1962

Vincent Scully

Louis I. Kahn

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Library, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, competition entry, 1956. Reflectied ceiling plan.

It should be stressed that Kahn still had very little work to do. He remained poor. In 1956 he entered the competition for a library at Washington University in St. Louis. Here he tried to develop the cross shape he had used at Trenton with a forest of columns and an essentially pyramidal massing. The whole was a toughly jointed thicket, permeated with light in section and sheathed in a variety of ways on its exterior surfaces. One may perhaps feel that the order of shape and structure was again taking over unduly from the order of spaces and that Kahn could not yet conceive of integral structural and spatial units of a scale appropriate to the functions of so large a project. It was about this time that architects were saying that Kahn, whom they now deeply respected, was designing the ugliest buildings in the world. ("But I love them," one said.) Kahn was answering criticism by saying that "Order does not imply beauty"; he was clearly looking for something more than skin deep, and his search for intrinsic order is dogged at this period. His Research Institute for Glenn Martin, in study during 1955-57, again sought out the order of the cross axis and its structure. Here the cross in plan tended once more to build toward the pyramidal in elevation. The order of spaces finally unfolded with exact symmetry in units which were constructed of two massive piers placed slightly nearer the center than the thirds of the space, with roof slabs cantilevered off them. There is considerable rigidity in the conception still, but it was apparently a revelation for Kahn's students at Penn, who saw it, for the first time in their experience, as a lucid demonstration of Order unfolding.


Research Institute for Advanced Study for Glenn L. Martin Company, Fort Meade, project, 1955-57. Model.


Library, Washington University, competition entry. Perspective and elevation.



City Hall, Philadelphia, project, 1952-53. Model and perspective drawing.


A city tower. Elevation of the model as glazed.



A city tower. Model of tower and plaza, detail.



A city tower. Section, detail.



A city tower. Typical [mezzanine] floor plan.

In 1957 the problems began to resolve themselves. That such coincided with Kahn's departure from Yale was Yale's loss and a gain for the University of Pennsylvania, which acquired one of the greatest buildings of modern times.

It is, I suppose, appropriate that such should have occurred there. Philadelphia was Kahn's home as New Haven had never been; it was his urban place, the center of his practice and of his architectural imagination in the larger problems of civic design. For it Kahn had already done much planning work and had advanced several imaginative urban schemes which will be discussed as a whole later. In relation to them he had proposed by 1957 two related tower projects. The first, of 1952-53, was a light pre-cast concrete space-frame extended in elevation, a surprisingly thin web for Kahn but explicable in terms of his Fuller space-frame phase already referred to. The second, of 1957, with which Anne G. Tyng was associated, was a triangulated structure of concrete elements which took on the bodily force of a column, now bracing itself diagonally. "A vertical truss against the wind," Kahn wrote in Perspecta, 4, ". . . in contrast with the accepted many-storied trabeated construction corrected for wind." He was thinking specifically of the Seagram Building, "a beautiful bronze lady in hidden corsets." Kahn's columns group on their piazza like those of the earlier Synagogue project, but now men were to be involved with them as they rose in the building's many off-set and interlocked levels. At the major intersections great knuckles gathered, recalling Kahn's earlier statement in Perspecta, 2, "If we were to train ourselves to draw as we build, from the bottom up, when we do, stopping our pencil to make a mark at the joints of pouring or erecting, ornament would grow out of our love for the expression of method." The plaza below was designed for parking and services in line with Kahn's statement "that a street wants to be a building equally organized as to space and structure as any other piece of architecture" (Perspecta, 4).


A city tower, "Tomorrow's City Hall," study for the Universal Atlas Cement Company, 1957. Plan of the parking plaza.

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