Éléments et Théorie de l'Architecture
There is a historical aspect to Kahn's concern for composition. Composition of elements was a preoccupation of the Beaux-Arts academic tradition at the turn of the century. Julien Guadet, the respected professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, wrote about it, and his famous pupil, Tony Garnier, may have set in motion forces and attitudes which, no matter how well disguised by subsequent events in architecture, may still be with us. This may explain the association which Kahn is supposed to have with the Beaux-Arts academic tradition. However, it was Auguste Choisy, a contemporary as well as an ideological antagonist of Guadet, who influenced Kahn more--not by his words and ideas (Kahn did not read French and was not a "reader" in the scholarly sense) but by the magnificent illustrations in his book Histoire de l'Architecture, which Kahn treasured.
To begin to understand Kahn requires a major intellectual effort, and indeed it ultimately involves the rewriting of contemporary architectural history. A generation brought up on Hitchcock and Johnson International Style, of 1932, or even Giedion's Space, Time and Architecture, of 1941, could hardly hope to perceive Kahn's quality at once. Nor could he, more importantly, have been able to find himself easily in it. From this observation, one of the major factors contributing to Kahn's lack of significant production during the thirties and forties comes to light. Kahn was, in large part, a part of that academic education, centered upon the French École des Beaux-Arts and called in America, generically, Beaux-Arts, whose later phases many historians of modern architecture, including myself, had so long regarded as bankrupt of ideas. In a formal, symbolic, and sociological sense the Beaux-Arts probably was bankrupt by the early 20th century, not least in the 1920's in America. But the researches of Banham and, more recently, of Stern, now force us to recognize the tenacious solidity of much of its academic theory, as distilled from Viollet-le-Duc and others by Choisy, Guadet, and Moore.
Quondam © 2014.10.26