The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized

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


p. 12-3
In 1920, however, the Architecture School of the University of Pennsylvania was conceded to be the most successful Beaux-Arts institution in the country. Its guiding light was Paul P. Cret, who had trained at the French École and settled in Philadelphia in 1905. Kahn has always regarded Cret as his master. "I had good teachers," he has said, and, like Cret, the young Kahn did not regard himself as a revolutionary. As a dutiful student he traced and adapted forms from the archetypal academic books: Letarouilly, D'Espouy, Guadet. Underneath such direct eclecticism, the history and theory of architecture were taught more or less after the method of Choisy. The general effect upon Kahn has already been described. The spaces of his student drawing are symmetrically made by solid structure and distinguished as to type by changes in the structural scale. Some of the rigidity of plan concomitant to that attitude (which was parallel to, though not the same as, the Beaux-Arts predilection for classicizing symmetry) has also tended to remain constant in Kahn's design. Kahn has since said that he was less affected at the time by Choisy Histoire, since he could not read it, than he was by the flashier plates in some of the books noted above. Yet the plan types drawn by Choisy for Rome reappear in Kahn's mature work, while his structural axonometrics of Greek temples look forward to the piece by piece pre-cast concrete construction of Kahn's greatest buildings. But for that mature synthesis to occur in Kahn's work, other experiences had to intervene.

p. 17-8
In 1950-51 other decisive events occurred. This academic year was spent by Kahn at the American Academy in Rome. That institution had been the proudest jewel of the American Beaux-Arts in its salad days. It had been founded in 1896, largely through the efforts of Charles Follen McKim, who was eventually able to elicit the financial support of J. P. Morgan for the project. To it had come several generations of Prix de Rome winners; and architects, painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, classicists, archaeologists, and art historians had all dined in varying degrees of hostility around its single long refectory table. In its early years the Academy had clearly encouraged the kind of picturesquely archaeological design which had eventually squeezed out Sullivan and Wright and against which the Modern Movement as a whole had so firmly reacted. It therefore was, with some justice, a favorite whipping boy for that movement's historians. By 1950, under the directorship of Laurance Roberts, the climate had changed. Its artists were all creatively modern artists, and its resident archaeologist, Frank E. Brown, had a wide knowledge of all architectural history and welcomed nothing so much as a fresh idea or work of art. Antiquity so came alive for those members of the Academy who had the wit to see it, and for Kahn it must have been as if a rather baggy mistress, abandoned in the bread lines, had walked youthful into the room. His sketches around the Mediterranean show the great masses of Egypt looming, the columns of Karnak, the quarries at Aswan. The buttressed wall of the Athenian Acropolis rises, and the tholos at Marmaria lies before Apollo's throne. Most of all, though no adequate drawing remains, the columns still stood at Paestum, and Kahn saw them once again. Arcuated Praeneste, the foliating Palatine, and, especially, the miraculous spaces of Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli were all seen anew with an intensity of vision the Beaux-Arts had never been able to summon up.

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. 37-8
Not so in the studies between the laboratories; their problem demanded a more complicated sequence of Form and Design, and its solution was again characteristic of Kahn. Early shapes used were pure derivations from the fanning pattern of the lower peristyle of Domitian's palace on the Palatine or from the "Teatro Marittimo" of Hadrian's Villa. It will be recalled that Wright had long before adapted the plan of the Villa as a whole for his Florida Southern College of 1939, and had used shapes from or related to it in later projects, while Le Corbusier had supplemented his sculptural Hellenic impulses with a series of drawings of the Villa's spaces which culminated in his top-lit megara at Ronchamp. More directly, the shapes used by Kahn can be found not only in Choisy but also infinitely repeated in the composite photostat of Giovanni Battista Piranesi's maps of Rome, drawn by him for his book on the Campus Martius, probably of 1762, which now hangs in front of Kahn's desk. Nervi, too, has used this curvilinear pattern in some of his ribbed slabs. Kahn had intended to support the studies on columns which arose from the associated garden at the lower level to grasp them about at the thirds of their arcs; but a further stage of Design intervened: the scientists could not see the sea from these shapes. Thus they were modified and the present simpler forms grew out of them.

Patterns from Rome and, most particularly, from Ancient Rome as imagined by Piranesi at the very beginning of the modern age, have played a part in the process at the Meeting House as well. (An early sketch had been traced by a draftsman, partly as a joke, from a plan of one of the units of Hadrian's Villa itself. "That's it," said Kahn.) The major fountain splashes within a colonnade partly untrabeated, a ruin. Rounded shapes, to be found again and again in the Piranesi plan, and contrasting with the austere court inside, now push out from the main mass, recalling the splendid follies of 18th-century gardens but mightier than they: Walls "that nothing lives behind," shielding the glazed spaces from glare. They are to be constructed of poured concrete, reinforced and calculated, like the squat piers of the laboratories, against earthquake tremor. Because Dr. Salk felt that stone would be more soothing to the eye than concrete, Kahn sheathed them (and they will remain so at Salk's request if the money holds out) in soft yellow-brown Cordova sandstone from Texas, full of fossil crustaceans and more ambiguous biological forms. Kahn used the thin sheets of this stone in a special way, however, since he left spaces between them approximately where the reinforcing tenses the concrete. It is a classic system of wall articulation, rationalized in new structural terms. Here, through his own process, Kahn goes beyond the flat planes of Luanda to an expression the Beaux-Arts had never quite attained: that of an integral Rome, with a noble wall of cladded concrete, voluminous, generous, and arched, behind which Hadrian himself would have felt at home to ponder the complex structure of life. What, after all, is the question biologists ask, but Hadrian's, that begins: Animula vagula blandula, Hospes comesque corporis. . .

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.

p. 41
At present, in this preliminary scheme, it is "Viaduct Architecture," the cars raised on long expressways which contain warehouses and so on beneath them and which lead to the Market Street center city area, now wholly enclosed as a built-up square by the viaducts and monumentalized by the great garages and shopping hemicycles. One of Kahn's old towers of 1957 abuts the Forum on the south side. The whole is beyond Rome, its scale large enough to subordinate, no less than to use, the motorcar. Water plays a part, flowing with the cars, since the northern viaduct is set with circular reservoirs, waiting to service fountains, as well as with triangular interchanges: again, fragments of Form, Piranesi's and Scottish, awaiting the chance to be Designed. But the grand Form conception is there, giving the heart of the city what Kahn believes it most needs: a defining wall.

p. 43-4
Historically, Kahn has already fulfilled his role. He has shown, as Wright did earlier, that Order goes deep, is integral, and can create inexhaustibly anew. He has done so according to important mid-20th-century premises, imagining both a total "order of being" and a tragic dignity in the environments men construct. In this he is the perfect modern complement to Le Corbusier, who has concentrated in his most monumental buildings upon a sculptural embodiment of the human act itself. Kahn's humanism, his "symmetry," is not Hellenic like Le Corbusier's, but, in the persistent American manner, rather Italic, concerned primarily with interior space and its construction in terms of perceptible law. His buildings therefore make "being" determinate--which is why he insists upon both the "measurable" and the "immeasurable"--by passionately uniting the rational preoccupations of science with the non-rational assertions of art and so convincing us emotionally that they visibly embody the power of the facts: the nature of things as they are. In the decade of what I have elsewhere referred to as the Late Baroque of the International Style--in which Wright's late work was in its own way involved Kahn has thus refound the beginning for himself and has shown what may be a general Way. Of that way he holds himself to be a primitive, as Cézanne did, but it links him with some of the broadest and soundest traditions of the architecture of the past, leading out from Rome, as Cézanne's did from Poussin. Perhaps most of all, Kahn has shown how to put to creative use what the mind can know, and has understood and written about that process of formulation more directly and humanely than any other contemporary architect.



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