in the service of the mythic

Louis Kahn was demonstrably one of the few well known artists on the architectural scene in America who arrived at the moment when America was hungry for a new departure away from the paths laid down and the stature conscious personalities of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe.  It’s a profession that seems to dote on heroes. Whether it is merited or not, “greatness” taking on new meaning with the architect as part of the Society of the Spectacle.  He certainly had some unconventional ideas in urban renewal such as towers for car parking and organic ideas that would inter-weave people, institutions, services and vehicles into a forum where all could enjoy the amenities only a city could provide. At least theoretically.

( see link at end) …Thirty years after his death, there are few architects as universally beloved as Louis Kahn. In many ways he represents the ideal design architect, much more an artist than a businessman. His projects were pure, his motives pure. A legend in our time. What the film My Architect does is to try and reconcile this man with a real man with real flaws. It turns out that Louis Kahn was not a good man at all. He was married with a daughter, yet fathered two children with two different mistresses. He never took responsibility for those children or his fractured family, allowing the work to obscure everything else. Lou threw himself into his work as his personal life burned around him. Today he has left behind three children who never really knew him and a body of work that almost makes you forgive him for it all. This film is narrated and directed by Nathaniel Kahn, one of his two illegitimate children, and is nothing but a personal quest of a man in search of his father….

---Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Inquirer: Unable to afford real stone, he chose concrete blocks ground from Delaware River rock, so the building would sit heavy on the earth and you would feel the massiveness of its walls. Close up, you can see the rough block was an inspired choice, giving the modern pool house the dignity of a Levant ruin. The high, solid walls shield a serene refuge. Entering from the recessed side door is like navigating an ancient souk.---Read More: image:wiki

The tragic comment on Kahn as a symbol, is that America as a nation remains indifferent to its artists for the most part.Then it suddenly discovers them, burdens them unmercifully, refrains from the criticism that will help them most , demands ever more original and novel things from them, disdains to use them at critical moments when the task of great civic projects hang in the balance, then drops them with alacrity once their capacity for innovation, as it inevitably must, falter, not able to sustain the creative impulse. This was allowed to happen to Louis Kahn, as it had to other architects who were indulged in their sculptural dexterity but denied the chance to try to solve some very urgent problems.Sometimes for good reason. Hard to believe in late middle age, a Frank Lloyd Wright was making ends meet by working on a gas station in Washington State or Kahn at age fifty-five doing a bathhouse for a Jewish community center. But maybe there is justice in that.

---Which is how a pair of Italian tourists sparked an inquiry into the fate of Beth El, the only surviving synagogue of Kahn's, leading some influential scholars and architects to conclude that the integrity of its design has already been irreparably damaged. Kahn was commissioned to design Beth El in 1966, and six years later he produced a 20,000-square-foot octagonal structure sheathed in spruce for $1.25 million. "Modest it may be, but it is also quite beautiful," Rabbi Chaim Stern wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1996. "The sanctuary is a masterpiece of simplicity, where space and light create a serene environment, a place where the spirit may rest and soar." ---Read More:

…Louis Kahn was born in Estonia but grew up in North Philadelphia. When he was very young he suffered through a terrible accident that left him with visible scars on his face. He played piano, got a scholarship to Penn, traveled to Europe and started his own practice in Philadelphia when he was 50, at a firm bankrolled by his wife Esther. His list of completed projects was short, yet almost every one is a legend. The Richards Medical Center, the Salk Institute, the Exeter Library, the Kimball Art Museum, the buildings in Dacca. He died alone in the men’s room at the unpleasant, underground Penn Station in New York in 1974, his firm in debt for half a million dollars and his body unclaimed for days since he had crossed off his address on his passport. Read More:


It can be taken at face value that Kahn was another modernist ego maniac. A painter like a Larry Rivers does canvas that can be stored, but a Kahn can make these frightening mausolums that also resemble chalets for pre-historic giants, the Nephilim; this idea of runs, a bit like an inverted Third Reich scorched earth policy. Kahn was like Albert Speer trying to assimilate a lot of modernist ideas to make his art; to subsume modernism in the service of the mythic. Part of the same culture where there is structure before there is emotion so the warmth and humanism is only wrapped in a narrow modernist context, and its more about the glory of the ancient gods. Quite pagan actually. Dismal and death smelling overwhelmed by sheer materialism. Today, Kahn has been deified and even touching a work of his, even a dingy fishing cabin outhouse is heretical, sanctified horror as if one is cutting a section out of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The reaction is overblown.


It really makes you question what defines success. Kahn’s personal life was a mess, his firm was a mess, he lost money on every single project he ever worked on with the exception of the Salk Institute. People who worked for him talk of a man who demanded almost inhuman hours from his staff. Still, what stands beyond all of that is the work. As an architect is it more important to make money or do exceptional work, as a person is it more important to lead a good, happy life or do exceptional work. Kahn always chose the work.Read More:


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