Famous as someone who would ‘talk to bricks’, Louis I Kahn (1901 to 1974) has left a trail of uniquely designed buildings known for their aesthetics and designs. Born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky, he arrived in the US at a very young age when his parents relocated from Estonia (as the country is now known as) to Philadelphia. His father changed the family name to Kahn, according to records. After completing his Bachelor of Architecture course at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Fine Arts, Kahn worked at various places. His first landmark assignment was designing the Yale University Art Gallery (1951-53) in New Haven Connecticut.
While the world takes a break from the controversy surrounding the proposed demolition of the Louis Kahn designed dormitory building in IIM Ahmedabad complex, we take a look at the some of the works by this great American architect.
For his next big project, designing The Richards Medical Research Laboratories, located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Kahn is said to have drawn inspiration from the ancient Italian towers, using brick shafts on the periphery to hold stairwells and air ducts. With his innovative use of reinforced concrete, the building is said to have established Kahn’s new direction in American architecture. This and the associated Goddard Laboratories (also designed by Kahn) have now been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
The laboratory block of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, is another landmark design where the two building blocks frame the distant view of the Pacific Ocean, the ambience accentuated by a narrow linear fountain.
The Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban (the National Assembly building) of Bangladesh, Kahn’s last project was completed between 1962 and 1974. It was commissioned when Dhaka was a part of East Pakistan and completed when the city was made the capital of independent Bangladesh. Incidentally, Bangladesh is also home to another Kahn creation – the Ayub Central Hospital in Dhaka was designed by Kahn in 1963. It was later renamed Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital.
One of the most spectacular architectural designs conceived by Kahn, the exposed brick dormitories built for students of Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India, have been an integral part of the premier educational institute. With a global furore over the intended demolition of 14 of the 18 dormitories, Kahn has now become a household name in India. The media quoted historian William J.R. Curtis as saying that the buildings are an example of Kahn’s ability to design buildings based on the cultures, climates and traditions of the respective places. Even the World Monuments Fund has appealed to IIM’s administration to reconsider their decision to raze the building, according to media reports. IIM-A director, Errol D’Souza, according to media reports, has said that the dormitories have become unsafe for living in. However, according to latest news, the decision to demolish the dorms has been put on hold.
First Unitarian Church in Rochester (New York, US), Kimbell Arts Museum in Fort Worth (Texas, US), the Phillips Exeter Academy Library in Exeter (New Hampshire, US), Hurva Synagogue, Jerusalem (Israel), etc. are some of the other landmark building designed by Kahn.
Located in New York City, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is a four-acre memorial built in honour of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms he had articulated in his 1941 State of the Union address. Although the park was built between 2010 and 2012, it was designed by Kahn in 1974. According to media reports, the drawings of the memorial was found on his person when police recovered his body from New York City's Pennsylvania Station in 1974.
Although Kahn, his realistic architectural designs with their ‘poetic appeal, and his landmark works are studied in depth by students as well as professional architects, this great American architect has also been featured in popular media. My Architect: A Son’s Journey, a documentary by Nathaniel Kahn was nominated for the 2003 Oscars. The architect was referenced by the character David Murphy in the 1993 film Indecent Proposal. Feature film Louis Kahn’s Tiger City directed by Sundaram Tagore offers an in-depth narrative on the artist’s designing of the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhavan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, through the country’s battle for independence.