Louis Kahn Essay Example
Louis Kahn Essay Example

Louis Kahn Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3069 words)
  • Published: January 24, 2017
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At the start of a new project, architects typically begin their investigation by studying the planned program for the proposed design. This study could include an overview of local construction and zoning laws, research into the site's soil and topographical features, along with an in-depth examination of various operational components such as designated square footage and the closeness of different uses.

Despite the common practice of prioritizing a client's project specifications at the beginning of the design process, Louis Kahn took a different approach. Instead of immediately diving into an intensive and academic analysis of the essential elements of the project, Kahn delayed these practices until later in his design process. He firmly believed that starting a design by scrutinizing its program or its 'facts', as provided by the client, wasn't necessarily the best method. Kahn argued that arch


itecture isn't about simply meeting spatial requirements as dictated by clients but rather it should be about thoughtful space creation. In addition to this, he suggested that architects have a responsibility to uncover those spaces which may not be initially envisioned by clients but are ultimately desired – these are precisely what proficient architects deliver. He further insinuated that exceptional clients would appreciate an architect who understands and communicates how every facet of their surrounding environment must be considered prior to making substantive decisions.

Kahn saw design as a two-phase endeavor. The initial phase entailed contemplating the unique ‘institution’ that was to be designed; in this case, a library. Subsequently, he would grapple with the project's specific 'facts'. According to Kahn, every institution embodied almost elemental significances which far outweighed purely functional consideration

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in determining the success of a design. He proposed that these institutions had ‘forms’. Kahn however interpreted ‘forms’ not as physical manifestations, but as intangible or spiritual shapes reflecting men’s and women’s interaction with these institutions. This understanding infused the building with an 'urge for existence' or a longing to embody something particular. Thus, Kahn's starting query in any design process was ‘What does this building aim to be?’ When considering the design of a library from scratch, he questioned, ‘Suppose you were tasked with the inaugural attempt ever at constructing an edifice to house books, how would you proceed? That is your perception of its essence when given the opportunity to design this structure.’ Hence, upon receiving the request to design Exeter Library, his initial thought was to uncover what the library yearned to become by asking ‘What defines a library?’

What does a library signify?
Kahn expressed, 'A man carrying a book heads towards the light. A library originates in this manner. The carrel serves as the alcove that could potentially kickstart the organization and structure of the space.' Additionally, Kahn conveyed, 'I envision a library as a spot where a librarian orchestrates books, particularly exhibiting selected pages to entice readers. There ought to be an area consisting of spacious tables where the librarian can display the books, enabling readers to pick up a book and seek out the light.' This seemingly basic concept is the primary motivation behind Kahn's design, and having addressed this concern, he was capable of formulating a preliminary outline of the guiding structure. Kahn incorporates the project's 'facts' into his design procedure after finishing the initial phase.

The final design proposal for the Exeter Library was expected to address a multitude of aspects. Initially, the school insisted on a design that was harmonious with the pre-existing architectural attributes of the site. Simultaneously, they desired a unique structure as they felt recent constructions overly resembled the established campus style. With respect to the library's interior, the school listed explicit requirements. The establishment was to accommodate 250,000 volumes including current magazines, novels, and an exclusive collection of rare books. In addition, it would comprise two conference rooms, a conclave of administrative offices and work stations, as well as outdoor reading zones designed around "a leafy garden or shadowed patio". A high dependency on natural daylight was specified, along with a critical emphasis on diversity.

'Students have different preferences when it comes to studying; some prefer the comfort of an armchair, while others favor the formality of a table. Some appreciate a neutral ambiance, whereas others are invigorated by fresh air from an open window.' It was specifically highlighted that individual study booths located near bookshelves were more preferred than traditional expansive open reading spaces. The importance of simple interiors was emphasized: 'a reader should instantly understand the layout of the building.'

Kahn's final architectural plan fulfills the requirement of preserving reverence for the existing campus. The library merges harmoniously into the overall aesthetic appeal of the campus, but it also possesses a distinct characteristic. Influenced by adjacent buildings, Kahn integrated jack arches similar to those found in some older structures. While undoubtedly being the tallest building on campus, its scale does not dominate its environment. This is mostly thanks to the design

of windows which, despite lighting up two floors each, create an illusion of a single window.

The perspectives showcase the connection between the library's exteriors and the Academy Building sited straightly to the library’s north. Particularly significant are the features of the windows of the Academy Building, such as their comprehensive dimensions and the surrounding brickwork.

The Dunbar Hall, similar to the Academy Building, is situated immediately west of the library and its brickwork construction warrants notice.

As previously stated, each window in the facade of the library gives light to two internal floors. The Fenestration section of this Analysis has detailed how each window's design relates to the interior functions immediately next to it; a point also covered in the Materials section, which underscores how the masonry not only mirrors the material of neighboring buildings but also their construction methods.

Kahn's architectural concept for the library interior was influenced by his perception of a library's structure. Remember his assertion that a visitor should be able to enter, locate a book, and carry it to a light source. This belief guided Kahn in creating the library with three separate sectors. Kahn proclaimed, 'Exeter started with the outer area, where light is present, I believed the reading room should be a space where an individual can be alone near a window, and I thought that would be a secluded carrel, a sort of hidden space in the construction folds. I designed the external depth of the structure like a brick doughnut, not related to the books. I created the internal depth of the structure as a concrete doughnut, with books stored away

from light. The central zone is derived from these two adjacent doughnuts; it's solely the entrance where books are perceptible from every corner through the large circular apertures. Hence, you feel the structure offers an invitation to books.' His comment on building design coincides almost completely with Kahn’s form concept. The building comprises of a significant central zone which extends an invite to books, an intermediate zone for storing books, and an edge zone where users can carry the book to the light.

Consider the primary chamber of the library. This space was not originally part of the initial architectural plan and at one point, it was almost excluded as a cost-saving measure. However, Kahn considered this area essential because it functioned as a stage for books to attract readers. This allure was activated in multiple ways. In harmony with Kahn's vision, there are tables and displays in the hall showcasing books designed to draw in readers. Arguably even more significant, the bookshelves are easily noticeable through the large concrete circles forming the hall's structural design. Like the books exhibited on the table, these peeks into the shelves aim to fascinate prospective readers.

Throughout its history, the library's hall has been used for various activities ranging from dances and films to feasts and musical shows. It truly serves as the heart of the educational facilities. Each upper tier that overlooks the main hall features a generously sized shelf. This shelf fulfills two functions; it not only offers a handy location for those visiting the library to place books for quick perusal but also embodies Kahn's idea of designing an area where librarians

can artfully display books to draw in readers.

The substantial circular structure, often termed by Kahn as the 'bookcase building,' incorporates the library's 'servant' spaces (covered in more detail in the Analysis Section). Thus, the initial two zones of the library constitute a concrete edifice.

Encircling the solid concrete structure is a seventeen-foot-wide brick circle where the study spaces are positioned next to the light source. The reader brings the book to this load-bearing brick-constructed arena that exudes warmth with its deep hues and rich texture, augmented by the appeal of natural light. The harmony of the brick structure alongside adjacent buildings, without explicitly copying their architectural designs, is appreciated. Kahn held the neighboring edifices in high regard, thus utilized brick jack arches in the library as a tribute.

It's important to highlight that Kahn's holistic approach to design did not only shape his broad architectural planning for the library, but also influenced the creation of smaller details, such as the design of study carrels. What formed his basis was his understanding of what a carrel should be – a comfortable, well-structured place to read. He believed that deriving it from the features of the structure itself gave it more significance than arbitrarily assigning it as per project needs. Khan's unique methodology prioritized comprehending what characteristics of light and space made a satisfactory reading carrel, rather than adhering strictly to a project's instructions. Only after grasping these aspects did he take the project specifications into account.

The exterior brick portions of the building frequently appear to serve as a protective covering for the concrete structure behind them. As previously addressed in

the Analysis section, this effect is mainly attributed to the approach taken in handling the corners. Instead of terminating each building side at a conventional right angle, Kahn intentionally left out the corner and slightly elongated the brick boundary of the front facade. This subtle adjustment augments the screen-like characteristic of the frontage.

An examination of a standard rooftop terrace corner also uncovers how the brick doughnut creates a screen-like appearance. A detailed look at the image indicates that the two parts of the doughnut are separate from each other, with each section having its own columns and roof. They are only linked by a forty-five-degree brick inset.

It's fascinating to observe the methods Kahn used to distinctively separate the concrete and brick doughnuts. This differentiation is manifested in several ways within the building's layout. At this stage, it should be apparent that each compartment has its unique structural framework- bricks for the carrels, and concrete for the books. Furthermore, the exposed ductwork displayed in these two images often serves to emphasize the division of these two areas.

The clear distinction between the solid and brick-formed circular structures is visibly noticeable on the outdoor patio. The image illustrating a typical segmentation indicates that the outer area's structure does not have any contact with the inner area's structure. A mildly embedded slate paving line further emphasizes this separation between the two areas.

The library's top floor, part of the concrete doughnut-shaped building, hosts several lounges and seminar rooms. This space also contains a collection of rare books, reflecting the 'bookcase' nature of this area. The shown image reveals that the roof slopes

towards the glass, offering a view to an outside terrace. This architectural feature not only minimizes the perceived height of the building but also highlights zoning distinctions. From a person standing on the roof terrace's perspective, they would perceive the terrace structure as double-height brick whereas they would view the internal zone as single-height concrete.

Located on the first floor's west wall within the brick doughnut, you will find the library's Reference Area. The area offers a visually appealing and conducive space for study, with its warm hues and soft textures. Additionally, it embodies Kahn's architectural design concept for this particular part.

Emulating the blueprint of the program, Kahn created diverse areas for casual and easy-going study sessions. Consistent with his design concept, these spaces often, but not strictly, are found in the brick doughnut. The accompanying images illustrate two of these areas situated on the northern side of the library.

In his architectural designs, Kahn differentiated between what he termed as 'served' and 'servant' spaces in a structure. Typically, the primary zones of the building constitute the 'served' spaces, while the 'servant' spaces refer to supporting zones such as rooms housing mechanical equipment, restrooms, hallways, storage areas, and so on. This was a significant aspect of Kahn's perception.

Supporting spaces such as storerooms, utility rooms, and cubicles need to be systematically arranged and given a distinct layout to function effectively for the primary sections of the building. The concept of space becomes more evident through these smaller areas. These zones should not simply signify partitioned sectors of a single spatial design but rather necessitate their own individual configuration.


mentioned in the Analysis Section, there are three distinct areas in the architectural design of Exeter Library: the peripheral area hosting reading carrels close to natural daylight (Kahn's 'Brick Doughnut'), the intermediary section providing book storage away from direct sunlight (dubbed as the 'Bookcase Building' or 'Concrete Doughnut' by Kahn), and finally, the central hub that houses the main entrance area, recognized as the place where Kahn noted the 'invitation to books' took place.

The Bookcase Building's corners, which house the library's supplementary facilities, showcase structures made from cast-in-place concrete. These amenities include elements like mechanical shafts, staircases, elevators, restrooms and utility rooms.

There are various instances showing how the difference between servant and served areas is apparent in the library's architecture. A striking instance is the materials utilized in each space category. For instance, in a principal served area, the primary entrance staircase is cloaked uniformly in white travertine marble. Despite being affixed to a concrete structure, the staircase still appears entirely monolithic. The outcome, when associated with meticulous detailing, is profoundly luxurious.

Alongside its essence, the principal entrance staircase is bathed in luminance from neighbouring windows at the base and upper levels, enhancing its magnificence.

In juxtaposition, the stairway located in the utility areas of the building are constructed with slim layers of slate and bare cement. Instead of the entry staircase’s robust travertine handrails, there are slender, nearly frail stainless steel railings. The only source of natural illumination in these utility areas is indirect, seized from the neighboring primary areas, resulting in relatively low-light conditions. Although it isn't an unpleasant ambiance, the experience had in these auxiliary stairwells

significantly varies from that of the main entrance staircase.

One could contend that the whole Bookcase Building serves as a servant zone. Distinct materials utilized in the two neighboring zones provide insightful differences. In the Brick Doughnut, a combination of oak, brick, natural light, and carpet generates a luxuriously warm setting. On the other hand, the central hall harmonizes oak, travertine, and soft cool overhead light (explained further in the Analysis Section) to present an equally well-heeled ambiance.

The Bookcase Building imparts a uniquely functional, perhaps even industrial, sensation by exhibiting elements such as metal shelves, exposed concrete, strip fluorescent lights, and bare ductwork — a stark contrast to the materials and illumination found in nearby areas.

The discourse in the chapter about Kahn's Design Concept illustrates how the library is partitioned into three sections: the brick doughnut composed of private study carrels, the concrete doughnut holding the publications, along with the essential major hall. Kahn uttered, 'Exeter was initiated at the outskirts, the place illuminated'. He also communicated, ‘I envision the library as a venue wherein the librarian could present the books, particularly exposing chosen pages to engage readers. There should be a location equipped with substantial tables where librarians can arrange the books, and readers could pick a book and approach the light.'

The words brought forth emphasize the pivotal role that light held in Kahn's library design. It indicates the dual perspectives on how light can be studied. Kahn's approach started from the study carrel found in the brick doughnut, moving inward. Another viewpoint is to initiate the process from the standpoint of a library patron journeying towards

the edge of the building. The ceremonial progression from the grand entrance stairs to the study carrel provides an excellent perspective into the lighting considerations.

Upon ascending the entry stairs, a guest enters a generous main hall. High clerestory windows are visible in this zone's upper section. Instead of allowing abundant direct sunlight from these high windows, it is impeded and filtered by a huge concrete 'X' shaped formation.

The filtering generates a subtle, gentle 'blue' illumination for the main hall. As posited by Wickersham, this cold light 'amplifies the student's engagement with knowledge and truth – not in the communal environment of a classroom, but as a lone individual entering the hall.' This hall extends an 'invitation to books' - presented as books potentially on show or as books seen through the prominent round apertures in the walls.

The significant 'X' structure is noticeably heavier than needed to support its modest load. One of the main purposes of this sixteen-foot-deep structure is to regulate the light coming from the clerestory windows. Kahn stated, 'For the central room, I selected a structure that guards the light ensuring it doesn't flood down... a clerestory light provides light from the sides of a beam.'

A visitor transitions from the main lobby to a study cubicle. These cubicles are distinguished by their ‘white’ light along with inviting colors and lavish textures. The individual goes here for an intimate connection with their book under this white light, which emanates an almost spiritual aura.

Kahn's book stack building, a concrete doughnut, stands between the central hall and the reading carrels. While vast amounts of natural

light fill the central hall and reading carrels, the bookstacks are devoid of it. Keeping the books in this light-free environment not only extends their lifespan but also accentuates the contrast between the neighboring zones' warm and cool illumination.

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