Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Even a brick wants to be more ...

On October 24th 2012, New York will have a new park, a new memorial and at last, a design by Louis I. Kahn: The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.

New York is a city that glorifies the pursuit of passions, with art and architecture being key among those. With the inclusion of Kahn's posthumous sculpture-cum-architecture masterpiece, the city's rich register of places to visit will now have another destination. 

In this serene and contemplative place, the memory of a Man and of a Presidency will be preserved and celebrated with dignity. The meticulously planned and thoughtfully designed edge of the island points forward like a ship’s prow, but also provides a safe sanctuary within its hull. It is sober and austere but also elegant, dynamic and full of Kahn’s considered details.

Image copyright Four Freedoms Park LLC

View of the East River: Roosevelt Island and Manhattan  East Side

Louis Barragan's once told Kahn that his piazza at the Salk Institute was like a ‘facade facing the sky’. Perhaps these words have not been as relevant since. Yes, New York has a new monument, and one that people will talk about. Whether it is the 36-ton granite blocks that sit side-by-side separated by inch-wide slits where the polished sides create an unusually reflective view through them, or the gently sloping paths that connect water and earth, or even the copper beach trees planted in angular rows to reinforce the perspective towards the Statue of Liberty.

I love having an opportunity to write about Louis I. Kahn. His work has influenced me so much: I admire his strict and solemn designs, I marvel at his unusually perceptive understanding of light, and I appreciate the rationalization in his building concepts. His remarkable designs are full of maturity and are layered with intuitive inferences about the impact of buildings on the natural order of the world.

Kahn was in his 50’s when his designs became centerpieces to the architecture of his time. He defined a grammar of construction and extended his concepts into his own philosophy of space. Educated on the crest of the Modern Movement, he broke the linearity that conditioned the thought of his peers. He searched the nature of architecture, and he framed the steps that led him to its understanding. During his intellectual evolution, he developed an enormous interest in natural light, and in the enhancements it could bring to architecture.

You can say that the light, the giver of all presences, is the maker of a material, and the material was made to cast a shadow, and the shadow belongs to the light.                                                       (Silence and Light lecture, Zurich 1969)

He relied on instincts, on preliminary ideas and concepts that were not constrained by the practical considerations of construction. Maybe for this reason, it was so easy for him to work closely with the immateriality of light. It became for him a defining element of the architecture, as important as any other physical material.

Kahn’s designs have to be felt. They are the expression of a personal philosophy that sought to understand how knowledge could allow architects to create spaces where a sense of community exists and where a respect of natural order is ever-present. Louis Kahn’s architecture was built on his own orders: an order of Movement, an order of Winds and an order of Light. Continuously re-visiting the basic post and lintel structure, ‘when the walls parted and the columns became’, he sought to define structures that were conducive to human interaction, that were shelters, but also enhancers of man’s knowledge and achievements. For him, light was not an element of architecture and well-being, it was also the luminous inspiration driving his creative mind.

The power of Kahn’s words is often overwhelming. The fact is that Kahn’s sensitivity and vision allowed him not only to see the built structures in his mind, but also to test the reality of his ideas. With each design, thoughts were refined, descriptions were sophisticated and his views became clearer. 

Experiencing his spaces can leave us in awe but it also energizes us, and leaves us full of hope.

Looking at the Four Freedoms Park, I can't stop thinking about his most exalted words:

               A brick wants to be something.
               It aspires.
               Even a common, ordinary brick ... wants to be something more than it is.
               It wants to be something better than it is.
               Even a brick wants to be something.

Entrance to the Four Freedoms Park Memorial


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