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Earth, Water, Wind, Light
Nature was a key element in Kahn’s architecture, not only in structural terms but also in the sense of embedding his buildings in the landscape. How does a building respond to the vagaries of sun, water, and wind? How does it relate to the topography and the physiology of a site? And, finally, how does it provide people with work and help vernacular building traditions survive?
Landscape and History
Inspired by the architect George Patton (1920–1991) and later by the landscape architect Harriet Pattison, Kahn turned to landscape architecture of the Renaissance and to the building traditions of antiquity and the Middle East in order to understand a building’s relation to its site. These explorations were vividly illustrated by Kahn’s travel drawings. In his own designs, Kahn treated grounds and gardens as “natural” extensions of his buildings (Kimbell Art Museum). He created architecture as a stage activated by nature’s ever-changing spectacles (Salk Institute for Biological Studies) or subjected the entire site to a sculptural treatment (Adele Levy Memorial Playground, unbuilt). Beginning with his houses built in and around Philadelphia, tradition and regional construction methods became increasingly important in his late buildings in South­ Asia.

“Ruins Wrapped Around Buildings”
At the same time, Kahn developed a sophisticated choreography of natural light to illustrate and dramatize these concerns: an interior, he insisted, only becomes an architectural space through the diffusion and reflection of sunlight. In the unbuilt Meeting House at the Salk Institute, a second layer of outer walls resembling windowless ruins was to provide aeration and protect the building from direct sunlight. In Kahn’s buildings in hot climates—in India and Bangladesh—this type of passive climate control developed further.