Louis I. Kahn: The Making of a Room

Louis I. Kahn was one of the preeminent twentieth-century architects, renowned for his monumental, geometric buildings. He was born in 1901 in the Russian province of Estonia and grew up in Philadelphia, where he spent his life as an architect. He studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and later taught here. In his early years, and indeed into middle age, Kahn worked without achieving widespread acclaim, building modest commissions in line with the emerging modern style. During the mid-1950s, he undertook a new way of creating his architecture, developing a signature style of building, which he characterized poetically in his lectures as hinging on light and monumentality. Until his death in 1974, Kahn developed these themes in buildings that
brought him an international reputation.

Kahn sought a historically rooted approach to modern architecture. His method of organizing his buildings with “served” (main) and “servant” (subsidiary) spaces is well known, but the rich story of his interior spaces—connective, contemplative, and at the human scale—has never been fully told. This exhibition looks at Kahn’s works from the inside out, engaging the room, which was at the heart of his creative process.

Kahn’s 1971 drawing Architecture Comes from the Making of a Room, at the entrance to the next gallery, serves as the keystone of this exhibition. The selection of the works shown here was inspired by its poetic statements. They present a distillation of decades of Kahn’s thinking about the room and its inhabitants. These are the principles that Kahn both lived by, and aspired to, and in this way the drawing acts as a manifesto of his architectural design.

Click on the thumbnail images below for a larger view.

First Unitarian Church and School
Rochester, New York
Explanatory Diagram of Relationship of Spaces
Pencil and Negro pencil on tracing paper
Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California
1959-65, laboratory built
Photograph by Grant Mudford, 1991
Color print
The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania by the gift of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Col. # 305

Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh
National Assembly buildings
Photograph by Nurer Ramhan Khan, 2004

Color print
The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania by the gift of Nurer Ramhan Khan

Architecture Comes from the Making of a Room
Drawing for City/2 exhibition
Charcoal on tracing paper
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist

Early Work

"The Plan - A society of rooms is a place good to live work learn"

"The Room is the place of the mind"

"In a small room one does not say what one would in a large room"

"A room with only one other person could be generative. The vectors of each meet"

"A room is not a room without natural light"

Louis I. Kahn: The Making of a Room
Arthur Ross Gallery
University of Pennsylvania
220 South 34th Street, Philadelphia
February 6 through March 29, 2009