Louis Kahn had a steadfast belief that all materials had their own destiny and wouldn’t tolerate any attempt to deviate from that. During the age of clean modernism and the use of cutting edge materials, his architecture was often dismissed for being overly symbolic and heavily venerating buildings of the past. Influenced by the arid nature of many of his sites, Kahn’s buildings often took the form of cavernous brick shells with large geometrical cut outs, which he would like to describe them – in his bizarre Kahn-way - as ruins in reverse.
Here are a few of Kahn’s intriguing brick creations:
In September 2011 Barney Kulok was granted special permission to create photographs at the construction site of Louis I. Kahnʼs Four Freedoms Park in New York City, commissioned in 1970 as a memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The last design Kahn completed before his untimely death in 1974, Four Freedoms Park became widely regarded as one of the great unbuilt masterpieces of twentieth-century architecture. Almost forty years after having been commissioned, it is finally being completed this year, as originally intended.
October 24 marks the long-awaited grand opening of the Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) Four Freedoms Park in New York City. Located on a triangular site formed by the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, the four-acre FDR memorial park stands for the “freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear”. It was conceived nearly four decades ago by the legendary architect Louis Kahn, shortly before his death in 1974.
Read our previous coverage for all the design details and get a sneak peak after the break with images from the dedication ceremony.
The Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) will host the exhibition Louis Kahn, The Power of Architecture from September 8 to January 6, 2012. Louis Kahn is known to be one of the most influential architects of the 20th century and has inspired generations with his masterful use of space, light and material.
Among Kahn’s major works are the Salk Institute (California), the Kimbell Art Museum (Texas), the Indian Institute of Management (India), and the Assembly Buildings for the Bangladeshi Parliament (Bangladesh). He designed these projects in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when the conviction of architects that their mission was to improve society was enormous. Kahn’s influence can be seen in the work of important architects such as Aldo Rossi, Robert Venturi, James Stirling, Mario Botta and Tadao Ando.
The exhibition will feature drawings, sketches, photographs, watercolors, film material and scale models by Kahn in an effort to show a broad public how important architecture can be for society. Fine more information on the exhibition here.
Nearly 40 years after Welfare Island was renamed to honor President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), the Four Freedoms Park is nearly complete. The four-acre park, located on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City, honors the 32nd U.S. President and the four essential freedoms he believed in. The legendary architect Louis I. Kahn , FAIA (1901-1974) was commissioned to design the memorial in the early seventies and completed the design right before his unfortunate death in 1974. As New York City approached bankruptcy, the project was put on hold until March 29, 2010. Now, many are anxiously anticipating the park’s grand opening that will take place this Fall.
Continue after the break to learn about the story and design of Four Freedoms Park.
This week we will propose the first documentary of the list within our section of Films & Architecture. There is not much to say about the figure of Kahn, since it has been worldwide recognized. Nevertheless this is a film that captures in a magnificent way the greatness of Kahn’s work through his son’s journey. I guess everyone related somehow with architecture will feel touched by this extraordinary recording. Let us know in the comments what is (or was) your experience watching the film.
This short film by Pablo Casals-Aguirre captures the formal perfection and daily life within Louis Kahn’s architectural masterpiece, the Salk Institute. Kahn was commissioned in 1959 to design the inspiring facility for scientific research. The iconic facility became a designated San Diego Historical Landmark in 1991 and continues to attract daily admirers from all corners of the earth.
Review detailed information, images and drawings at AD Classics: Salk Institute / Louis Kahn.
Last September, we shared the news of Louis Kahn’s memorial park for the southernmost tip of Roosevelt Island. Kahn had designed the park in the 70s, but after his sudden death, the plan was forgotten until 1992 when the MoMA featured the scheme in an exhibition. Upon learning of Kahn’s thoughtful and architecturally compelling ideas to commemorate FDR and his Four Freedoms speech, the public quickly advocated its completion. As we reported earlier, at the end of Kahn’s axial tree-lined triangular “Garden”, a 72 sqf “Room” will contain excerpts from the text of President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. This room, contained by 12 foot high granite columns, is meant for contemplation and remembrance as Kahn’s stoic material palette, clear formal attitude, and forced perspective of the skyline will create, what we imagine will be, a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. With Kahn’s simple gestures, the memorial will preserve a time in American history where FDR’s leadership inspired hope to endure the Great Depression and the second World War. We’re excited for the memorial to be completed and we’ll keep you up to date with its progress.
A great sample of construction photos and renderings after the break.
From previously unpublished material and new analytic drawings this book explores Louis Kahn’s Dominican Motherhouse, his unbuilt masterpiece. Kahn pushed and prodded modern architecture into a crisis that questioned aspects of space that modernism had proudly banished from its program. The Dominican Motherhouse is an exemplary exhibition of Kahn’s relentless questioning of architectural space: seeking the sources of its meaning in its social, morphological, landscape and contextual dimensions. The questions brought up again and again in this book are as pertinent today as they were Kahn was asking them.
This week our Architecture City Guide is headed to San Diego. It is home to the Salk Institute, one of Louis Kahn’s most well-known buildings, and Richard Neutra’s Airman’s Memorial Chapel. One could argue that these alone make a visit worth the trip. That said, we have put together a list of 12 great contemporary buildings that are also worth seeing. By limiting ourselves to 12 buildings we were not even able to include all the ones we have previously featured on our website. Take a look at our list and add to it in the comment section below.
Architecture City Guide: San Diego list and corresponding map after the break!