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The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building – Louis Kahn
This is an article of a series on the masters of Architecture.
Louis Kahn was born in Pärnu, Estonia, on February 20, 1901. His family immigrated to the United States when Kahn was a child. Louis Kahn attended Philadelphia’s Central High School and the Public Industrial Art School. He later studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was mentored by the French-born architect Paul Crete. Kahn received his degree in architecture in 1924 at the University of Pennsylvania and opened his own firm in 1935. From the start, he was interested in architecture’s role in social change. He created housing for factory workers during World War II, and later in the 1940s worked on buildings for labor unions.
After the war, Kahn also designed several private homes in the Pennsylvania suburbs, working in a modernist style. Kahn began teaching architecture at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1947. It was the start of an influential teaching career—he would remain at Yale for ten years before becoming a professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.
Kahn was elected a fellow in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1953. He was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964. In the same year he was awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal.
In 1965 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician. Louis Kahn was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968 and awarded the AIA Gold Medal, the highest award given by the AIA, in 1971 and the Royal Gold Medal by the RIBA, in 1972 Kahn’s first major architectural project was the Yale University Art Gallery, completed in 1953. His other significant projects of the 1950s and ’60s include the Richards Medical Research Building for the University of Pennsylvania (1957-65), the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California (1959-65), and a library for New Hampshire’s Phillips Exeter Academy (1965-72). The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas (1966-72) is considered one of Kahn’s masterpieces.
Many of its galleries are massive vaulted spaces with ceiling slits that let in natural light. Kahn also worked internationally, and was commissioned to design two major projects on the Indian subcontinent: the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad (1962-74) and the national capital of Bangladesh (1962-83). The National Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is one of Kahn’s most admired works.
In 1974, Kahn died of a heart attack in a restroom for men at Penn Station in Manhattan. Kahn’s architecture was based on social vision.
For he believed that, “Any architectural problem had an essential meaning which far transcended a mere functional diagram”. David Reinheart who once worked with Kahn as an architect said for Kahn, “Every building was a temple. Sulk was a temple of science. Dhaka was a temple for government. Exeter was a temple for learning.”