“If you think of Brick, you say to Brick, ‘What do you want, Brick?’ And Brick says to you, ‘I like an Arch.’ And if you say to Brick, ‘Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you. What do you think of that, Brick?’ Brick says, ‘I like an Arch.’ And it’s important, you see, that you honour the material that you use. … You can only do it if you honour the brick and glorify the brick instead of shortchanging it.”- Louis I. Kahn.
Louis I. Kahn said the above lines as a professor of architecture while teaching his students. He believed in the true representation of materials and proudly showcased them instead of hiding them under some cladding or external skin. His designs exhibit power and weight along with a story within his designs. People often state that experiencing his buildings is like finding your spiritual soul.
Born in Estonia and based in Philadelphia, Louis I. Kahn is considered one of the most important architects of the 20th century. His designs are a unique combination of modernism and his poetic philosophy. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and after working with different ateliers in various capacities he started his own firm at the age of 50. He went on a trip to Europe where he actually discovered his style. He wanted to create buildings that are modern but give the presence and feel of ancient ruins. His architecture is multi-dimensional and transcends geographical and cultural boundaries.
His designs are geometric and symmetrical and have an authentic modern language that relates to the place and people. The spaces have strong geometric shapes like circular arch or triangular grid ceilings. The experience of light and shadow in his buildings takes the user into a whole other world. Here are some of his iconic projects:
Located in La Jolla, California, the design of the Salk Institute of Biological studies set in teak, concrete and marble acts as an inspiration for the scientists and researchers. A dramatic perspective is drawn through a channel of water merging into the pacific ocean in line with the horizon metaphorically. The client, Jonas Salk wanted a space that is worthy of Picasso visiting. Louis Kahn laid out two six-storeyed rectangular boxes mirrored along the channel giving unobstructed views in coherence with nature.
Fusing structure, space and light, Kimbell Museum stands as one of the most important modern buildings with an array of cycloid-shaped barrel vaults and slits in the ceiling admitting natural light to the galleries. It is located in Fort Worth, Texas and is constructed in travertine, white oak and concrete deriving influence from Roman architecture. With a stepped park-like layout, the building is designed to be approached in a professional manner.
The Yale University Art Gallery
The first modernist building in Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, was Louis Kahn’s first significant masterpiece. Having a facade of brick and glass, the interior spaces were designed with tetrahedral grid ceilings inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s space frames. The huge depth of these ceilings allowed all the mechanical services like lighting, ventilation and wiring to reside in it eliminating the need for ductwork.
Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
Revolutionizing the institutional architecture of India, IIM in Ahmedabad was an attempt to create a business school which is set up in India but follows a western style of education. This included having semi-open learning spaces instead of traditional classrooms. As a tribute to the vernacular architecture of India, Louis Kahn sculpted a design using local materials like brick and concrete with large geometrical cutouts on the facade that also helped in cooling down the climate by natural methods. The hallways, open plazas and the transitional areas became new centres for learning and interaction. The institute is considered to be a blend of modern and traditional architecture.
Changing the course of political influence, this building acts as an epitome of power through the grandness of its design. In a rising post-colonial state, various inspirations from earlier centuries to Buddhist stupas are juxtaposed and modified to communicate ideas of modernisation and nation-building. Acting as a symbol for the country, Louis Kahn dramatically played with lights and shapes and planned it around a central hall. He used structural elements from the past and translated them into a brand new vocabulary of modernism.
Featuring a dramatic central atrium showcasing the book stacks through huge circular openings, The Phillips Exeter Academy Library is located in New Hampshire, USA. The design is based on the ideology that the library is one of the most important places in a school and can not be just rows of stacked books. The planning was done in a way that users could take the book and read it from the window in natural light. Louis Kahn used to call the concept of this design a “concrete doughnut”. The core of the building houses the books and the “brick doughnut” which is the outer section of the building protects these books from sunlight.
Louis Kahn is considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture who wanted the users to experience the building in an authentic, naked and direct way. His designs are timeless yet so true to their time.
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- Designcurial.com. 2022. Louis Kahn – six most important buildings – DesignCurial. [online] Available at: <https://www.designcurial.com/news/louis-kahn—six-most-important-buildings-4323752/> [Accessed 22 June 2022].
- Salk Institute for Biological Studies. 2022. Salk Institute for Biological Studies. [online] Available at: <https://www.salk.edu/> [Accessed 22 June 2022].
- Museum, K., 2022. Louis I. Kahn Building | Kimbell Art Museum. [online] Kimbellart.org. Available at: <https://kimbellart.org/art-architecture/architecture/kahn-building> [Accessed 22 June 2022].