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The Kahn Legacy: The Primacy of the Idea

Part 2 Dissertation 2013
Leah Hogan
University College Dublin | Ireland
“... And brick says to you 'I like an arch'...” - Louis I. Kahn, Master Class, University of Pennsylvania, 1971.

The architect Louis I. Kahn has been described as the “brick whisperer” and in his later years gained the reputation of being a mystic. Kahn, one of the most influential architects and teachers of the 20th century, had himself been trained in the beaux-arts tradition in Pennsylvania under Paul-Philippe Cret. Kahn went on to teach in both Yale and Pennsylvania until his death in 1974 and in the later years of his teaching students travelled from all over the world to study with him. As he gained further recognition a smokescreen of mysticism grew around him, yet the buildings he created are rooted in rationalism. The dissertation offers an oral history of Kahn's legacy of teaching through interviews with 43 former students of his Masters classes in Pennsylvania.

The students interviewed studied with Kahn between 1959 and 1974, and went on to become teachers themselves. Kahn's impact on these teachers has meant that his legacy continues to reverberate in current architectural teaching. Alongside this oral history of Kahn's teaching is an examination of the beaux-arts 'esquisse' and an equivalent exercise used in architectural education today – the 'touchstone' – to draw out intuition. This emphasis on the power of intuition in design is something that was emphasised by Kahn in his teaching. The dissertation recasts Kahn’s legacy in an effort to discover his influence on architectural education.

Leah Hogan

Ms Elizabeth Shotton
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