Review Of "The Louis I. Kahn Archive: Personal Drawings: The Completely Illustrated Catalogue Of The Drawings In The Louis I. Kahn Collection" By L. I. Kahn

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This is an event in architectural publication and a triumph for Garland no less than for Kahn and the dedicated staff who spent over a decade of efforts, following the architect's death, in the conservation and management of the drawings and the supervision toward their publication. When the Yale Art Gallery, which was Kahn's first major work, was rising in 1952, he was already 50; he died in 1974 at the age of 73. The list of his executed buildings is, therefore, brief in comparison with the output of his modern predecessors--Wright, Mies, and Le Corbusier; all told, aside from the capital of Bangladesh at Dacca, we count barely 20--3 museums, 3 research institutes, a synagogue, a church, a theater, a factory, a housing development, 3 collegiate buildings, and a handful of houses--all in the span of about 20 years, mostly in 1960s. Yet, at the threshold between modernism and postmodernism, Kahn stands, without doubt, as the most engaging, if not the greatest, American architect in the generation after Wright. In his creative revisionism of the International Style, grounded in his Beaux-Arts classicism, Kahn made us aware, above all, that architecture is ultimately a matter more of meaning than of function, more of psychic presence than of phsical space, more of awesome primordial force than of play with platonic forms per se. Thus, Kahn's sketches, seen especially in the creative sequence, are revelational of his visions and his incessant quest to make them endure architecturally. His 6,363 personal drawings, collected in these seven volumes, come from the Louis I. Kahn Collection at the University of Pennsylvania and represent 136 individual projects. Distinguished from his office drawings, these cover a wide range of architectural representations from flashes of tentative ideas and annotated sketch plans to structural details and painstakingly rendered perspectives. The reproductions, one to four to a page, are uniformly of high quality; they are organized by project, each project closely dated in terms of conception, contract, and construction. The catalog is strictly curatorial and neither describes the specific sketches nor provides critical comments; prepared under Julia Moore Converse's guidance, it is nevertheless impeccable. Inscriptions are given in transcriptions but somewhat selectively. V. Scully's introduction in Volume 1 is solid, succinct, and surprisingly sober; M.D. Meyer's 1978 recollections on Kahn's act of drawing are reprinted here. The drawings are, for the most part, heretofore unpublished material; as such, they form a corpus of research resources and inspire future scholars. Printed on acid-free paper, these volumes also perform an invaluable service of preservation, for which posterity will be grateful; the majority of Kahn's sketches, most suggestive ones in particular, are drawn on flimsy yellow tracing paper. For major public, college, and museum libraries; essential for architects, art and architectural historians, preservationists, archivists, and students in American studies.


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