1962

Vincent Scully

Louis I. Kahn

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It is therefore apparent that Kahn, by 1955, had worked himself back to a point where he could begin to design architecture afresh, literally from the ground up, accepting no preconceptions, fashions, or habits of design without questioning them profoundly. That "great event," so rare and precious in human history, when things were about to begin anew almost as if no things had ever been before, was on the way. On the other hand, memory would eventually play an important part in the process, most richly and intensely for Kahn; but it would come only when the first major steps to liberate the mind for it had been taken. First would come a na´vetÚ of vision which most men can never achieve and only the most intelligent can imagine to be possible. Nothing would be taken for granted. (Even though Kahn was to say to the editor of Perspecta, 7, "I have the usual artful fainting spells, you know.") Every question would be asked: What is a space, a wall, a window, a drain? How does a building begin? How end? Every expedient dodge and avoidance well known to the dullest student in second-year design was henceforward normally to be impossible for Kahn. He was beginning where almost nobody ever gets to be: at the beginning.

It is possible that in modern architectural history before Kahn only Frank Lloyd Wright ever began so wholly at the beginning. Elsewhere I have tried to show that an extremely close parallel exists between Wright's works of 1902-6 and Kahn's of 1955-60. I shall therefore refer to but not stress that relationship here. It should only be pointed out that anything of the kind has been wholly unconscious on Kahn's part. He has said that he was never consciously influenced by Wright, and I do believe him in this. Again, such makes the parallel all the more significant; perhaps it indicates a general pattern that occurs when the problem of architecture is studied afresh by a mind which intends to know the whole. Secondly, Wright and Kahn have occupied rather similar historical moments and have functioned in the same way in them. Both, that is, began their invention--Wright early in life, Kahn late--at a moment when the general architectural movement was toward clear geometric order: in the forties and fifties late Mies and Johnson, in the eighties and nineties Richardson, Sullivan, Burnham, and McKim. In the nineties most architects soon came to conceive of such order in the usual Picturesque-Eclectic terms, and the movement as a whole turned into neo-Baroque formalism, overtly eclectic, overtly decorative. Wright conceived of order in intrinsic terms and rebuilt architecture from the ground up with it. In the fifties-after Mies--some of Johnson's work, almost all of Stone's, Yamasaki's, and others has followed the first course, the neoBaroque, decorative one. Kahn has followed the second: Wright's course. The first course heralded, in the nineties, the end of something; in the late fifties it would seem to have been doing the same. The impression becomes inescapable that in Kahn, as once in Wright, architecture began anew.

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