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Louis I. Kahn

KAHN, LOUIS I. (1901–1974), U.S. architect. Born on the island of Osel (Saaremaa), Estonia, he was taken to the U.S. in 1905. After traveling in Europe he worked with Paul Cret, an academic architect, and later became an expert in city planning. During World War II he designed a number of housing projects with associates, and later became resident architect of the American Academy in Rome, design critic at Yale, and professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

His first building of importance was the Yale Art Gallery, New Haven (1952–55). In his Community Center of Trenton (1956–59), the cross-axial plan reveals the influence of the Beaux-Arts tradition. Here and in the Yale Art Gallery Kahn revived the use of the column as a means of defining space. The Richards Medical Research Building, University of Pennsylvania (1958–60), was a spectacular construction which placed Kahn at the forefront of international architecture. The horizontal buildings are surmounted by thrusting vertical towerlike ducts, the purpose of which is to allow toxic atmospheres to escape from the laboratories. By this means Kahn created a flamboyantly picturesque skyline out of a functional need.

Kahn later designed many synagogues. The exterior of his design for Congregation Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia (1963) is very austere and resembles a fortress. It features a series of massive, repetitive, round stone blocks. The rounded walls of the interior are broken up by arched openings which let in the light. Emphasis is placed on the area of space rising above the congregation. His notebooks and drawings were published in 1962.


L'architecture d'aujourd'hui (special issue in honor of Louis I. Kahn), 142 (Feb.–March 1969), 1–99 (Eng.); I. Mc-Callum, Architecture U.S.A. (1959), 83–88; Bush-Brown, in: Horizon, 5 (Sept. 1962), 57–63; V.J. Scully, Louis I. Kahn (Eng., 1962).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.