Louis I. Kahn

Trenton Jewish Community Center Bathhouse


p. 85:
Besides, Kahn's personal influence was not strong until the mid-1950s, when his work and theories crystallized in the Trenton Bath Houses in New Jersey.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), p. 85.

2002.08.09 15:20
Re: Congregation or Synagogue ?
I/Quondam already have a cad model of Hurva Synagogue, and indeed there is reason to believe that Kent Larson got the idea to construct computer models from me--I had submitted a grant proposal to the Graham Foundation in 1991 involving the building of computer models of unbuilt designs. I did not receive the grant, but Kent Larson did receive a grant from the Graham foundation the following year for the same type of proposal. Beyond that, also in 1991, I published slides and drawings of Le Corbusier's Palais des Congres (unbuilt 1964) and offered them for sale to academic architecture libraries. Harvard, U of Oregon, Berkeley and Miami U, Ohio bought the slides, and Harvard also bought the drawings. Is it just coincidence that www.greatbuildings.com began out of U. of Oregon?
I revisited Ahavath Israel today, and sadly the facade has been changed, I was told circa 2000. The whole portion of the facade above the recessed entry is no longer brick, but now a salmon colored, textured CMU. This is yet another building to have changed since I last took pictures of it. The curse of Quondam I guess.
It dawned on me last night that both Wright's Beth Sholom and Kahn's Adath Jeshurun are hugely triangular in plan. Wright mailed the preliminary drawings to Rabbi Mortimer Cohen on 15 March 1954. Kahn's design is dated 1954-55. Since Beth Sholom and Adath Jeshurun are (next-door) neighboring congregations, it wouldn't surprise me at all if architectural rivalry between the congregations was going on, and that Kahn even saw the Wright plans before he came up with his design. Has anyone heard of this possible connection before?
I've been doing a lot of Kahn building photographing this week. I've never seen that Trenton Bath House before, and it was just wonderful to see it. Today I was at Bryn Mawn College to photograph the Kahn dormitory exterior. The building is in the final stages of a full overhaul/restoration. The place was/is crawling with workmen, so I went in and found my way up to the roof. and what a great Kahnscape that is. Mill Creek Housing Project, Philadelphia is now completely abandoned and boarded up. Richards Medical Buildings, U of P, still looks good, but is hard to photograph because of tight quarters and lots of surrounding vegetation.

2002.08.11 13:23
Re: Kahn and Wright
In the radio interview of Hani Rashid, just over 13 minutes into the interview Rashid said, "There is a famous adage by Louie Kahn that really one doesn't get to build until they're in their early fifties." I'm not sure where this adage comes from exactly, nor if that is indeed what Kahn really said, but the reality is that Kahn (who turned 50 in 1951) had already build a whole lot of buildings between 1935 and 1951. Kahn's work, however, did not receive wide recognition until the Yale Art Gallery (1950-53) and then (for the buildings) after.
Seeing the Trenton Bath House for the first time last week while it was very much being used, more or less convinced me that Kahn indeed learned (and then knew) a whole lot about architecture, particularly architecture's osmotic potential--that place's integration of outside and inside is nothing less than a "breath of fresh air."

2002.08.11 13:23
Re: Kahn and Wright
Second, I agree with what you say about the nixing of Giurgola's design additions to Kahn's buildings (Kimbell and Salk). In reading the recent New Yorker article on Serra, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed the controversy over Tilted Arc as it unfolded. I am no advocate of the notion that so-called site specific art is somehow 'above it all.' Time and the changes it brings is one reality that I believe no one can prove or demonstrate to be otherwise. I rather enjoy seeing, documenting, and learning from the changes that come with time. In the early nineties I thought it would be fun to make a cad model of the Federal Building with Tilted Arc, an idea that fit well with what became Quondam.
Seeing the other day how Ahavath Israel Synagogue is now again changed was like a gift to me in that I was there looking because I'm working on Somewhat Incompletely Louis I. Kahn. I'm beginning to believe that the notion of incompleteness is exactly what's missing from design theory, teaching and practice, and, indeed, that an understanding of incompleteness could help remedy at least some of what you see as being so wrong today.
In the radio interview of Hani Rashid (that Brian told us about), just over 13 minutes into the interview Rashid said, "There is a famous adage by Louie Kahn that really one doesn't get to build until they're in their early fifties." I'm not sure where this adage comes from exactly, nor if that is indeed what Kahn really said, but the reality is that Kahn (who turned 50 in 1951) had already build a whole lot of buildings between 1935 and 1951. Kahn's work, however, did not receive wide recognition until the Yale Art Gallery (1950-53) and then (for the buildings) after. [Another thing Rashid said is that his firm never expected their Virtual New York Stock Exchange project to receive all the recognition it did, which completely contradicts what Rashid said at the Anything conference (June 2000 I think), that is, that he pretty much demanded the clients of the project to publicize it!)
If I am ever commissioned to design and execute a building that's not virtual, I know full well that I could never do it all on my own, thus I'd employ and justly acknowledge the work of others. I kind of do that already when I publish the letters of others at Quondam and Museumpeace. The point being that often what I write is indeed intertwined with what others have also written. The only dilemma in that is if I package these texts for commercial sale, then I might also be infringing the copyright of other's intellectual property. [I'm still working on figuring out a good design for remedying that.]
Seeing the Trenton Bath House for the first time last week while it was very much being used, more or less convinced me that Kahn indeed learned (and then knew) a whole lot about architecture, particularly architecture's osmotic potential--that place's integration of outside and inside is nothing less than a "breath of fresh air."

2002.08.14 14:07
Pennypack Woods, then Trenton
The first early Kahn buildings I photographed last week were the housing development and community center of Pennypack Woods (1941-43). A few days before going I asked RE about the place since R grew up practically across the street from the development, and he did a study/report on it while we were both studying architecture at Temple University. I asked R if there is anything distinctly Kahn about the design, and R answered that the housing is indeed 'modern' in terms of the flat roofs and straight-forward 'boxiness', but that the design doesn't automatically evoke Kahn in the accepted sense. R did mention, however, that one might recognize Kahn's hand in the design of the community center of the development, a building I did not even know about. R also mentioned that the development has since been renovated with plastic siding.
I knew Pennypack Wood literally in passing, but never before went into the development. I was very much surprised by the enormity of the development, and yes indeed every home, and there are probably something like 200 or more, was now covered in plastic siding; the original siding was wood, which is probably still under the present plastic. The whole community is still very fully occupied, and, by the looks of it, a nice place to live (this community has their own swimming pool and a still active grounds maintenance operation--I was jealous!).
Pennypack Woods was designed while Kahn was in a partnership with George Howe and Oscar Stonorov. It's location is incorrectly given in Louis I. Kahn Complete Works 1935-1974--it is in Greater Northeast Philadelphia between Holme and Frankford Avenues, in what at the time of construction was still pretty much open country side, yet within Philadelphia's border. (Thomas Holme, the original surveyor of Philadelphia's grid plan, is buried very near by.)
R was right about the Community Center building, there are recognizable traces of Kahn, at least of early Kahn. I particularly like the retaining wall opposite/along a portion of the center's east elevation.
In general, it is interesting to compare Pennypack Woods with the housing development of my own immediate Philadelphia neighborhood (1938-40) since they were built at almost exactly the same time.
After taking pictures at Pennypack Woods, I got right onto I-95 and headed to Trenton. Thanks to John Young's "eyeball series" at cryptome.org I now know that color aerial photos can be obtained at mapquest.com, and I had already searched for and found the Trenton Bath House that way (it's also neat to see the Bryn Mawr Dormitories from the air). Since this was the first day after the fierce heat wave two week ago, I wondered if there would be people using the swimming facility, and, sure enough, the Trenton Jewish Community Center was a very lively place. A big sign between the parking lot and the Bath House states the historic significance / registration of the building. I took as many pictures as I could from the parking lot side as moms and their kids were going in. Then I went in the entrance, and since I had a camera in hand, a lifeguard at the deck right away said, "You want to take pictures of the place, right?" I answered yes, and he said go right ahead. As I was adjusting my camera, the lifeguard offered, "I heard the roofs are supposed to be seen as floating." I answered with a smile, "I never heard that before." The girl lifeguard also behind the desk added, "I never heard that either," and we winked at each other. Then I said, "it all has to do with servant and served space, as in you are the servants and the people in the pool are the served." That kind of perplexed them. As I started to photograph the court space, the third lifeguard from behind the desk came up to me and wanted to know more. To him the building just looked old and "falling apart." I pointed out the support of the roof that doubled as entrances to the men's and ladies shower rooms, and how they work as one element. He thought that was "cool." For the rest, I told him, he'd have to go to architecture school.
One of the nicest things I saw at the Trenton Jewish Community Center was a group of elders playing cards in the shaded lawn area next to the pool. It instantly reminded me of the four Jewish housewives that played bridge every Monday night adjacent an open garage just down and across from my childhood bedroom.

2002.08.26 13:20
return trip to Hermeneutics?
I'm thinking of going back to the Trenton Bath House. I'd like to see if the Kahn designed Day-Camp buildings (1954-59) are still there (from the looks of the aerial image at mapquest.com [999 Lower Ferry Road, Trenton, NJ] the buildings have been demolished [note large yellow circle in grass field directly west of swimming pool--day camp site still there, but not the buildings], and, given their position's proximity to the Bath House, I believe I would have noticed them when there about a month ago).
I also want to return to the Bath House to instruct the lifeguards that the Bath House design is meant to represent four Jewish housewives playing bridge, and that is the information they should give out to all visiting photographer/architects from now on.

2006.05.10 19:26
Louis I. Kahn, Yale University Art Gallery, 1951-53.
Louis I Kahn and Anne Tyng, City Tower Project, 1952-57.
The geometric studies of Kahn and Tyng from 1951 to 1957 may have a strong bearing on "depth" as per the initial post/query of this thread.
Louis I. Kahn, Jewish Community Center (Trenton Bath House), 1954-59.
Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, written 1955-56.
Louis I. Kahn, Salk Institute for Biological Studies (Meeting House with volumetric cutouts, 1961), 1959-65.
Colin Rown and Robert Slutzky, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal. first published in Perspecta, 1963.

2012.07.10 20:52
The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized
In an October 1969 ("The Big Little Magazine: Perspecta 12 and the future of the architectural past," Architectural Forum) review of Perspecta 12, Peter Eisenman writes:
"It is difficult to judge in retrospect whether Perspecta, while purporting to be a reflection of history, was not in itself creating history. And while the making of history cannot, of course, be directly ascribed to Perspecta, one can practically trace the history of post-war American architecture through its pages, from the appearance of Paul Rudolph's early Florida houses in Perspecta 1, to the Adler and DeVore houses of Louis Kahn in Perspecta 3, which in a quiet way signaled a significant, if marginal, change in the course of the Modern Movement--the eclipse of the free plan and a return to a direct modulation of space through structure."

Eisenman continues:
"There has unfortunately flourished, since the war, around the Modern Movement, a body of secondary literature which has tended not only to obscure some of the original ideas adherent to this movement, but also in some cases, in a search for an over-simplified version of history (and because of highly simplistic criteria of explanation), created an idealized picture of it--which can hardly be regarded as a representation of reality. Thus, Kenneth Frampton's article on Pierre Chareau's Maison de Verre, both in its style of presentation and its choice of material, can be seen as a break from this tradition. And while such a documentation of this building, as well as other canonical works of the Modern Movement, is long overdue as a contribution to the history of the recent past, it is the quality and scope of the documentation which commands our attention. Here is a set of precise, hard-line drawings, restrained, elegant, almost in the genre of the building itself, which certainly must establish a standard for such a presentation. But further, it is the abstract style of drawing in itself, the emphasis on plan, section, and axonometric view, which makes them useful for an analytical approach to the building. It is important to note that it was Frampton who had these drawings made in this particular manner; first because they probably did not exist, and second, because they present the building and the ideas inherent in it in a way that is not possible to retain, even when one is confronted with the actual fact."

Thirty-five years later Eisenman publishes Ten Canonical Buildings 1950-2000 (2008), where Louis I. Kahn's Adler and DeVore Houses are featured (which actually makes for a total of eleven canonical buildings within the book, but who's counting). Regarding the Adler and DeVore Houses:

"In the Adler and DeVore Houses of 1954-55, unlike in many of his other projects, Kahn achieves what could be considered an architectural text in diachronic space. This is brought about by the superposition of classical and modern space; that neither of these "times" dominates results in a dislocation of moments or, in other terms, a disjunction that is experienced in space. In the Adler and DeVore Houses, Kahn presents architecture both as a complex object and as the potential for the subject to experience the object as both a real space and an imaginary space. Both conditions are present and can be read, each in turn displacing the other. It is this unresolved moment in the Adler and DeVore Houses, which are themselves suspended in real time between the Trenton Bathhouse and the Richards Medical Center, that makes these two houses different from much of Kahn's other work. It is in the context of the denial of axial symmetries and part-to-whole relationships evident in much of Kahn's later work that these differences lie.
Thus the Adler and DeVore Houses can be seen to articulate an alternate internal logic: first, as a conscious, didactic proposal against the free plan of modern architecture, and second, as a critique of modern architecture."

To be precise, the Adler and DeVore Houses (1954-55) predate the Trenton Jewish Community Center Bathhouse (1956-57).

Eisenman continues:
"The hipped roofs of Kahn's Trenton Bathhouse, as well as its emphatic materiality, are clearly antecedents to the Adler and DeVore Houses, given that initial sketches of both houses similarly have hipped roofs. The Trenton Bathhouse is the first example in America of a massive brick and concrete structure denying the free plan and dynamic asymmetries of modernism with a classicizing nine-square plan. While only a small portion of the Trenton Bathhouse was built..."

Again, it is in fact the early hipped roofs schemes of the Adler and DeVore Houses that are antecedents to the Trenton Bathhouse, and, as built, the Trenton Bathhouse is complete. Eisenman confuses the Trenton Jewish Community Center Bathhouse with the much larger Trenton Jewish Community Center Community Building which was a wholly separate building design never executed.

When seen in (correct) chronological order and at the same scale, a number of Kahn designs, centering on the Adler and DeVore Houses, reveal a more interesting evolutionary development of the "eclipse of the free plan and a return to a direct modulation of space through structure."

Fruchter House 1952-53
Adler House 1954-55
DeVore House 1954-55
Trenton Jewish Community Center Bathhouse 1956-57
Trenton Jewish Community Center Day Care 1957
Goldenberg House 1959
Fisher House 1960-67





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