The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized

memory   in Vincent Scully, Jr., Louis I. Kahn (New York: George Brazilier. 1962).


p. 23-4
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.

p. 35-6
Light again had much to do with Kahn's project for the American Consulate at Luanda, in Portuguese Angola, and caused the wall to take a further step into space. Here one has the feeling that the project has otherwise remained fairly close to the first Form stage--perhaps appropriately so in this official program. The residence and consulate are both rigidly symmetrical, but the spaces are organized lucidly within their blocks. Pierced masonry piers outside them carry huge pre-cast beams which support a sun roof of heat-breaking tiles, entirely separate from the unbroken rain roof below and so recalling Paul Rudolph's project for Amman, of 1954-55. Next to the piers, in front of all the floor-to-ceiling windows, free-standing walls, cut with their own arched voids and slots like tremendous keyholes, break the shattering glare of the place. Kahn has explained how such walls seem to cut glare better than pierced screens do and at the same time permit one to look out. He might also have said that their effect is spatial and massive rather than cosmetic, like that of the thin screens used by Stone and others. The openings in such walls need no glazing; they can exploit the rare purity of solid and void. "So therefore," wrote Kahn in Perspecta, 7, "I thought of the beauty of ruins . . . the absence of frames . . . of things which nothing lives behind . . . and so I thought of wrapping ruins around buildings." The wall now takes on added layers in space and memory. One thinks again of Rome, but the planes are stiffly propped above their reflecting pools; it is a two-dimensional Rome, not a three.

p. 38-9
Again a parallel with Wright comes to mind, in which Kahn has compressed two or three decades of Wright's career into a few years. That is, Wright's work from 1902 to 1906, despite the formative influences upon it from the Shingle Style, Japan, and so on, was almost pure invention in terms of reintegration, thus a true beginning. So also Kahn's from 1955 to 1959. From 1914 onward, Wright seems to have welcomed memory more and more and to have incorporated its shapes more obviously in his work: Mayan in the teens and twenties, finally, by the late thirties, Rome and its antecedents. So now Kahn in 1962. It is probably no accident that both turned to Hadrian, since that haunted Emperor was perhaps one of the first, certainly one of the most conspicuous, men in Western history for whom--all ways having opened, which more true than another?--conscious, selective memory was a major determinant of life.

Is this a pervasive problem of the modern world--all possible, nothing wholly serving, no way the only Way, memory all too free to choose? If so, does such inevitably prevent a direct view of present problems and so limit creative capacity or divert it toward easy eclecticism? It cannot be said to have done so for Hadrian himself, or for either Wright or Kahn. It is true that it eventually tended to direct Wright away from his earliest integration of structure and space toward configurations more purely space-dominated, often constructed as might be, but it also liberated and enriched his overweening desire for continuous spaces more and more. So too Kahn has gained in spatial command, where he has most needed to gain, but his structural concern has not faltered. If he can advance along that line, toward integration, not away from it--keeping, can one say, the "dream" and the "reality" in balance, the present and the past in his hands--he may yet endow his age with an image of wholeness matched only by Wright's and Le Corbusier's and so most rare in it up to now. Such rarity should not be considered surprising, insofar as it is linked to that rarest of human gifts, the instinct for how and what to remember.

p. 40
One of the most important facts about Kahn is his pervasive concern for planning and civic design. Architecture does not stop or even begin for him with individual buildings but comprises the human environment as a whole. In this concern he is one with the great architects of all times and most specifically with those whose heritage was humanistic and who, like Le Corbusier but unlike Wright, held the city to be the ultimate work of human art. Kahn, with them, regards the city as a product of Form and Design, a complex of memory and action, with an Order of boundary and definition, not an animal sprawl. Philadelphia is Kahn's city, where as "a small boy walking through it" he found "what he wanted to do his whole life." The appended lists show his many associations over the decades with city and federal planning groups. He was Consultant Architect for the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1946 to 1954. Toward the end of that period he suffered a major defeat but produced a project which will probably not be forgotten in the future. His City Hall scheme of 1952-53 has already been discussed. How far it might have gone is hard to say, but it was beaten by finances from the beginning. "It was too large," be has since said, "it should have been two." Along with it went a new traffic scheme for the center of Philadelphia of a realism and beauty unmatched in contemporary planning. Penn's streets, as well as those added later to his plan, were choked with automobiles; but in Kahn's scheme the automobile was neither to be thrown out nor to dominate. Expressways were to receive parking towers where the cars, parked, were to be out of sight, as a look at any parking lot can show that they must be, and other streets were to be designed as "go," "staccato," and "dock"--for fast movement, slow movement, or as harbors. Shopping streets would have no "go" traffic. Most would retain their buses or trolleys; others were to become pedestrian ways. The whole was meticulously worked out in a pattern intricate and complete. It was not a vision but a reasonable actuality in terms of all the facts but those, apparently, of political possibilities, and it should be contrasted with Kahn's rather offhand Voisin plot of 1941 to demolish all of Philadelphia. An integral monumentality could have resulted from the parking towers and Penn Center if designed under Kahn's hand.

p. 42
Once more the question of past and present arises. Is Form, "dream-inspired," really Memory at the last? Is it in some way always pre-existent, a necessary stored pattern (fed by the experiences of the individual mind, not from a "collective unconscious") without which the transformations suggested by new particulars and fresh experiences have nothing to work upon, nowhere to begin, and so cannot create? It may be so for Kahn. It would appear to have been so for Wright and Le Corbusier, as what I have written about them elsewhere now seems to me to show. The memories of all three have eventually gone deep, and note should especially be taken of the fact that they are the strongest architects, not the weakest: the "Form-givers," as they have been called, not the Form-takers. One can envisage certain historical difficulties if the concept is carried far enough back in time, but such can undoubtedly be answered. It is probable that this is the way the mind creates, the way things come to be. One minor point seems clear: that to make anything in architecture, which has always been a large-hearted art, it is necessary to have loved something first.



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