Friday, August 20, 2010

Architect: Louis Kahn - Information

Louis Kahn was born Louis Isadore Kahn on February 20, 1901. Kahn was of Estonian Jewish origin and moved to the United States in 1905 from Estonia, mainly living in Philadelphia. He began his affiliation with architecture at the University of Pennsylvania training in the rigorous Beaux-Arts tradition, with its emphasis heavily on drawing. He completed his Bachelor of Architecture in 1924 and worked as a senior draftsman in the office of City Architect John Molitor.

In 1928, Kahn made a European tour and took a particular interest in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, France and the castles of Scotland rather than any of the strongholds of classicism or modernism. After working in various capacities for several firms in Philadelphia, Kahn founded his own private practise in 1935. While continuing to work privately, he served as a design critic and professor of architecture at Yale School of Architecture from 1947 to 1957. From 1957 until his death, he was a professor of architecture at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kahn did not find his distinctive architectural style until he was in his fifties. He initially worked in a fairly orthodox version of the International Style, but a stay at the American Academy in Rome in the early 1950s marked a turning point in his career. The ‘back-to-the-basics’ approach he adopted after visiting the ruins of many ancient cities and buildings throughout Europe helped him to develop his own style of architecture which was influenced by earlier modern movements but not limited by their sometimes inflexible ideologies.

Kahn was elected into the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1953. He was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964 and he was also awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal in that year. He was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968 and awarded the AIA Gold Medal, the highest award given by the AIA, in 1971 and the Royal Gold Medal by the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) in 1972.

Louis Kahn passed away in 1974 in a men’s bathroom in Pennsylvania Station in New York. He went 3 days in a morgue unidentified before he was recognised. Despite his long and illustrious career when he dies he was deeply in debt. Heavily influenced by ancient ruins, his style tends to the monumental and monolithic; his heavy buildings do not hide their weight, their materials, or the way they are assembled.

Kahn was very much a ladies’ man and it is known that he had three different families with three different women. his wife, Esther, whom he married in 1930; Anne Tyng, who began her working collaboration and personal relationship with Kahn in 1945; and Harriet Pattison.

Above: Louis Kahn with his son Nathaniel Kahn (from his relationship with Harriet Patterson). In 2003 Nathaniel released the Oscar nominated 'My Architect' which tells the story of his five-year journey to understand his long-dead father. The movie travels from Penn Station to Bangladesh, Jerusalem and throughout the United States to learn about Kahn's work, his lovers, and his family.

- Dezeen Design Magizine, 'Esherick House by Louis Kahn', Dezeen,
- Britannica, 'Louis Kahn', Encyclopaedia Britannica eb
- Patricia Loud, The art museums of Louis I. Kahn. New York: Duke University Press, 1989.
- Joseph Rykwert, Louis Kahn. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers,

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