Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974)

Louis Kahn (born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky) was an Estonian-born American architect based in Philadelphia. After working in various capacities for several firms in Philadelphia, he founded his own firm in 1935. While continuing his private practice, he served as a design critic and professor of architecture at Yale School of Architecture from 1947 to 1957. From 1957 until his death, he was a professor of architecture at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.


Kahn created a style that was monumental and monolithic; his heavy buildings for the most part do not hide their weight, their materials, or the way they are assembled.

The Kimbell Art Museum’s original building, designed by Louis I. Kahn and opened to the public for the first time in 1972, is one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the modern era. Kahn designed a building in which “light is the theme.” Natural light enters through narrow plexiglass skylights along the top of cycloid vaults and is diffused by wing-shaped pierced-aluminum reflectors that hang below, giving a silvery gleam to the smooth concrete of the vault surfaces and providing a perfect, subtly fluctuating illumination for art.

The main (west) facade of the building consists of three 100-foot bays, each fronted by an open, cycloid-vaulted portico, with the central, entrance bay recessed and glazed. The porticos express on the exterior the light-filled vaulted spaces that are the defining feature of the interior, which are five deep behind each of the side porticos and three deep behind the central one. Additionally, three courtyards punctuate the interior space.


Kahn was approached in 1959 by Jonas Salk to design a biological research centre. Salk requested that laboratory spaces in the new facility be open, spacious, and easily updated; the entire structure was to be simple and durable, requiring minimal maintenance. Kahn’s scheme for the Institute is spatially orchestrated in a similar way to a monastery: a secluded intellectual community. The laboratories evolved into two elongated blocks mirroring each other across a paved plaza. The central court is lined by a series of detached towers whose diagonal protrusions allow for windows facing westward onto the ocean. These towers are connected to the rectangular laboratory blocks by small bridges, providing passage across the rifts of the two sunken courts which allow natural light to permeate into the research spaces below.
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort WOrth, TX (Louis Kahn, 1966-72) (1)Kimbell Art Museum, Fort WOrth, TX (Louis Kahn, 1966-72) (2)Kimbell Art Museum, Fort WOrth, TX (Louis Kahn, 1966-72) (3)Kimbell Art Museum, Fort WOrth, TX (Louis Kahn, 1966-72) (4)Kimbell Art Museum, Fort WOrth, TX (Louis Kahn, 1966-72) (5)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (1)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (2)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (3)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (4)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (5)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (6)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (7)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (8)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (9)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (10)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (11)Salk Institute, La Jollaq, CA (Louis Kahn, 1962-63) (12)