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Louis Kahn, architect on demand, advice without strings

Since college, the work of architect Louis Kahn has been a constant source of inspiration. Recently, I came across a letter of recommendation my professor at USC School of Architecture Roger Sherwood crafted on my behalf. He wrote: “I was impressed by a passion for books as something more than a usual search for the latest classical detail.”Reading it 30 years later, I immediately thought that he must’ve been referring to my discovery of Kahn’s process of breathing life into a building. These days, my own students are frequently reminded of Kahn’s postulate that “Architecture comes from the making of a Room.”

Indeed. Kahn’s architecture of mass touches my soul. For example, the moment I enter Yale University Art Gallery, I am brought to a sudden stop by something astonishingly powerful hovering overhead. The web of the ceiling spanning the entire volume alerts, evokes awe and, finally, draws me in.

Architect Louis Kahn chooses to expose how the building is made

The architect reveals and glorifies the hard-working structure. He intentionally leaves mysterious hollow tetrahedrons of the ceiling immediately visible. As a matter of fact, Kahn asserts that it is his moral imperative to unveil methods of construction.

Convinced that carefully designed joints are the ornament, he insists that there is no need for further embellishment. Consequently, as a visitor, I am endowed with an opportunity to observe how it all comes together in the orchestrated composition. The encounter is quite stirring.

Kahn’s philosophical stance of meticulously narrating every single detail and relationship empowers me to be deliberate, leave nothing to chance!

In my opinion, Kahn’s sensitivity and commitment to the way structural components come together, with even mechanical needs of a building celebrated, embody True Architecture. He lectures that it is ”intolerable” to bury “tortured ducts, conduits and pipelines.” As the integral parts of the organism, they deserve recognition and their own well-engineered service zones.

I take Kahn’s approach to heart. While working on any project, I emulate Kahn by doing the following:

  • keep the structure in the foreground, organizing served and service spaces.
  • make sure that every move is inherently logical. Lofty ideas and aspirations call for appropriately expansive and well-lit volumes. Main rooms have to be offset by smaller ones for contrast, variety and impact. Mechanical needs of a building cannot be ignored. Lighting plans cannot be left to chance.
  • go back and forth, considering both big picture and very small details.
  • sketch and muse, marveling at how awesome it is to be immersed in this process of thinking by drawing.

Most importantly, architect Louis Kahn continues to show me that architecture has spirit. It is endowed with the power to not only serve needs but to substantiate human aspirations by being brutally simple and strong. For this I am eternally grateful and encourage you to look into it as well. If you have any questions, please send them to me here or leave a comment below.


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