me architect?


2003.12.22 13:58
me architect?
I saw My Architect yesterday, and a neat part of the film was when Nathaniel was speaking with a couple of taxi-cab drivers (who supposedly drove Kahn around Philadelphia over 30 years ago)--in the immediate background of this scene is the Ritz Theater (within which I was actually watching My Architect). Seeing the scene, I said to Tony, "Look, it's 3D," but watching a movie in a movie theater that you see the movie theater in is probably much more like 4D. Hence, I'll tell you what it's like being in My Architect, albeit from the fourth dimension.
Countless times between January 1982 and May 1985 I walked by and into 1501 Walnut Street (where Kahn's office used to be, where you see him walking outside of several times in the film). I worked at 1611 Walnut Street (for Cooper and Pratt Architects, later Cooper Pratt Vallhonrat). I used to buy my "Dunhill Green" cigarettes in the tiny tobacco store on the ground floor of 1501 Walnut Street. Cooper is the older brother of NY's Alex Cooper, Pratt is from Pratt-Lambert Paint money, and Vallhonrat was the project architect of Salk Institute--three bosses and a staff of four in the drafting room; we all knew each other fairly closely. Nathaniel speaks with the project manager of Salk Institute in the film. If you ever visit the new US Constitution Center in Philadelphia, look at the Federal Reserve Bank building across 6th Street, a design by Vallhonrat that tries hard to emulate Kahn's Mellon Art Gallery at Yale.
In 1979-80 there was a lecture series at the Art Institute on "The Philadelphia School." One night the lecturer was Anne Tyng, and I was one of the five or so people that attended. At the end, someone said to Anne that the attendance was so low because it was Yom Kippur as well. Cold comfort, I'm sure, for the "other woman." Tony remembers going with Franco to Tyng's house to pick up her article for Stanza in 1975.
Stanza was the student journal of Temple University's Architecture Program. Temple's Architecture Program began in 1973, the year Kahn died, and was the 'brain-child' of John Knowles, a quondam Kahn student. When Tony and I started at Temple in 1975, Brigitte Knowles, John's wife, taught first year--you see Brigitte in the film a couple of times as the only female in one of Kahn's classes at Penn. (I worked for BJCKnowles Architects 1979-80.) Esther Kahn gave the first guest lecture I attended at Temple.
By the mid-1980s, I was working at/for the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Art--you see Kahn kind-of prancing around the Fine Arts campus in the film. The Kahn Collection was recently installed within the GSFA's Architectural Archives, and, since I was the resident 3D CAD expert at the time, I asked for access to the drawings of Kahn's design of the Dominican Sister's (who you also see in the film) Convent so I could then construct a 3D computer model of the unexecuted design. Julia Converse didn't allow me free access to any of the drawings done in Kahn's own hand, but I certainly spent several hours over several days going through all the office drawings relative to the project--this all predates Kent Larson's computer model construction of Hurva Synagogue; in fact, the computer model of Hurva Synagogue in Quondam's collection even predates Larson's.
You know, Nathaniel's whole premise of the film is his search for a father that he never really knew, while the reality is that Nathaniel knew Kahn in a very real way that no one else did. Searching for Kahn, for me, really was trying to find an unknown. Unlike Nathaniel, I would never bother speaking with Johnson or Pei or Gehry or Stern to find Kahn, rather I went to Piranesi because Kahn, during his mature years, had the Ichnographia Campus Martius hanging on the wall above his office desk. Yes, were it not for that, I would never have found/discovered (in 1999, in the same building where Kahn taught at Penn) the heretofore unknown first version of Piranesi's great Campo Marzio plan.


Photocopy of a schematic working drawing for the Dominican Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci.

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