Getting Personal with Louis Kahn

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After touring Europe and selected cities in the United States, the exhibition, Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture, is making its last stop at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, the sole East Coast location for the show. Although entering its final days, there is still time to check out this special edition of the exhibit, which is on view until November 5.

Library, Phillips Exeter Academy, Louis Kahn, 1965–72. © Iwan Baan.

The choice of venue for the exhibition on Kahn might seem like an unusual one, but it turns out, there is a common thread (pardon the pun). For starters, Marion (Kippy) Boulton Stroud, the late founder of the FWM, had a personal connection to Kahn’s work, having attended his classes. Always attuned to innovative thinkers and creators, Stroud started FWM to provide a venue to serve both as a workshop and a museum for the makers she so greatly admired, like Kahn.

“Our institution at its core is about making things and showing things. We work closely with the artists to realize, essentially, their dreams,” explains the museum’s executive director Susan L. Talbott. “Often these projects have a scale close to Architecture. It’s a process of experimentation and collaboration between the artist and our master craftsmen, our master printers. And although what we are creating in the end is an art object, that process of creation, is very much what Louis Kahn did, and many architects do. But Kahn in particular, since he was known for experimenting.”

Installation shot. Photograph by Paul Clemence. 

The exhibit features more than two hundred objects, ranging from early drawings to personal artifacts—such as the suitcase used by Kahn in his travels and his busy, full-wall calendar—to original study and presentation models. Unique to this exhibition are several items on loan from the personal collection of Kahn’s children, including rare paintings, renderings, and drawings by the architect. Of particular note are the materials illustrating his many collaborations: a sketch from Luis Barragan advising to keep the Salk Institute’s piazza open; a conceptual model of the Adele Levy Memorial Playground which he collaborated on with Isamu Noguchi; and sketches, drawings, and paintings showing the depth of the creative partnership with Anne Tyng.  

One of the essential takeaways from the exhibit is Kahn’s thoughtful and the earnest belief in architecture—moreover, the power of architecture as a holistic tool to enhance everyday life. His body of work is complex, sophisticated, and spiritual, but without being esoteric or exclusive.

Schematic drawing explaining the house as a city. Photograph by Paul Clemence.

A special program is scheduled for the very last week of the show.  On October 28th, a daylong event will give attendees a rare opportunity to learn more about both Kahn’s personal and professional life directly from the people who were closest to him. The first panel, “Louis I. Kahn: My Teacher, My Friend, My Father, My Architect,” will bring together Kahn’s three children—Nathanial Kahn, Alexandra Tyng, and Sue Ann Kahn—for a discussion, moderated by the Talbot. Next, Kahn’s former associates Henry Wilcots, Roy Vollmer, Reyhan Larimer, and Luis Vincent Rivera will speak with William Whitaker, curator of the Architectural Archives at PennDesign, about what it was like to work in the famed architect’s office. The day will then close with a screening (and Q&A) of the acclaimed documentary “My Architect” by the film’s director, Nathaniel Kahn, providing a personal glimpse and insight into the man who brought us some of the most iconic and thoughtful buildings of the twentieth century. 

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Abstraction of Planes on a Landscape, oil on canvas, by Louis Kahn. Collection of Sue Anne Kahn, photograph by Paul Clemence. 

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