In about 2003 I was in the midst of a book project on Louis Kahn, saving up research dollars and bingeing on week-long trips to the Archives in Philadelphia when I could. After a couple of these trips, Bill Whitaker, archivist extraordinaire and friend to anyone studying Kahn, told me “I think you need to talk to Nic and Tom.”
Nic Gianopulos and Tom Leideigh were engineers at Philadelphia firm Keast and Hood. Kahn worked with both of them early in his career, and he trusted them implicitly; they had formal roles on the Yale Art Gallery and the Parliament Building at Dacca, but Kahn sought their advice on projects he did with August Komendant, too. The early stages of the Kimbell Art Museum occurred during one of many periods during which Kahn and Komendant weren’t speaking; Gianopulos describes seeing what Kahn wanted to do with the roof vaults and telling him, essentially, that he needed more firepower than Keast and Hood could provide. He’d have to go “talk to Gus.” Kahn took that advice, too.
I did get to spend an afternoon with Gianopulos and Leideigh at Keast and Hood’s offices–they were well into their positions as partners emeriti, but still kept a presence there and had several rolls of drawings to talk through with me. As with most Kahn interviews, the afternoon went back and forth between hardcore details, philosophy, and the fondest possible memories, which was evidence that Kahn’s practice was profoundly human, gloriously flawed, and yet capable of producing work that its protagonists still found breathtaking and moving forty or fifty years later. After the book came out I did a lecture and signing at Penn. In the midst of the social hour afterward I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. I turned around to find Nic, who shook my hand and said, with a smile, “you got it right.” No review has ever meant more to me.
Keast and Hood announced earlier this week that Nic Gianopulos died on July 21, at age 93. After his time with Kahn he specialized in historic preservation, and he taught at Penn for over 25 years. Would that all of us can look back on such a long, productive career, and share what we learned with such joy. Very grateful to have run across him, and to have had that brief but inspiring conversation.