Louis I. Kahn was a master of natural light, materials, and innovative and powerful forms embracing modernism and ancient ruins. He was a charismatic architect, educator, and philosopher who was a poet with natural light, form, and function. He searched for wonder, joy, intelligence, and intuition in the process of creating his buildings.
Born in 1901 on the Isle of Osel, Pärnu, in Estonia, which was at the time a part of Russia. The family immigrated to Philadelphia in 1905, where he lived in poverty.
He was a musician in high school and won a first place prize every year for drawing and painting contests at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
He was a good friend of Norman Rice. In 1928 he went to Paris to visit his friend who at the time was working for Le Corbusier
In 1964 he began working on the National Assembly building, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was completed in 1982, nine years after Kahn’s death. The building does not have a single column.
For a man who was scarred from a household coal fire as a young man he had plenty of families. He had three children (Sue Ann born in 1940, Alexandria born in 1954, and Nathanial born in 1962), one wife (Esther Israeli) and two mistresses (Anne Tyng and Harriet Pattison.)
He received three honorary degrees; a Doctor of Architecture
from the Polytechnic Institute of Milan, Italy, a (Doctor of Humanities) from the North Carolina School of Design, University of North Carolina, and a honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from Yale University.
He started working on the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California in 1959 which was completed in 1966. The Salk Institute was created by Dr. Jonas Salk who developed the polio vaccine. His goal was to create an institute as a "crucible for creativity" for biological sciences.
I.M. Pei had a great deal of respect for Kahn and said "It's quality, not quantity that counts." I.M. Pei in an acceptance speech for 1983 International Pritzker Architecture Prize quoted Leonardo da Vinci
with “strength is born of constraint and dies in freedom."
He was also into urban-planning and was concerned about the not wasting natural resources. In his designed he proposed geodesic skyscrapers. Geodesic domes were invented by R. Buckminster Fuller
Moshe Safdie, a contemporary architect
, apprenticed under Kahn.
March 17, 1974: On St Patrick's Day while returning from a trip to India he had a heart attack in the men’s room of Penn Station, New York while on his way to Philadelphia. He was deeply in debt, was not identified for three days, and had scratched out his home address in his passport.