Several famous architects have been recorded in our history books, and all have left behind their works for the world to admire for years to come.
One such architect, with his distinctive style of using heavy brick and concrete work against lighter surfaces (like glass), is Ar. Louis Kahn.
Note: Keep in mind the statement mentioned above, and recognize this approach in his work.
Most of us might have heard of him, but not know a lot about him or his work.
A Brief Introduction
In India, largely associated with designing the IIM Ahmedabad campus, Ar. Louis Kahn was one of the master builders of the twentieth century. He is also known as a major contributor to the modernist architecture movement.
- Kahn’s Childhood
Born Louis Isadore Kahn, he had a certain connection with arts that continued for a lifetime. Excelling in art and music at a young age, he achieved various school level appreciations. At 19 years of age, Kahn won a scholarship to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1924.
- Early Years as an Architect
Beginnings are always tough. Kahn worked for a couple of architectural practices in Philadelphia before moving on to establishing his own firm in 1953. It was during this time that he began perceiving the urban regeneration process in post-war America as a way to explore the correlation between city planning and architecture.
- Amalgamation of Architecture and Community
Kahn designed spaces for the community, using forms that would encourage using architecture as a way of life and create a dialogue between people. His ideas also show the importance he gave to creating a link between nature and design.
- Kahn as a Teacher
In all the years that Kahn was an architect, he was a teacher to the many students at Yale School of Architecture, was a visiting lecturer at Princeton University, earned a fellowship to the American Academy in Rome, and was a well-respected professor at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania. He continued to teach here, until his demise in 1974.
- Kahn’s Peculiar Style
During the first decades of modern architecture, the 1920’s and 30’s, a style known as the International Style emerged. Kahn renounced this style which was known to be open and lightweight. Instead, he became a pioneer in his own and new style of modern architecture. His appreciation towards mass and weight lead him to revive the use of monumental and symbolic style in architecture.
In picture: Phillips Exeter Academy Library, New Hampshire, USA
Talking about his Works
Kahn was the ultimate icon, in several ways. His designs were without a doubt modern, but also showed elements that were spiritual and archaic.
Yale University Art Gallery, 1951-53 (New Haven, Connecticut)
As we already know, Kahn began his teaching journey at Yale from 1947. And when he received his commission for the planning of the Yale University Art Gallery during his stay in Rome, it was no less than a life-changing achievement.
The design is meant to evoke different responses throughout the day by using brick and glass on the building’s façade. Kahn’s use of mass and void for this building creates a contrast between the brick walls and the steel-lined glass.
Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 1959-65 (La Jolla, California)
The design brief given by Jonas Salk, who discovered the first polio vaccine, was to create a place where he could invite Picasso. Kahn designed a masterpiece, with two laboratory wings of six floors each, where service floors were sandwiched between lab floors. The residential facilities of this research institute were designed with Kahn’s belief of ‘wrapping ruins around buildings.’
Kimbell Art Museum, 1966-72 (Fort Worth, Texas)
Kahn’s design idea for this museum was to have a park-like stepped setting. The introverted building has visitors follow walkways that are lined by trees in a grid formation. A distinct factor in the design was the use of natural light. The barrel-like structures have skylights atop each of them with aluminum reflectors. These let in diffused natural light creating an ambiance suitable for a museum.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, 1973-2012 (Roosevelt Island, New York)
The key elements that Kahn wanted to include in the park were (A) a room as the ‘beginning of architecture’ and (B) the garden as ‘gathering nature.’ The room went through various stages of design, and ultimately was built the way we see it today. Built with massive granite stones sheltering a bronze head of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban or National Parliament House, 1962-83 (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
The building was completed in 1983, after Kahn’s demise, and is known as his magnum opus. While the building itself is modernist, its design is in accordance with the local architectural style and culture. The structure is made using poured in place concrete and white marble. It is this particular building where Kahn’s special compositions, mastery of light, and formal vocabulary reached its climax.
Kahn believed in the positive effects of good lighting in a building, and it can be clearly seen in his designs.
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