working title museum

coming apart at the seamless

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Saarinen, Kahn and the Use of History

Paul wrote:
Kahn did not replicate images from history; he abstracted ideas.

Steve replies:
This remark may be somewhat misleading in that Kahn is noted for suggesting and exercising the notion of wrapping ruins around buildings.

I've never met Kahn, but practically all of my architectural teachers (at Temple U. in the mid to late 1970s) were taught by Kahn, or worked for Kahn, or both. I very much liked the architecture of Kahn; I liked the rigorous geometrics, and it is indeed via Kahn that I came to fetish Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan. In the summer of 1976 I purchased a special edition A+U book Kahn' work (for those that may not know, architecture books (and magazines) full of color images were still a rarity in the mid 1970s, and it was basically Japanese publishers that began to change all that). It seems there was a time where that book was not out of my sight.

In the summer of 1977, I went on an architectural study tour in Italy. I spent a whole afternoon on the Palitine Hill, walking through the Palaces of the Caesars. I saw 'Kahn' all over the Palatine Hill. Here's what I wrote then (right after my sophomore year).

Saturday, August 13, 1977
. . . We ended our tour on the Palatine Hill in the Palace of the Caesers. The masonary structure is incredible. I want to go back alone and do a good study of it. There was so much to see and take note of that I was very discouraged to even start. (It was also too hot, but that's really no excuse.)

John [who was a graduate student from Penn also on the study trip] and I started to get into all of the structure. I was surprised to see how much [history] he really didn't know. I made a couple of references to Kahn, and I think he [John] was offended. (Too bad for him.) He said Kahn couldn't be limited to one period. I say, who's limiting him? It's obvious he [Kahn] took a great deal from the architecture of ancient Rome, and that's a fact that can't be disputed at all. I think he [Kahn] was wrong in doing it now that I see the ruins. Like India doesn't seem that great anymore, only the ruins are better, and his [Kahn's] plagiarism for Exeter almost makes me sick [how's that for a visceral reaction]. Wrap ruins around buildings my ass!!!

I really don't know what to think about architecture anymore.

Venturi - Kahn - Corbu - who the fuck knows???

Back to the 21st century . . .
The other place in Rome that opened my eyes was the spiral entry ramp of the Vatican Museum. How come no one ever acknowledges that that spiral ramp and the skylight above it is exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright copied (or should I be kind and say reenacted?) when he did the Guggenheim Museum on 5th Avenue? Wright's Guggenheim is certainly creative, but it is not all that original.

What I like best so far about investigating reenactment in architecture, it the search for origins, that which is being reenacted, because it's in the origins that true originality resides. Kahn himself said he wished he could write Volume 0. I'm not going to say that I too want to write Volume 0, but I do have real faith in its existence.



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