kahn exhibit: the power of architecture

October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Kahn at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1972. Image: Robert Wharton

Very happy to see the catalogue to “Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture” out, along with word of the exhibition opening at the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, where it will be until 6 January.  The last blockbuster Kahn exhibition took place in 1991, which in hindsight seems relatively close to his death in 1974.  This one, organized by the Vitra Design Museum and the Penn Archives, presents a much broader picture of Kahn and his work, and the catalogue, with ten essays by Kahn scholars, should become a standard reference.

I was really happy to be invited to contribute, and the essay that I wrote for this deals with Kahn’s relationships with two engineers–August Komendant, who enabled most of Kahn’s masterworks by being a ruthless design collaborator and an energetic presence during construction, and Robert Le Ricolais, with whom Kahn taught throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.  Le Ricolais provided a far more philosophical bent, and his neo-Platonic projects of “infinite span, zero weight” seems to have spurred Kahn on to some of his more metaphysical thoughts.  But the two were also top-notch educators, and their development of advanced design studios–Kahn’s legendary architecture studio and Le Ricolais’ underappreciated experimental structures studio–defined Penn’s program for a generation.

The show divides Kahn’s work into six themes–like the 1990s show, it forgoes a chronological approach.  But the themes selected here are broader than they were in that show, which focused on civic and phenomenological aspects of Kahn’s work.  Vitra, through curator Jochen Eisenbrand, has also included materiality and engineering as major themes, which is gratifying to see and makes for a better rounded and I suspect more interesting show.

After its stint at the NAI, the show travels to the Vitra Design Museum  in Weil am Rhein from March 23 to August 11, 2013, and it’s planned for a stint at Penn later next year.

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