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Louis I. Kahn

Dominican Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci


Shortly after he began work on the Valyermo project in 1966, Kahn undertook a very similar commission for the Dominican Motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Catherine de Ricci at Media in the southwestern suburbs of Philadelphia. At a slightly slower pace it followed the same route that had been charted by St. Andrews toward eventual disillusionment and disappointment, owing to the worldliness and poverty of the sisters. But along the way Kahn created for the convent an even more incandescent realization of the planning principles that he had adopted for the monastery.

Those principles were emblematized by a design method adopted by Kahn's office early in the fall of 1966, when they were at work on the convent. His staff decided to study the design by cutting up an existing drawing so that the component parts of the program could be shifted and reassembled like a real collage. Kahn could thus experiment with relationships while preserving the integrity of the separate elements each of which was really a room, for him the infrangible unit of architectural design. It may have been this method that Kahn had in mind in 1972 when he said "The rooms talk to each other and they make up their minds where their positions are." On another occasion he offered a variant wording: "I think architects should be composers and not designers. They should be composers of elements. The elements are things that are entities in themselves." [1966]

The resulting plan , a model of which was ready for presentation on October 10, 1966, had a wiry energy even greater than that of the just-complete scheme for St. Andrew's. This strong vision was expensive to realize, however, and Mother Mary Emmanuel asked Kahn to reduce the size of the building, reminding him that he had to deal with the contemporary realities of an outward oriented church, not some gentle fantasy of Trappist spirituality in the Middle Ages. During the first months of 1967 he made sharp reductions, and economizing continued in 1968, when working drawings were prepared. The more compact plan compressed most of the energy of its predecessor into a smaller space. In the end, however, no common meeting ground could be found for the convent's budget and Kahn's architecture.
David B. Brownlee / David G. De Long, Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1991), p. 109.





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