The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized


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Louis I. Kahn

Yale Art Gallery

...Yale students came under the Kahnian influence most forcefully through Robert Venturi, who was invited there by Paul Rudolph to expound his vision of the new design in 1962. Yale students from those years recall starving for something new amid the final drought of the New Canaan School--Philip Johnson, John Johansen, Victor Christ-Janer, and others, whose reverence for the classical Miesian discipline still lingered, even if on the wane. They were inspired by studying in Kahn's 1954 art gallery, but the arrival of Venturi signaled something entirely new. It brought the Princeton vision of Labatut and the liberating influence of Kahn as revealed through the special mannerist brilliance of Venturi's mind.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), p. 87.

1999.11.11 10:38
Kahn as anti-modernist
From what I remember, one of the Kahn buildings analyzed in McBride's article is the AFL Medical Service Plan Building 1954-56. Unfortunately, this building was demolished in 1973, and doubly unfortunate because the building was indeed unusual in terms of how we remember Kahn's work. Looking at photographs of the building now, it appears latter-day 1990s--kind of Koolhaas, kind of Herzog & de Meuron--but pure Kahn (of the 1950s) nonetheless. The AFL building is a little after Kahn's Yale Art Gallery (1950-53), but seems prescient of Kahn's Yale Center for British Art (1969-74) (across the street from the Yale Art Gallery).
Maybe Kahn as anti-modern really means that Kahn was (as is often the case) ahead of his time.
Kahn's AFL Medical Service Plan Building was in Philadelphia, on the south side of the 1300 block of Vine Street.

2002.08.11 10:44
Kahn and Wright
Here is excerpt from Louis I. Kahn: In The Realm of Architecture (1997) with some commentary following:
on pages 79-80: Documented evidence of ties between Wright and Kahn is slight. His connection with Henry Klumb (1904-1985), a former associate of Wright's and a staunch supporter of his ideals, is noted in chapter 1. In 1952 Kahn and Wright both attended a convention of the American Institute of Architects, in 1955 (as previously noted) Kahn praised Wright's early work, and when Wright died in 1959 Kahn wrote in tribute [published in Architecture Record], "Wright gives insight to learn / that nature has no style / that nature is the greatest teacher of all / The ideas of Wright are the facets of his single thought." Scully recalls that later that same year Kahn made his first visit to a Wright building, the S.C. Johnson and Son Administration Building (1936-39), where, "to the depths of his soul, [he] was overwhelmed."
It is curious in that the Scully quotation (from Scully's book Louis I. Kahn (1962)) seems to harbor a mistake, a distancing, and/or perhaps even an intentional fabrication. I, for one, find it hard to believe that Louis Kahn never visited Beth Sholom prior to late 1959, thus I doubt very much that it is true that the first Wright building Kahn visited was the S.C. Johnson building in Wisconsin. Now I have to wonder about Scully and Brownlee/DeLong (authors of Louis I. Kahn: In The Realm of Architecture). Was Scully or even Kahn(!) fabricating a false history that would distance Kahn safely away from being suspected of having ever been really influenced by Wight? And why did Brownlee/DeLong not notice and/or correct what appears to be just plain false? The only real reason I'm pointing all this out is that I believe it is much more valuable to know how designs really came about rather than how they really didn't come about.
This leads me to bring up the anecdote R. shared here as to what Wright said to Venturi about Kahn, i.e., "Beware an architect with one idea." If Wright said this to Venturi circa 1955 (date of Beth Sholom construction), then the "one idea" Wright was speaking of may well be the Yale Art Gallery (1950-53). The Yale building is the first to get Kahn wide recognition, particularly for its triangulated ceiling structures, a structure, moreover, that Kahn further investigated in the second scheme of Adath Jeshurun. Furthermore, the second scheme of Adath Jeshurun is remarkably similar diagrammatically to the stairwell plan within the Yale Art Gallery, i.e., a triangle within a circle.
Could it be that Venturi told Kahn what Wright said, and that is perhaps why Kahn wrote "The ideas of Wright are the facets of his single thought"?

2002.08.11 13:23
Re: Kahn and Wright
Second, I agree with what you say about the nixing of Giurgola's design additions to Kahn's buildings (Kimbell and Salk). In reading the recent New Yorker article on Serra, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed the controversy over Tilted Arc as it unfolded. I am no advocate of the notion that so-called site specific art is somehow 'above it all.' Time and the changes it brings is one reality that I believe no one can prove or demonstrate to be otherwise. I rather enjoy seeing, documenting, and learning from the changes that come with time. In the early nineties I thought it would be fun to make a cad model of the Federal Building with Tilted Arc, an idea that fit well with what became Quondam.
Seeing the other day how Ahavath Israel Synagogue is now again changed was like a gift to me in that I was there looking because I'm working on Somewhat Incompletely Louis I. Kahn. I'm beginning to believe that the notion of incompleteness is exactly what's missing from design theory, teaching and practice, and, indeed, that an understanding of incompleteness could help remedy at least some of what you see as being so wrong today.
In the radio interview of Hani Rashid (that Brian told us about), just over 13 minutes into the interview Rashid said, "There is a famous adage by Louie Kahn that really one doesn't get to build until they're in their early fifties." I'm not sure where this adage comes from exactly, nor if that is indeed what Kahn really said, but the reality is that Kahn (who turned 50 in 1951) had already build a whole lot of buildings between 1935 and 1951. Kahn's work, however, did not receive wide recognition until the Yale Art Gallery (1950-53) and then (for the buildings) after. [Another thing Rashid said is that his firm never expected their Virtual New York Stock Exchange project to receive all the recognition it did, which completely contradicts what Rashid said at the Anything conference (June 2000 I think), that is, that he pretty much demanded the clients of the project to publicize it!)
If I am ever commissioned to design and execute a building that's not virtual, I know full well that I could never do it all on my own, thus I'd employ and justly acknowledge the work of others. I kind of do that already when I publish the letters of others at Quondam and Museumpeace. The point being that often what I write is indeed intertwined with what others have also written. The only dilemma in that is if I package these texts for commercial sale, then I might also be infringing the copyright of other's intellectual property. [I'm still working on figuring out a good design for remedying that.]
Seeing the Trenton Bath House for the first time last week while it was very much being used, more or less convinced me that Kahn indeed learned (and then knew) a whole lot about architecture, particularly architecture's osmotic potential--that place's integration of outside and inside is nothing less than a "breath of fresh air."

Louis I. Kahn, Yale Art Gallery, 1950-53 (New Haven, CN: reflected ceiling plan).

Louis I. Kahn, Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, 1954-55 (Philadelphia, PA, site plan with first floor plan, second scheme).

2002.08.13 14:30
in (the obscurity of) fame's shadow?
Two of the (lesser known) Kahn buildings I visited and photographed last week are the Radbill and Pincus buildings of Philadelphia Psychiatric Hospital, now called Belmont Rehab. Like most hospitals these days, Belmont is an accumulation of different buildings now all together via demolitions, additions, and expansions. Two facades of the Radbill building have recently been renovated (they somehow remained original for the most part), and one side of the Pincus building is original and in good, stable condition.
These buildings are pretty obscure Kahn architecture. I had known these buildings fairly well during the early 1990s, but not as Kahn buildings, rather because my brother was often a patient there then. I didn't learn that they were Kahn buildings until 2000 when I purchased a used copy of Architecture In Philadelphia: A Guide. What intrigues me now is that these buildings date 1949-53, which is exactly the same time as the Yale Art Gallery, 1950-53. Basically, I'm asking why is the Yale Art Gallery so very well known, while Radbill and Pincus barely register a single blip of recognition?
I suppose an easy answer is that the Yale Art Gallery is a far superior building, and that Yale is more likely to publicize its architecture (and the art in it), for sure more likely than a psychiatric hospital anyway. It might also be that a stigma was somehow always attached to Radbill and Pincus, the same type of stigma attached to its patients (worse then, but still existent today as well).
Radbill is largely clad in slate, and has odd sun-baffles (if that's what they are supposed to be) projecting over the windows on the facades facing west. The slate panels started falling off about a decade ago, so only two slate facades remain (and they're the ones now restored). One can compare the use of slate paneling here with the use of slate paneling at the Bryn Mawr dormitory (1960-64).
The multi-purpose room of the Pincus building is probably the most recognizable Kahn at Belmont today. Two of its walls (but now just one wall) were rows of floor to ceiling windows, and each window had a movable (sliding up and down) panel so that the fenestration pattern was adjustable. It looks like the panels were made stationary a long time ago, and the fenestration is now a fixed checker-board pattern. I do (now) recall that a slide image of this room and its windows were seen by me during some design lecture my first year of architecture school (1975).

2002.08.13 15:20
Kahn and Philadelphia Jewry
In doing all this recent research into Kahn's architecture prior to 1950, it becomes clear that most of Kahn's clients then were Jewish and/or Jewish institutions. Besides Ahavath Israel, Adath Jeshurun, and Philadelphia Psychiatric Hospital (now Belmont Rehab, and a subsidiary of Einstein Medical Center (on North Broad Street with an historic 1902(?) synagogue on its campus, btw)), about a dozen private houses, half of which were built, all appear to be for Jewish clients. It wouldn't surprise me if much of Kahn's 'networking' back then can actually be credited to his wife, Esther Israeli Kahn, a highly educated women, and a long-standing pillar of Philadelphia's Jewish community herself.
I'm mentioning all this because I believe it is indicative of how Kahn really began to achieve his greatness as an architect. Beyond the adage that "behind every great man there is a great woman," Kahn also had early exposure to great clients. So, before Kahn stepped up into the 'limelight' after the Yale Art Gallery, he was already at a nice, elevated place essentially created by Philadelphia's Jewry.

2002.08.31 11:52
Re: piano, koolhaas, serra
I was reminded of the relationship between Kahn's Yale Art Gallery and Kahn's Radbill and Pincus buildings--completely co-temporal events yet within completely different (light) wave lengths.

2004.02.20 12:38
Re: kahn's yale gallery I
In The Art Museums of Louis I. Kahn (1989), the chapter on the Yale University Art Gallery makes note of the working relationship between Kahn and Tyng relative to the building's design. Tyng's influence vis-à-vis Kahn's earlier designs which involved interlocking geometries as "structure" (especially fractal-ing triangu-larization) is exactly were Kahn and Tyng manifest a co-joining of architectural bodies and minds.
The new Koolhaas/OMA Library at Seattle is very much a reenacting tribute to the coupled Kahn and Tyng.

2006.05.10 19:26
Louis I. Kahn, Yale University Art Gallery, 1951-53.
Louis I Kahn and Anne Tyng, City Tower Project, 1952-57.
The geometric studies of Kahn and Tyng from 1951 to 1957 may have a strong bearing on "depth" as per the initial post/query of this thread.
Louis I. Kahn, Jewish Community Center (Trenton Bath House), 1954-59.
Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, written 1955-56.
Louis I. Kahn, Salk Institute for Biological Studies (Meeting House with volumetric cutouts, 1961), 1959-65.
Colin Rown and Robert Slutzky, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal. first published in Perspecta, 1963.



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