Louis I. Kahn: towards an iconography of memory

James, Stephen Bernard, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard, Ar-Arch History Dept, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Ar-Arch History Dept, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, As-Anthropology, University of Virginia

This study explores the relationship between modernism and memory apparent in the work of Louis I. Kahn. This understanding is based on an analytical model that identifies the characteristic elements of Kahn's work and, because most relate in some way to past architectural or cultural practices, suggests that he intended his modern architecture to be a vehicle for memory of these and other aspects of culture. This was a poetic or critical practice and should be distinguished from mere historicism. This approach to understanding Kahn departs from that of the existing scholarship because it attempts to explain his significance as a cultural figure, not an architectural one.

The study argues that Kahn's familiar style-austere, solemn, and monumental constituted a system of symbol, an "Iconography of Memory," composed of (1) building archetypes rooted in cultural memory; (2) solid, rather than skeletal, construction; (3) hierarchical, rather than open, space planning; and (4) allusions to historic architecture. The concept of iconography is used in the broadest sense to include not only imagery but also archetypal forms, as well as structural and spatial configurations from the architecture of the past.

Kahn's architecture is interpreted here as an individual, but important, expression of collective memory, a dialectical process in which his society explored ways to restate identity at mid-century. Through his unusual artistic synthesis, his work served as a social critique of modernism's existential break with tradition and offered an alternative vision in which modern architecture promoted continuity of culture. The theory of collective memory is applied to Kahn's work through a series of case studies from the 1960s and 1970s in which he articulated a language based on the idea of architectural ruins. In earlier projects he relied on symbol to convey this idea but turned to a more literal statement of it at the Indian Institute of Management, the primary case study. Several well, known projects from the late 1960s showed that after India Kahn continued to pursue these themes but in a more pragmatic fashion that again accepted symbolic rather than literal expression.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: