Louis Kahn (1901 – 1974)

One of the most influential icons of the twentieth century, Kahn was an American architect; his works are considered monumental and beyond modernism.  

image source: http://it.phaidon.com/agenda/design/articles/2015/march/17/what-was-louis-kahn-working-on-the-day-he-died/


About his life

Louis Kahn was born in Pärnu, Estonia, on February 20, 1901. His family emigrated to the United States when Kahn was a child; he later studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and opened his own firm in 1935. His major works include the Yale University Art Gallery, the Kimbell Art Museum and the capitol complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Kahn died in New York City on March 17, 1974.

info source: https://www.biography.com/people/louis-kahn-37884

Louis Kahn at work in his studio in 1961.
Louis Kahn at work in his studio in 1961.

image source: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-salk-institute-louis-kahn-20161107-htmlstory.html

What are the main features of Kahn’s style?

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“.

info source: http://www.archdaily.com/334095/happy-112th-birthday-louis-kahn 

National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Louis Kahn, 1962-83.
National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Louis Kahn, 1962-83.

image source: http://www.designcurial.com/news/louis-kahn—six-most-important-buildings-4323752/

Kahn was very interested in the look and feel of the materials he used. He used brick and concrete in new and special ways. Kahn also paid careful attention to the use of sunlight. He liked natural light to enter his buildings through interesting types of windows and openings. Kahn’s work can also be identified by his creative use of geometric shapes. Many of his buildings use squares, circles and three-sided shapes called triangles.

info source: https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/louis-kahn-1901-1974-he-helped-define-modern-architecture-126066138/112564.html

Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

image source: http://www.archdaily.com/61288/ad-classics-salk-institute-louis-kahn

Louis Kahn’s work infused the International style with a fastidious, highly personal taste and poetry of light. His few projects reflect his deep personal involvement with each. He was known for his ability to create monumental architecture that responded to the human scale.

info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Kahn#Legacy_2

National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Louis Kahn, 1962-83.
National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Louis Kahn, 1962-83.

image source: http://www.archdaily.com/83071/ad-classics-national-assembly-building-of-bangladesh-louis-kahn/5037e5b528ba0d599b000318-ad-classics-national-assembly-building-of-bangladesh-louis-kahn-photo

Kahn’s affection for symmetry, which modern architects usually saw as unimaginative and conformist. Kahn designed the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California as a complex of buildings, identical on either side of a central fountain. Such symmetry was characteristic of the Beaux-Arts style, but Kahn was unperturbed by this apparent regression.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, built in 1960
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, built in 1960

image source: http://thephilosophersmail.com/perspective/the-great-architects-louis-kahn/

He used the identical rows of buildings to draw the viewer’s eye to the centre of his design, and to the sea beyond it. The fountain that runs through the centre of the institute aligns with the path of the sun on both the autumnal and vernal equinox. Thus Kahn used symmetry not as an aesthetic default but instead with great intentionality, to provide one with a sense of balance, focus, and momentum.

info source: http://thephilosophersmail.com/perspective/the-great-architects-louis-kahn/

Yale University Art Gallery, 1953.
Yale University Art Gallery, 1953.

image source: http://thephilosophersmail.com/perspective/the-great-architects-louis-kahn/

He also was concerned with creating strong formal distinctions between served spaces and servant spaces. What he meant by servant spaces was not spaces for servants, but spaces that serve other spaces such as stairwells, corridors, restrooms, or any other back-of-house function such as storage space or mechanical rooms. His palette of materials tended to heavily textured brick and bare concrete, the textures often reinforced by juxtaposition to highly refined surfaces such as travertine marble.

info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Kahn#Legacy_2

Louis Kahn Looking at His Tetrahedral Ceiling in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1953.
Louis Kahn Looking at His Tetrahedral Ceiling in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1953.

image source: https://www.archdaily.com/334095/happy-112th-birthday-louis-kahn

What are his major projects?

Kahn’s first major architectural project was the Yale University Art Gallery, completed in 1953. His other significant projects of the 1950s and ’60s include the Richards Medical Research Building for the University of Pennsylvania (1957-65), the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California (1959-65), and a library for New Hampshire’s Phillips Exeter Academy (1965-72).

 Yale University Art Gallery, 1953.
Yale University Art Gallery, 1953.

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (1966-72) is considered one of Kahn’s masterpieces. Many of its galleries are massive vaulted spaces with ceiling slits that let in natural light.

Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (1966-72)
Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (1966-72)
Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (1966-72)
Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (1966-72)

images source: https://www.inexhibit.com/mymuseum/kimbell-art-museum-fort-worth-texas-kahn-piano/