The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized

Zodiac 17   September 1967

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The Richards Laboratories made Kahn’s reputation throughout the world.

They were at fěrst hailed as a triumph of empirical reason because of their articulation of service towers and laboratory floors-- of what Kahn called "served" and "servant" spaces-- and for the rigorous clarity of their pre-cast concrete structure. Time has cast some doubt upon the entire reasonableness of the conception in all its functional aspects, but it has not diminished the buildings physical presence or their historical importance.

Indeed, few buildings make epochs, but the Richards Laboratories probably did so. Their vertical massing and broken silhouette, a somber march of towers, instantly created a new sense of form for a rising generation of young architects. This overpowering visual influence earned Kahn the enmity of various rationalistic critics upset by the fact that buildings so problematical could be so unquestionably splendid. Because, for all their -- and they are numerous: no sun protection, cramped and illogically articulated spaces, fake library carrell windows in the second campaign, and so on--the Richards buildings cannot be divested of their stern grandeur. The dry interlocking of the elements of their structural skeleton is almost cruelly systematic, an implacable grid, while the service towers of vents and stairways loom dark and foreboding in their medieval forms.

It is what all such laboratories are, but no others embody: a grim city of heroic effort and a castle of pain, cemented by the blood of animals, an unbending monument to the human confrontation with death.



Quondam © 2002.08.10