San Diego

Louis I. Kahn

By means of sketches, plans, models, and photos of nineteen projects over the last dozen years, the intent is, in the words of Director Brewer, “to reveal the art of perhaps America’s most significant architect to a Western audience.”

Kahn’s office complexes (Richards Medical Research Building, Philadelphia; U.S. Consulate, Luanda, Angola, Africa; and Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla) deal with the vocabulary of fairly conventional modernity. Stressed with particular conscientiousness are considerations for the site, light, and temperature. Large extended screens or light shafts, detached smaller complexes, and directional orientation all take these natural conditions into account.

It is in his recent public groups (Center City Philadelphia plans, Bryn Mawr Dormitory, Mikveh Israel Synagogue, Fort Wayne Fine Arts Center, A.R. Levy Memorial Playground, Indian Institute of Management, Second Capital of Pakistan, and the Philadelphia Museum College of Art) that the basis of Kahn’s personal style is most clear. Even photos convey the staggering impact of his arbitrary design, the overwhelming brutalism, and a startling reliance upon ancient Near Eastern and medieval sources. This repertory of monolithic, geometric forms abundantly proliferates in mastabas, truncated pyramids, cubes, rhomboids, towers, turrets, and massive expanses of unbroken wall topped even by crenelations. Kahn extols the “solid” geometric object as architecture and has remarkably done away with windows and hidden the entrances, thus destroying all elements of relative human scale. There is certainly variety of form, the complexes crowd about, each building possesses a shape which relates vaguely to its function; and a variety of levels, generally growing to a crowning fortress complex.

His is an idealism of forms which in effect would seem to offer dual responses. Appreciators, identifying with the heroic stance, will acknowledge the architect’s divine right for rigorous organization, to define the nature of functions, to order and rule. Detractors will point up the sense of having barred intimate and sympathetic human participation, as though the public must become of less spirit in the presence of his monumental hives. One speculates: for what race of ritual giants are Kahn and certain Mexican contemporaries building? In an age of the so-called “instantly disposable” culture, such massive permanence, bearing such a strong stamp of historically non-humanist origins, such starkly aggrandizing monumentality, causes wonder and awe.

Fidel A. Danieli