1962

Vincent Scully

Louis I. Kahn

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Louis I. Kahn in association with Kenneth Day and Louis McAllister. Mill Creek Housing Project I, Philadelphia, 1952-53.

Kahn had been talking about Order for some years, first in terms of small crystals, and his developing thoughts of the mid-fifties about Order and Design were published in Perspecta in 1955 and are reprinted at the back of this book. They state his thinking of that period better than I could paraphrase it here. He soon came to believe that in allowing himself to create a single wide span with few columns in the Art Gallery he had shown inadequate recognition of the Order intrinsic to the problem, and in Perspecta, 4, of 1957, he published a lyrical essay on "the thoughtful making of spaces," in which the column figured largely: "A column should still be regarded as a great event in the making of space. Too often it appears as but a post or prop." In 1952-53, directly after the Art Gallery, the column had already begun to figure for Kahn in the highrise towers of his Mill Creek I Housing Project for Philadelphia. There they recalled those of the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building, while the column-like corner articulations of the low blocks can remind us of Hugo Haering's housing at the Vienna Werkbund of 1932, published by Bauer in 1934. (Mill Creek I was concurrent with a beautiful planning scheme for the city of Philadelphia which will be discussed later with Kahn's subsequent developments from it.) This first project as built was still not Kahn entirely mature, though the space defined on the plateau between the low houses and the towers is as splendid as anything imagined earlier at the Beaux-Arts for exiled Balkan monarchs. But in the project for the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Elkins Park [sic]*, of 1954, which would have stood fairly close to Wright's later "mountain of light," the column began to come fully into its own. It was grouped in touching clusters on a triangular plan to house the stairs, support the roof, flourish behind the rabbi, and create small spaces at the sides and a grand space in the center. Kahn said, "It is what the space wants to be. A place to assemble under a tree." He might also have said: "for ten men or a thousand."


Howe and Lescaze. Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building, Philadelphia, 1930-32. While under construction.


*Kahn's Adath Jeshurun Synagogue was designed for a site in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, on Old York Road just south of the suburban Elkins Park. The synagogue that the Adath Jeshurun Congregation did ultimately build (but not designed by Kahn) is indeed in Elkins Park, also on Old York Road.


Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, Elkins Park [sic], Pennsylvania, project, 1954. Plan.


Adath Jeshurun Synagogue. Model.



De Vore House, project. 1955. Plan.

The synagogue was published in Perspecta, 3, as were the Adler and DeVore house projects of the same year. In these, each unit of space was made by its own integral column and spanning system in which space for the mechanical equipment was also provided. The demanding reality of the fabric, already felt in the Art Gallery, was now complete; the spaces were the result of an order intrinsic to the thing constructed. The environment in which men live was thus thought of not as a simple extension of the human whim but as having an Order of its own and so as being part of a larger order of things. Subjective desire and objective reality were balanced. Space, as in the late work of Wright, the developed International Style, and some contemporary criticism, was no longer to be the whole determinant for Kahn. Nor, as for example in the work of the eminently Beaux-Arts architect, Perret, was structure alone to dominate. Instead, Kahn was to attempt an integral union of space and mass, solid and void. He was seeking a truly classic wholeness of being. Such constituted a set of recognitions, related to those taught at the Beaux-Arts, which had passed far beyond that institution's concept and practice toward a state more basic and complete. The houses were not constructed, but Philip Johnson, as others have already pointed out, was reminded by them of Schinkel and freely adapted their scheme for his highly successful Boissonnas House, designed in 1955-56.


Adler House, project. 1955. Plan.



A.E. of L. Medical Service Plan Building, Philadelphia, 1954-56. Interior.


Adler House, project. 1955. Elevation.

If the columns and spanning members so come alive to make the space, what of the wall? That such was now a difficult problem for Kahn can be seen in his A. F. of L. Medical Service Plan Building in Philadelphia of 1954-56. Indeed, the columns of that building were something of a problem as well, because, except for a few major areas, they do not actually define most of the spaces. The conception was still partial, and can be experienced only in the twostoried lobby, where the crudely designed Vierendeel trusses demand that the structure of the building be considered. How to clad such a massive frame? Kahn finally drew a kind of cellophane envelope over the whole, with the aggressive structure standing threateningly inside it at the lower floors. Kahn was already implicitly refusing to design those elements which he could not yet wholly rationalize in terms of an intrinsic order of being. He called such designing "pattern making," and although he could do it, and sometimes wanted to do it, he usually would not do it from this time on


A.E. of L. Medical Service Plan Building. Exterior.

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