Louis Kahn: Architecture Is the Thoughtful Making of Spaces

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Reflect on the great event in architecture when the walls parted and columns became.

It was an event so delightful and so thought wonderful that from it almost all our life in architecture stems.

The arch, the vault and the dome mark equally evocative times when they knew what to do from how to do it and how to do it from what to do.

Today these form and space phenomena are as good as they were yesterday and will always be good because they proved to be true to order and in time revealed their inherent beauty.

In the architecture of stone the single stone became greater than the quarry. Stone and architectural order were one.

A column when it is used should be still regarded as a great event in the making of space. Too often it appears as but a post or prop.

What a column is in steel or concrete is not yet felt as a part of us.

It must be different from stone.

Stone we know and feel its beauty.

Material we now use in architecture we know only for its superior strength but not for its meaningful form. Concrete and steel must become greater than the engineer.

The expected wonders in concrete and steel confront us. We know from the spirit of architecture that their characteristics must be in harmony with the spaces that want to be and evoke what spaces can be.

Forms and spaces today have not found their position in order though the ways of making things are new and resourceful.

A space in architecture shows how it is made.

The column or wall defines its length and breadth: the beam or vault its height.

Nothing must intrude to blur the statement of how a space is made.

The forms characterizing the great eras of architecture present themselves and tempt us to adapt them to concrete and steel. The solid stones become thinner and eye deceiving devices are found to hide the unwanted but inevitable services. Columns and beams homogenized with the partitions and ceiling tile concealing hangers, conduits, pipes and ducts deform the image of how space is made or served and therefore presents no reflection of order and meaningful form.

We are still imitating the architecture of solid stones.

Building elements of solids and voids are inherent in steel and concrete. These voids are in time with the service needs of spaces. This characteristic combined with space needs suggest new forms.

One quality of a space is measured by its temperature by its light and by its ring.

The intrusion of mechanical space needs can push forward and obscure form in structure.

Integration is the way of nature. We can learn from nature.

How a space is served with light air and quiet must be embodied in the space order concept which provides for the harboring of these services.

The nature of spaces is further characterized by the minor spaces that serve it. Storage-rooms, service-rooms and cubicals must not be partitioned areas of a single space structure, they must be given their own structure.

The space order concept must extend beyond the harboring of the mechanical services and include the “servant spaces” adjoining the spaces served.

This will give meaningful form to the hierarchy of spaces.

Long ago they built with solid stones.

Today we must build with “hollow stones.”

Originally published in Perspecta: The Yale Architectural Journal
vol. 4 | 1957 | pp. 2-3

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