Eternal Present

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Ruins and Archetypes
The so-called International Style defined buildings as open, lightweight structures and believed in industrial prefabrication of building parts. Kahn returned mass and weight to architecture. He opened up ways of reassessing history—not by copying styles but by addressing fundamental questions of spatial order and formal composition. 
 
Rome and Ruins
Kahn’s travels to Italy, Greece, and Egypt were formative for his architectural thinking, as his travel drawings so vividly show. As a fellow at the American Academy in Rome (1950–51), Kahn came to see the ruins of imperial Rome as a study in how buildings are put together. In the ruins of abandoned buildings, free of plaster and ornamentation, he recognized architectural structure in its most unadulterated form. This viewpoint, coupled with the architect’s aim to achieve a timeless, sacred quality, is reflected in the austerity and elemental materiality of many of the buildings. Compared to brick ruins from antiquity, Kahn’s buildings in India and Bangladesh have the pathos of construction sites arrested in time and could be seen as “ruins in reverse.”
 
Piranesi
A print by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) of his imaginary view of the Campo Marzio in Rome decorated Kahn’s office for many years. What interested Kahn was both the “utopian” reconstruction of a lost part of Rome and the fact that this appeared to be engraved on a fragment from an ancient building, an antique marble slab. In hindsight, the geometry of Piranesi’s fictional city plan reverberates with the concentric organization of the Dhaka Assembly Building (1962–74). 
 
Sphere, Cylinder, Cube
Like the ideal architectures of the “Revolutionary Architects” Etienne Louis Boullée (1728–1799) and Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736–1806), who were rediscovered around 1930, Kahn’s best-known works involve a geometry of spheres, cylinders, and cubes that is at once modern and classic.