Louis Isadore Kahn (born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky) (March 5 1901 – March 17, 1974) was an American architect, based in Philadelphia. After working in various capacities for several firms in Philadelphia, Louis Kahn founded his own atelier 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 do not hide their weight, their materials, or the way they are assembled. Louis Kahn ‘s works are considered as monumental beyond modernism. Famous for his meticulously built works, his provocative proposals that remained unbuilt, and his teaching, Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century. He was awarded the AIA Gold Medal and the RIBA Gold Medal. At the time of his death he was considered by some as “America’s foremost living architect.”
Louis Kahn, whose original name was Itze-Leib (Leiser-Itze) Schmuilowsky (Schmalowski), was born into a poor Jewish family in Pärnu, formerly in czarist Russia, but now in Estonia. He spent his early childhood in Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa, then part of the Russian Empire’s Livonian Governorate. At the age of three, he saw coals in the stove and was captivated by the light of the coal. He put the coal in his apron, which caught on fire and seared his face. He carried these scars for the rest of his life.
In 1906, his family emigrated to the United States, as they feared that his father would be recalled into the military during the Russo-Japanese War. His birth year may have been inaccurately recorded in the process of immigration. According to his son’s 2003 documentary film, the family could not afford pencils. They made their own charcoal sticks from burnt twigs so that Louis could earn a little money from drawings. Later he earned money by playing piano to accompany silent movies in theaters. He became a naturalized citizen on May 15, 1914. His father changed their name to Kahn in 1915.Kahn trained at the University of Pennsylvania in a rigorous Beaux-Arts tradition, with its emphasis on drawing. After completing his Bachelor of Architecture in 1924, Kahn worked as senior draftsman in the office of the city architect, John Molitor. He worked on the designs for the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition.
In 1928, Kahn made a European tour. Louis Kahn was interested particularly in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne, France, and the castles of Scotland, rather than any of the strongholds of classicism or modernism. After returning to the United States in 1929, Kahn worked in the offices of Paul Philippe Cret, his former studio critic at the University of Pennsylvania, and then with Zantzinger, Borie and Medary in Philadelphia.
In 1932, Louis Kahn and Dominique Berninger founded the Architectural Research Group, whose members were interested in the populist social agenda and new aesthetics of the European avant-gardes. Among the projects Kahn worked on during this collaboration are schemes for public housing that he had presented to the Public Works Administration, which supported some similar projects during the Great Depression. They remained unbuilt.
Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute
Among the more important of Louis Kahn ‘s early collaborations was one with George Howe. Louis Kahn worked with Howe in the late 1930s on projects for the Philadelphia Housing Authority and again in 1940, along with German-born architect Oscar Stonorov, for the design of housing developments in other parts of Pennsylvania. A formal architectural office partnership between Kahn and Oscar Stonorov began in February 1942 and ended in March 1947, which produced fifty-four documented projects and buildings.
Kahn did not arrive at his distinctive architectural style until he was in his fifties. Initially working in a fairly orthodox version of the International Style, he was influenced vitally by a stay as Architect in Residence at the American Academy in Rome during 1950, which marked a turning point in his career. After visiting the ruins of ancient buildings in Italy, Greece, and Egypt, he adopted a back-to-the-basics approach. He developed his own style as influenced by earlier modern movements, but not limited by their sometimes-dogmatic ideologies.
In 1961 he received a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts to study traffic movement in Philadelphia and to create a proposal for a viaduct system.