A Reassessment of Kahn's Legacy

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ) Annual Conference, 2007, pp. 1 - 10
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Louis I. Kahn, now comfortably settled into the status of 'master' and regarded as the last of the great Modernist architects, is largely remembered now for his phrase" - what a building wants to be." This paper argues that though this orthodox interpretation is largely correct, Kahn is only truly understandable as a transitional figure: an architect who in attempting to redeem and reassert Modernism facilitated the emergence of post-Modernist architecture.To make this case, the paper repechages the cultural sources and character of Modernism and Modernist architecture - utilizing the transitional and seminal ideas of Wright and Le Corbusier - before introducing, characterizing, and evaluating Kahn's architectural ideas: ideas which reinvigorated the sterile architectural debate of the day and gave impetus to the post-functionalist revolution. Of particular interest was Kahn's effort to link organicism with rationalism; to separate artistic concept from artifact; to reconcile the individual with the collective, the past and the present; and his acceptance of the death of the author.
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