Spotlight On: Louis Kahn, Architect in Light

Spotlight On: Louis Kahn, Architect in Light

2nd Feb 2016

The Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA image courtesy of News Wise

The iconic architect whose work spans the globe and is internationally revered, Louis Kahn (February 20, 1901 – March 17, 1974) is known for monumental structures that harken ancient monuments and employ modernist ideals.

Phillips Exeter Academy Library, Exeter, New Hampshire , image courtesy of Creative Commons

Kahn, born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky in Pärnu (Estonia) and reared in Philadelphia, where he practiced, is one of the great modernists who experimented with light in space with great intention. Regarding light as the giver of all presences, Kahn says “All material in nature, the mountains and the streams and the air and we, are made of light which has been spent, and this crumpled mass called material casts a shadow, and the shadow belongs to light.”

Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, Dhaka, Bangladesh, image courtesy Creative Commons

Concentrating focus on the light, not the light source, Kahn regards his structures in equal standing the light and shadows that it creates. “A plan of a building should be read like a harmony of spaces in light. Even a space intended to be dark should have just enough light from some mysterious opening to tell us how dark it really is. Each space must be defined by its structure and the character of its natural light.”

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas , image courtesy Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Notable projects include:

  • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut (1951–1953)
  • Richards Medical Research Laboratories, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1957–1965)
  • The Salk Institute, La Jolla, California (1959–1965)
  • First Unitarian Church, Rochester, New York (1959–1969)
  • Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban (National Assembly Building) in Dhaka, Bangladesh (1962–1974)
  • Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in Ahmedabad, India (1962)
  • National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), Dhaka, Bangladesh (1963)
  • Phillips Exeter Academy Library, Exeter, New Hampshire (1965–1972)
  • Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (1967–1972)
  • Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (1969–1974)
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, Roosevelt Island, New York (1972–1974), construction completed 2012
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