About The Exhibition


   Louis I. Kahn (American, 1901–1974), architect of the Kimbell Art Museum, is regarded as one of the great master builders of the twentieth century. With complex spatial compositions and a choreographic mastery of light, Kahn created buildings of archaic beauty and powerful universal symbolism. In addition to the Kimbell (1966–72), his most important works include the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California (1959–65), and the National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh (1962–83). The exhibition Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture, organized by Vitra Design Museum (Weil am Rhein, Germany), is the first major retrospective of Kahn’s work in two decades.

     The exhibition encompasses an unprecedented and diverse range of architectural models, original drawings, photographs, and films. All of Kahn's important projects are extensively documented—from his early urban planning concepts and single-family houses to monumental late works such as the Roosevelt Memorial in New York City (1973/74), posthumously completed in October 2012. The view of Kahn’s architectural oeuvre is augmented by a selection of watercolors, pastels, and charcoal drawings created during his travels, which document his skill as an artist and illustrator. Highlights of the exhibition include a twelve-foot-high model of the spectacular City Tower designed for Philadelphia (1952–57), as well as previously unpublished film footage shot by Nathaniel Kahn, the son of Louis Kahn and director of the film My Architect. Interviews with architects such as Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Peter Zumthor, and Sou Fujimoto underscore the current significance of Kahn’s work, which is being rediscovered and made accessible to a wide public audience with this exhibition.

     A biographical introduction to the exhibition is followed by six thematic sections that illustrate the development of Kahn’s work over time and explore Kahn’s quest for origins: in architecture and art, in the natural sciences, and in the observation of human behavior and society. City examines the architect’s relationship to Philadelphia—his adopted home after immigrating to the United States—which became a laboratory for the development of his own urbanistic and architectural principles. Science demonstrates how Kahn studied the structural laws inherent in nature as a means of establishing a foundation for the renewal of architecture. Landscape emphasizes that nature was not only a source of inspiration for Kahn but also increasingly important as a context for his buildings. House illustrates that Kahn’s desire to create a stronger connection between architecture and the surrounding environment also formed the basis of his residential designs. Community expresses how essential the social significance of architecture was to Kahn and how he derived new forms for public buildings from it. The underlying ideal of an Eternal Present resulted from Kahn’s intense engagement with architectural history and archetypical structures, vividly documented in his travel drawings from Italy, Greece, and Egypt. Taken as a whole, the six themes of the exhibition reveal a new view of Louis Kahn’s oeuvre that defies the common classifications of modernism or postmodernism.