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The Curbed guide to Louis Kahn

Get to know architecture’s most revered man of mystery

Illustrator Paige Vickers’s take on an unbuilt Kahn design for Thomas Paine Plaza.
Paige Vickers

Louis Kahn was a man of many talents: a gifted artist. A playful pianist. And in the words of Philip Johnson, one of the most influential and “beloved architects of all time.”

Frank Gehry, speaking with Kahn’s son Nathaniel, called Kahn “a breath of fresh air.” Kahn’s close friend and fellow architect Balkrishna Doshi called him a yogi, adding that “he cannot be an ordinary person.” Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon, despite his qualms with Kahn, recognized that the architect was “a genius.”

But he was also an utter mystery to those around him. “Who is Louis Kahn?” went unanswered until his death in a Penn Station bathroom in 1974. Decades later, the world found out that not only did the architect lead a secret life with two other families besides his own, but he died nearly half a million dollars in debt.

Perhaps this mystery is why, in part, Kahn’s work is so revered, idolized, and studied some four decades after his death. Musing about Kahn to Nathaniel, architecture critic Vincent Scully suggested maybe that was Kahn’s intention in the end: “He is, in some way, communicating through his buildings.”

Whatever questions remain—and there are plenty—about this monumental architect can only be answered by exploring and trying to understand Kahn’s built works. Here, we once again turn our attention to Kahn, peeling back just a few more layers to deconstruct the man of mystery.

—Melissa Romero


The story behind Philadelphia’s architecture revolution

Melissa Romero

At the height of his career, Louis Kahn was considered the spiritual leader of a movement called the Philadelphia School of Architecture. But did Kahn kick off an actual radical architectural movement? Izzy Kornblatt makes a case for Kahn’s revolution.


An illustrated guide to Louis Kahn

Ben Leech

Illustrator Ben Leech takes us on a visual tour of Kahn’s greatest hits, from the last house he designed to one of his most significant achievements, the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh.


‘We pinch ourselves that we get to live here’

Heidi’s Bridge

Longtime Kahn admirers Paul Savidge and Dan Macey never imagined they’d one day live in a Kahn house. “Sometimes, we forget it’s our house,” says Macey of their Esherick House in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. “We’re amazed every morning we wake up, with the light different every time.” Tour their one-bedroom home, one of the most iconic residential works of Kahn.


The Philadelphia that could’ve been

Photo by Melissa Romero, Illustration by Paige Vickers

When he wasn’t designing gargantuan, monumental structures all over the world, Kahn was daydreaming about a utopian Philadelphia. But his grand visions for the City of Brotherly Love weren’t meant to be. Here, Curbed imagines what Philadelphia could’ve been.


Where is Louis Kahn at Greenbelt Knoll?

Courtesy of the Montgomery and Bishop Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania

His name appears in nearly every mention of Greenbelt Knoll, Philadelphia’s first racially integrated housing development and one of the first in the nation. But does Kahn really deserve credit? Katherine Chernick investigates.


The ultimate Louis Kahn East Coast road trip

Shutterstock

Although his built projects are scattered far and wide across the globe, Louis Kahn, who lived in Philadelphia, is well represented in the Northeast region. Here are 10 of his projects, big and small, that have withstood the test of time in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.


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