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TEACHERS NOTES

LOUIS KAHN: THE POWER OF


ARCHITECTURE
09 JULY 2014 12 OCTOBER 2014

INTRODUCTION
Louis Kahn (1901-1974) is an American architect who is considered
to be one of the great master builders of the Twentieth Century. Kahn
created buildings of monumental beauty with powerful universal
symbolism.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY BUILDING, DHAKA

LOUIS KAHN

This exhibition shows architectural models, original drawings, travel


sketches, photographs and films. Highlights of the exhibition include
a four-metre-high model of the spectacular City Tower designed for
Philadelphia (1952-57). The room is divided into seven sections
beginning with a biographical introduction. The work of Louis Kahn is
then explored through the themes of: City, Science, Landscape,
House, Eternal Present and Community.
For students of any design discipline, this exhibition is an excellent
primary source to support research. The exhibition provides insight
into ways that a designer develops and communicates ideas and how
ideas can be expressed and evolved. The exhibition can also support
reflection on the role of design in the built environment and the
influence of architecture on identity and community.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE EXHIBITION

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT FOUR


FREEDOMS PARK, NEW YORK

SALK INSTITUTE, CALIFORNIA

BIOGRAPHY
About Louis Kahn
Louis Kahn was born in 1901 in a country that is now part of Estonia.
His family was very poor and migrated to America in 1906. Despite
his familys poverty, Kahn received an excellent education and,
inspired by a high school course in architectural history, won a
scholarship to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.
Louis Kahn began his career working on housing and urban planning,
but as his career progressed he also designed museums,
laboratories, schools, churches, synagogues and even a national
parliament. Despite his prolific designs, Kahns career as an architect
resulted in relatively few completed buildings. However the
structures that were built established him as one of the most
influential designers of his era.
CITY
Louis Kahn grew up, lived, learned and worked in the city of
Philadelphia. He played a pioneering role in thinking about urban
development. Beginning with housing projects, and then turning to
bigger urban schemes during the 1950s and 1960s, Kahn ideas

became more radical. His key proposals for the city of Philadelphia
included the reorganization of urban traffic making the inner city
pedestrian-friendly, and the bold project of a 180-meter high City Hall
Tower which was never built. A scale model of the City Hall Tower at
1:50 scale can be seen in the exhibition. Its spiraling double helix is
inspired by James Watson and Francis Crick's discovery of DNA in
1953.

SCIENCE
Through his many influences, Kahn brought together design, art,
science and engineering, to develop a truly unique architectural style.
Kahns influences included Buckminster Fuller who popularized the
geodesic dome and Josef Albers whose work with geometric shapes
sparked Kahns fascination with light and shadows. Kahns ideas
were also shaped by his colleague Anne Tyng, who pioneered the
use of space frame architecture, where interlocking geometric
patterns are used to form light-filled space.
LANDSCAPE
Landscape was important to Kahn, and he viewed the gardens and
grounds around his work as an extension of the buildings. He was
interested in how buildings could be formed to make the most of light
and natural elements. This can be seen in the dramatic Salk Institute
for Biological Studies (195965) which is a geometric concrete
structure with a channel running through the centre of an open
courtyard, connecting the building to the nearby Pacific Ocean.
HOUSE
All of the houses designed by Kahn and built during his lifetime were
in and around his home city of Philadelphia. Louis Kahn saw the
home as an institution, and believed that the house was a basic
element of a city. Kahn said the plan of a city is like the plan of a
house where every space has a function including social space, work
space, rest and leisure areas. Kahns houses show the influence of
the American Arts and Crafts Movement, favouring simple interiors
and furniture of wood.
ETERNAL PRESENT
Kahns travels to Italy, Greece, and Egypt shaped his architectural
thinking, as his travel drawings show. Kahn was capitvated by ancient
monuments and ruins, and wanted to create modern monuments for
a new age. Through this, Louis Kahn developed a new type of
modern architecture by challenging the trends of using technology
and material to make buildings lighter and taller. Instead, Kahns
buildings celebrated that mass and weight of buildings. He
composed structures that addressed the balance, scale, space, and
form, and by doing so, he found a new way of presenting
monumental, symbolic buildings.

COMMUNITY
Kahn wanted his buildings to be places for ppeople to meet, work,
and live together. This was best expressed through Kahns late and
largest projects in India and Bangladesh both city-like complexes.
Kahns design for the National Parliament House in the Bangladeshi
capital of Dhaka (1962-1983) and the Indian Institute of Management,
Ahmedabad (196274) were designed to enable people to meet, work
and connect with each other.
These projects bring together Kahns interest in landscape, geometry,
materials, light and connected space.

ACTIVITY SUGGESTIONS FOR SCHOOLS


The suggestions below are starting points that could be adapted into
activities for primary or secondary school students.
1. Material hunt
Like many designers and architects, Louis Kahn used a variety of materials
to explore and communicate his ideas. See how many different materials
you can identify as you explore the different architectural models exhibited.
We found: steel, paper, bronze, wood, cardboard, card, plasticine,
chipboard, Bristol board, wood and acrylic.
2. Plan your city
In the exhibition, find out Louis Kahns thoughts on home and cities, then
design your own fantasy building. If there are several people in your group,
each individual building could be put together to make a unique new city.
3. Travel sketches: for the way to or from the museum
Louis Kahn travelled extensively, in the early stages of his career he
gathered ideas and gained new experiences, later in his career he designed
buildings in South-East Asia.
Take photographs or do quick sketches of the landmarks that stand out on
your journey to/from the Design Museum. What has inspired you along the
way?

DESIGN DICTIONARY
More useful design definitions can be found online at:
http://designmuseum.org/discoverdesign/glossary
Albers, Josef (1888-1976)
Arts and Crafts
Movement

Bauhaus

Buckminster Fuller

Artist, educator and influential member of the


Bauhaus school.
The Arts and Crafts Movement was an international
design movement most influential from 1860 to
1910. It favoured handmade, rather than mass
produced design.
Named after the Bauhaus School in Germany, the
word Bauhaus is now used to describe 'modernist'
design and architecture popular in 1920s-30s.
American architect, author, designer and inventor

(1895-1983)
Modern Architecture

Space frame architecture


Tyng, Anne (1920-2011)

Urban planning

who popularized the geodesic dome.


Buildings in the Modern style made use of
technological and material innovation to challenge
traditional structures and forms.
Lightweight geometric structures formed from
interlocking struts
Architect and professor who collaborated with
Louis Kahn at his practice in Philadelphia for 29
years.
Urban planning organizes the elements of a city
including transportation, power and communication
infrastructures, housing and central services such
as schools and hospitals.

FURTHER READING
Current exhibition information
http://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/2014/louis-kahn
Overview biography and summary of the career of Louis Kahn:
http://designmuseum.org/design/louis-kahn
My Architect: a sons journey, is a documentary film made by
Nathaniel Kahn (2003), son of Louis Kahn.
https://vimeo.com/67173077

EXHIBITION GUIDANCE
This is a traditional exhibition including delicate models and rare
prints. Many objects are in cases, but some items are on open
display. Care should be taken when moving around the exhibition and
no objects in this exhibition should not be touched. We would be
grateful if you could brief your students accordingly.
Depending on your group and your itinerary for the visit, we would
recommend that you set aside approximately 30 minutes to explore
this exhibition.
Filming and photography is strictly prohibited in this exhibition. This
is due to conservation requirements of the historic material on
display.
Please ensure that you read our school visit Terms and Conditions
document before making your visit.
We encourage the use of sketchbooks and pencils in the gallery.
To access free downloadable gallery activity worksheets for students,
please visit our online resource Discover Design
http://designmuseum.org/discoverdesign/downloads.html
Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD
Daily 10am 5.45pm
T 020 7940 8782
E learning@designmuseum.org