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Light Matters: Louis Kahn and the Power of Shadow

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…

Postcard from Roosevelt Island, New York

© Hassan Bagheri
© Hassan Bagheri

This text was provided by San Francisco-based writer Kenneth Caldwell

One friend said, “It looks a bit austere.” At first glance, it probably is. But like so many great minimal environments, it asks for patience and generosity. You give, and in turn it gives back.

This is also what the artists Mark Rothko, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, and, more recently, Olafur Eliasson ask. Trust them with your time and you may be rewarded with a small measure of serenity—perhaps even with the connection between art and the divine that Dominique de Menil was so focused on. 

Designed by Louis Kahn, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is an outdoor sanctuary at the southern tip of what is now called Roosevelt Island, created as a memorial to FDR. The park opened last fall. Kahn’s gift took 40 years to be realized, but it presents a path for human beings to treat each other to peace.

Continue reading after the break...

Video: Louis Kahn Talks to a Brick

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 more of Kahn's intriguing brick creations:

National Assembly Building of Bangladesh Indian Institute of Management Exeter Library First Unitarian Church of Rochester

For more information about Kahn and his brick channeling abilities you can read this rather excellent article by the Guardian's Olly Wainwright, entitled "Louis Kahn: the brick whisperer". 

BUILDING: Louis I. Kahn at Roosevelt Island / Barney Kulok

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. 

Louis Kahn retrospective premiers tomorrow in Rotterdam

© Dave Morris
© Dave Morris

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.

Video: Salk Institute / Louis Kahn

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.

In Progress: Four Freedoms Park / Louis Kahn

Via Bloomberg
Via Bloomberg

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.

'Six Architects' posters by Andrea Gallo

Mies van der Rohe / © Andrea Gallo
Mies van der Rohe / © Andrea Gallo

We saw this incredible set of posters from iconic architects created by artist Andrea Gallo and felt the need to share them with you. They will be available for sale soon, so we look forward to buy one and decorate our office! Which one would you get? Check the posters of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Alvar Aalto and Walter Gropius after the break.

New Yorkers top Architectural Events of 2010

© Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

This years architectural events in New York are bound to have a meaningful effect on the years to come; the decision by NYU to add another tower complementing I.M Pei’s existing Silver Towers complex (rather than their initial plan to demolish them), the opening of the first section of Brooklyn Bridge Park coupled with the completion of the High Line has re-established New York City as a key model to reference when it comes to designing urban public space, and finally construction began on Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, by Louis Kahn, to name a few.

From transportation, urban planning, exhibitions, residential and office buildings follow the break to see the New Yorkers list of some of the most influential decisions surrounding architecture over the past year in New York.

Progress on Four Freedoms Park / Louis Kahn

Although the field of architecture continually  changes with advances in technology and shifts in society and culture, there rest a few names that seem frozen in time, as their ideas will continually influence generations of architects to come.  Of them, Louis Kahn has been revered as a master of the 20th century and soon, his memorial park design of the 1970s will finally be completed in New York.    The memorial is named after FDR’s Four Freedoms speech from 1941 where he declares that “In the future days,….we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want–which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants–everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.”

More about Kahn’s design after the break.