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The Architecture of Interpretation

The Architecture of Interpretation

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Published by Nithya Suri

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Nithya Suri on Aug 01, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The architecture that Louis Kahn created for the Community Center over the course

of six years (1954-1959) is a synthesis of classical Beaux-Arts planning and


expressionistic geometric composition. It is an amalgamation of the rational and the

poetic, the sublime and the picturesque. To a surprising degree, the sketches he made

while traveling in Europe between 1928 and 1930 as a graduate of the University of

Pennsylvania and later as a resident architect at the American Academy Rome (1950-

1951) anticipate this work. 63

Kahn considered Rome’s Pantheon an unequaled architectural achievement. He

observed that the monument's introspective powers transformed a cosmic view into a

single point of light. This inward focus was translated to the center of the Greek cross

formed by the juncture of the four pavilions of the Bathhouse. Kahn made his intentions

clear by marking the intersection of surrounding geometries with a circle inscribed in the

concrete floor at this point of convergence. From this vantage point there is no reference

offered except the dome of the sky and the vastness beyond. Resolution comes only from

the north end of the building with a view of sunlight that leads up from the darkened,

central space to a grassy knoll extending beyond the confines of the shelter. The skillful

manipulation of space speaks to principles of the rational and the sublime in architecture.

Such values are timeless. Alois Riegl writes that the "purpose of deliberate

commemorative value is to keep a moment from becoming history, to keep it perpetually

alive and present in the consciousness of future generations…Deliberate commemorative

value simply makes a claim for immortality, an eternal present, an unceasing state of

becoming.” 64

The buildings of the Community Center reinforce the dynamic tension

between the juxtaposition of elements within the strict regularity of the grid that directs


development of the site. That Kahn's plans for the main Community Center building and

for the landscaping of the site were never realized has obscured an awareness of the

commanding power of his artistic vision.

Architect Etienne-Louise Boullee evaluates the consequence of factors such as light,

spatial progression, visual perception and simplicity of ornamentation on architecture’s

influence of personal emotions. He describes the ability of art to produce sensations of a

higher order. Boullee’s designs can be seen exerting a strong influence on the

development of Kahn’s vision. Boullee maintains that buildings should arouse emotions

in the viewer by the "poetry of architecture." He argues that the sublime is realized

through a "divine flame,” a passion, a love of study. This is the process of creation that

gives life and power to a work of art. Boullee concludes that all art imitates nature. This

existential view, shared by Louis Kahn, suggests that nature (the natural) resides within

the true purpose of an object - what the brick wants to be. Kahn envisions the brick’s

striving to be an arch because this is the perfect composite of its natural expression.

Boullee demonstrates that the creative act is inspired by conditions in nature that inform

order and provide clarity of intent. Simplicity is the cornerstone of real beauty in art.

Both architects embrace a directness of expression that can be sensed most powerfully

when essential quality is not obscured by embellishment. The work of Boullee and Kahn

ultimately allows the realization that an acknowledgement of the essence of things

generates recognition of the sublime.

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