The Full Wiki

Louis Kahn: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Louis I. Kahn
Personal information
Name Louis I. Kahn
Nationality American
Birth date February 20, 1901(1901-02-20)
Birth place Arensburg, Governorate of Estonia, Russian Empire
Date of death March 17, 1974 (aged 73)
Place of death New York City, New York
Buildings Yale University Art Gallery

Salk Institute
Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban
Phillips Exeter Academy Library
Kimbell Art Museum

Projects Center of Philadelphia,Urban and Traffic Study

Louis Isadore Kahn (born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky) (February 20, 1901 or 1902 – March 17, 1974) was a world-renowned architect of Estonian Jewish origin,[1] based in Philadelphia, United States. After working in various capacities for several companies in Philadelphia, he founded his own atelier in 1935. While continuing his private practice, he served as a design critic and professor of architecture at Yale School of Architecture from 1947 to 1957. From 1957 until his death he was a professor of architecture at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. Influenced by ancient ruins, Kahn's style tends to the monumental and monolithic; his heavy buildings don't hide their weight, their materials, or the way they are assembled.




Early life

Jesse Oser House, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (1940)

Louis Kahn, whose original name was Itze-Leib (Leiser-Itze) Schmuilowsky (Schmalowski), was born into a poor Jewish family in Kuressaare on the Estonian island of Saaremaa, then part of the Russian Empire. At age 3, he was badly burned on his face and hands in an accident involving a coal fire, while jumping over the bonfire on St John's Day[2]; he carried these scars for the rest of his life.[3]

In 1905, his family immigrated to the United States, fearing that his father would be recalled into the military during the Russo-Japanese War. His actual birth year may have been inaccurately recorded in the process of immigration. According to his son's documentary film in 2003[4] the family couldn't afford pencils but made their own charcoal sticks from burnt twigs so that Louis could earn a little money from drawings and later by playing piano to accompany silent movies. He became a naturalized citizen on May 15, 1914. His father changed their name in 1915.


The National Assembly Building (Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban) of Bangladesh

He trained in a rigorous Beaux-Arts tradition, with its emphasis on drawing, at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his Bachelor of Architecture in 1924, Kahn worked as senior draftsman in the office of City Architect John Molitor. In this capacity, he worked on the design for the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition.[5]

In 1928, Kahn made a European tour and took a particular interest in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, France and the castles of Scotland rather than any of the strongholds of classicism or modernism.[6] After returning to the States in 1929, Kahn worked in the offices of Paul Philippe Cret, his former studio critic at Penn, and in the offices of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary in Philadelphia.[5] In 1932, Kahn and Dominique Berninger founded the Architectural Research Group, whose members were interested in the populist social agenda and new aesthetics of the European avant-gardes. Among the projects Kahn worked on during this collaboration are unbuilt schemes for public housing that had originally been presented to the Public Works Administration.[5]

Among the more important of Kahn's early collaborations was with George Howe.[7] Kahn worked with Howe in late 1930s on projects for the Philadelphia Housing Authority and again in 1940, along with German born architect Oscar Stonorov for the design of housing developments in other parts of Pennsylvania.[8]

Louis I. Kahn did not find his distinctive architectural style until he was in his fifties. Initially working in a fairly orthodox version of the International Style, a stay at the American Academy in Rome in the early 1950s marked a turning point in Kahn's career. The back-to-the-basics approach he adopted after visiting the ruins of ancient buildings in Italy, Greece and Egypt helped him to develop his own style of architecture influenced by earlier modern movements but not limited by their sometimes dogmatic ideologies.

In 1961 he received a grant from the Graham Foundation to study traffic movement[9][10] in Philadelphia and create a proposal for a viaduct system. He describes this proposal at a lecture given in 1962 at the International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado:

In the center of town the streets should become buildings. This should be interplayed with a sense of movement which does not tax local streets for non-local traffic. There should be a system of viaducts which encase an area which can reclaim the local streets for their own use, and it should be made so this viaduct has a ground floor of shops and usable area. A model which I did for the Graham Foundation recently, and which I presented to Mr. Entenza, showed the scheme.[11]

Kahn's teaching career started at Yale in 1947 and he was eventually named Albert F. Bemis Professor of Architecture and Planning at MIT in 1962 and Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 and was also a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University from 1961 to 1967. Kahn was elected a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1953. He was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964, He was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968 and awarded the AIA Gold Medal, the highest award given by the AIA, in 1971[12] and the Royal Gold Medal by the RIBA in 1972.


In the year 1974, Louis Kahn died of a heart attack in a men's restroom in Pennsylvania Station in New York City. He was not identified for three days, as he had crossed out the home address on his passport. He had just returned from a work trip to India, and despite his long career, he was deeply in debt when he died.

Personal life

Kahn had three different families with three different women: his wife, Esther, whom he married in 1930; Anne Tyng, who began her working collaboration and personal relationship with Kahn in 1945; and Harriet Pattison. His obituary in the New York Times, written by Paul Goldberger, famously mentions only Esther and his daughter by her as survivors. But in 2003, Kahn's son with Pattison, Nathaniel Kahn, released an Oscar-nominated biographical documentary about his father, titled My Architect: A Son's Journey, which gives glimpses of the architecture while focusing on talking to the people who knew him: family, friends, and colleagues. It includes interviews with renowned architect contemporaries such as B. V. Doshi, Frank Gehry, Ed Bacon, Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei, and Robert A. M. Stern, but also an insider's view of Kahn's unusual family arrangements. The unusual manner of his death is used as a point of departure and a metaphor for Kahn's "nomadic" life in the film.

Important works

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (1966)

Timeline of works

Interior of Phillips Exeter Academy Library, Exeter, New Hampshire (1965)

All dates refer to the year project commenced


360° panorama in the courtyard of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California (1959–65).
Louis Kahn Memorial Park, 11th & Pine Sreets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Louis Kahn's work infused the International style with a fastidious, highly personal taste, a poetry of light. His few projects reflect his deep personal involvement with each. Isamu Noguchi called him "a philosopher among architects." He was known for his ability to create monumental architecture that responded to the human scale. He was also concerned with creating strong formal distinctions between served spaces and servant spaces. What he meant by servant spaces was not spaces for servants, but rather spaces that serve other spaces, such as stairwells, corridors, restrooms, or any other back-of-house function like storage space or mechanical rooms. His palette of materials tended toward heavily textured brick and bare concrete, the textures often reinforced by juxtaposition to highly refined surfaces such as travertine marble.

While widely known for his spaces' poetic sensibilities, Kahn also worked closely with engineers and contractors on his buildings. The results were often technically innovative and highly refined. In addition to the influence Kahn's more well-known work has on contemporary architects (such as Tadao Ando), some of his work (especially the unbuilt City Tower Project) became very influential among the high-tech architects of the late 20th century (such as Renzo Piano, who worked in Kahn's office, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster). His prominent apprentices include Moshe Safdie, Robert Venturi and Jack Diamond.

Many years after his death, Kahn continues to inspire controversy. Interest is growing in a plan to build a Kahn-designed Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island.[15] A modest New York Times editorial opined:

There's a magic to the project. That the task is daunting makes it worthy of the man it honors, who guided the nation through the Depression, the New Deal and a world war. As for Mr. Kahn, he died in 1974, as he passed alone through New York's Penn Station. In his briefcase were renderings of the memorial, his last completed plan.[16]

The editorial describes Kahn's plan as:

...simple and elegant. Drawing inspiration from Roosevelt's defense of the Four Freedoms – of speech and religion, and from want and fear – he designed an open 'room and a garden' at the bottom of the island. Trees on either side form a 'V' defining a green space, and leading to a two-walled stone room at the water's edge that frames the United Nations and the rest of the skyline.

Critics note that the panoramic view of Manhattan and the UN are actually blocked by the walls of that room and by the trees.[17] Other as-yet-unanswered critics have argued more broadly that not enough thought has been given to what visitors to the memorial would actually be able to do at the site.[18] The proposed project is opposed by a majority of island residents who were surveyed by the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation group currently working extensively on the island.[19]

The movement for the memorial, which was conceived by Kahn's firm almost 35 years ago, needed to raise $40 million by the end of 2007; as of July 20, it had collected $5.1 million.[20] There is a merest hint in Architectural Record about the often-heard argument that it must be built because it was literally Kahn's last project;[21] and this is rebutted by those who've said the plans aren't enough like Kahn's other work for it to be touted as a memorial to Kahn as well as FDR.[22]


See also


  1. ^ Voolen, Edward (2006). Jewish art and culture. Prestel. p. 138. "The Estonian-born architect Kahn (1901–1974), who immigrated with his family to Philadelphia in 1906" 
  2. ^ "Kus sündis Louis Kahn?" (in Estonian). Eesti Ekspress. Retrieved 2006-09-28. 
  3. ^ Commstock, Paul. "An Interview With Louis Kahn Biographer Carter Wiseman," California Literary Review. June 15th, 2007.
  4. ^ SBS Hot Docs Jan 15, 2008 My architect: A son's journey
  5. ^ a b c Louis Isadore Kahn (1901–1974) – Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  6. ^ Johnson, Eugene J. "A Drawing of the Cathedral of Albi by Louis I. Kahn," Gesta, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 159–165.
  7. ^ Howe, George (1886–1955) – Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  8. ^ Stonorov, Oskar Gregory (1905–1970) – Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  9. ^ Philadelphia City Planning: Market Street East Project Page
  10. ^ | The Collection | Louis I. Kahn. Traffic Study, project, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Plan of proposed traffic-movement pattern. 1952
  11. ^ Kahn, Louis I.; Robert C. Twombly. Louis Kahn: Essential Texts. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 158. ISBN 0393731138. 
  12. ^ AIA150 – The 150th Anniversary of the American Institute of Architects
  13. ^ Richards Medical Building from World Architecture Images.
  14. ^ Saffron, Inga. "Changing Skyline: One more masterpiece by Kahn nears reality." Philadelphia Inquirer. August 23, 2009.
  15. ^ Press Releases from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute
  16. ^ "A Roosevelt for Roosevelt Island," New York Times. November 5, 2007.
  17. ^ COMING TO LIGHT: The Louis I. Kahn Monument to Franklin D. Roosevelt
  18. ^ Huxtable, Ada Louise. "Roosevelt Memorial Design Hits Snags; Skillful Blend Museum Idea Dropped Must Look Beautiful," New York Times. May 1, 1973.
  19. ^ New York City, Southpoint Park Plan Complete for Roosevelt Island: The Trust for Public Land
  20. ^ Dunlap, David W., "A Campaign to Build a Long-Delayed F.D.R. Memorial," New York Times. October 26, 2007; "Roosevelt Island May Soon See FDR Memorial," New York Sun. October 26, 2007. Link for New York Times photographs of project site
  21. ^ Is Kahn’s FDR Memorial Back on Track? | News | Architectural Record
  22. ^ Braudy, Susan. "The Architectural Metaphysic of Louis Kahn; 'Is the center of a column filled with hope?' 'What is a wall?' 'What does this space want to be?'" New York Times Magazine. November 15, 1970.


  • Curtis, William. Modern Architecture Since 1900 (2nd Ed. ed.). Prentice-Hall. pp. 309–316. ISBN 0135866944. 
  • Kahn, Louis I.. Louis I.Kahn: Complete Work 1935–1974 (2nd Rev. and Enl. Ed edition ed.). Birkhauser Verlag AG. pp. 437. ISBN 3764313471. 
  • Leslie, Thomas.. Louis I.Kahn: Building Art, Building Science. New York: George Braziller. ISBN 0807615404. 
  • McCarter, Robert. Louis I. Kahn. Phaidon Press Ltd. pp. 512. ISBN 0714840459. 
  • Wiseman, Carter. Louis I. Kahn: Beyond Time and Style: A Life in Architecture (1st Ed. ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0393731650. 
  • Larson, Kent. Louis I. Kahn: Unbuilt Masterworks. New York: Monacelli Press. pp. 232. ISBN 1-58093-014-X. 
  • Rosa, Joseph. Peter Gossel. ed. Louis I.Kahn: Enlightened space. Germany: Taschen GmbH. pp. 96. ISBN 3822836419. 

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address