Louis Kahn at the Kimbell Art Museum

By Lee Hill, AIA


Most of Louis Kahn’s body of work goes unrealized.  However, his biggest legacy to the profession of architecture is his lasting influence on successive generations of architects who came after.   I studied Kahn’s work extensively as a student at Texas Tech and came to understand that modern interpretations of ancient design and building techniques are at the heart of his design genius.  Particularly how he handles the difference between light and shadow, views and axial relationships.  He was fond of animating discussions about light and shadow by simply stating, “no-light, light, no-light, light!”

I visited the Kimbell for the first time in the spring of 1985.  I then went on that summer as a student intern for Rem Alley in Las Cruces, NM who spent his first 10 years in the office of Mitchell Giurgola Architects.  Romaldo “Aldo” Giurigola is considered a member of the Philadelphia School of architects which included Kahn and Robert Venturi among others.  Rem’s design work was heavily influence by his years at Mitchell Giurgola and I got to see Kahn’s theories at work that summer while building design models for a large university project.  After graduation I would later go on to work in Connecticut under several architects who had been students with Kahn at Yale in the 1950’s.  We joined together as a team in our office to work on a renovation project to Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery.  It was on that project that I began to learn the fine art of creating new work that disappears into the old.  No small feat while working on this building.

For me, the highlight of the current Kahn Retrospective at the Kimbell is the large model of the unrealized futuristic Philadelphia City Tower.  Kahn was always working toward creating continuous structural systems worthy of being exposed and celebrated.  This project was the culmination of creating form that results from pure structure. It is at home in the modern cannon of computer aided design even though it is based on an inverse of gothic cathedral construction. That is, the application of hollow members buttressed in tension vs. solid members buttressed in compression.

Go see the exhibit before it closes on June 25th…this is a once in a life time chance to see Kahn’s entire body of work exhibited in one of his most celebrated projects. Also, make sure to see the successive models of the original museum now housed in the lower entry foyer.