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Of Architecture Architecture is a meeting place between the measurable and theimmeasurable. The art of design is not only rooted in the aesthetic form, but inthe soul of the work. In Phenomena and Idea, Stephen Holl once wrote, ” Thethinking-making couple of architecture occurs in silence. Afterward, these”thoughts” are communicated in the silence of phenomenal experiences. We hear the “music” of architecture as we move through spaces whilearcs of sunlight beam white light and shadow.
” Undoubtedly, Holl adoptedthis concept from its author, Louis I. Kahn. Unquestionably, I am referring to”Silence and Light”, a concept created and nurtured by Khan, and onethat dominated the later half of his work. Kahn had chosen the word Silence todefine the immeasurable or that which has not yet come to be. According to Khan,the immeasurable is the force that propels the creative spirit toward themeasurable, to the Light.
When the inspired has reached that which is, thatwhich known, he has reached the Light. Eloquently expressing the architect’spassion for design, Khan wrote “Inspiration is the of feeling at thebeginning at the threshold where Silence and Light meet. Silence, theimmeasurable, desire to be. Desire to express, the source of new need, meetsLight, the measurable, giver of all presence, by will, by law, the measure ofthing already made, at a threshold which is inspiration, the sanctuary of art,the treasury of shadow. ” Khan believed that in order for architecturaltheory to be credible, it had to be constructed. Thirty years ago, Khan beganone of his most successful executions of the Silence and Light with the Libraryat Phillips Exeter Academy.
This New Hampshire landmark physically illustratesand ideologically embodies many of Khan’s concepts and incorporates many of hisbeliefs, synthesizing them into a tight little package with a powerful punch. The subtleties of materiality coupled with multiple plays of light truly embodythe spirit of Khan’s philosophy at Exeter Academy. As Stephen Holl conciselyexpresses “Architecture is born when actual phenomena and the idea thatdrives it intersectMeanings show through at this intersection of concept andexperience. ” It is exactly Khan’s blending of idea and design that makesthis building a model for theoretical execution in design. The following essaywill explore the many architectural implementations of Khan’s theories frommaterials, to form, to function and to the Silence and Light.
This investigationshall probe the ideology in conjunction with its realization to the approach,the circulation, the enclosure and the details. Additionally, the Library atPhillips Exeter Academy shall be analyzed in relationship to his theories oneducation, institutions and learning. As the quote “I asked the buildingwhat it wanted to be” has been often attributed to Louis Khan, I shall askthe question, “What did Khan want the building to be, and how did heapproach this challenge?” Institutions and Education Khan believed that”Institution stems from the inspiration to live. This inspiration remainsmeekly expressed in our institutions today. The three great inspirations are theinspiration to learn, the inspiration to meet, and the inspiration for wellbeing”. The architecture of Exeter Library captures the essence of theseinspirations, offering opportunities for all of them to blossom.
Khan continued”They all serve, really, the will to be, to express. This is, you mightsay, the reason for living”. It is this inspiration that enlivens thespirits of the students, and motivates them to study and learn. I may suggestthen, that if the purpose of the institution lies within the Silence, then itsphysical materialization becomes the Light.
If we assume that the desire to seektruth and universal knowledge is rooted in the Silence, then we may accept theschool building to be the Light, more precisely “spent light”. Khanbelieved that the first schools emerged from the Silence, from the desire tolearn. “Schools began with a man under a tree, who did not know he was ateacher, discussing his realization with a few, who did not know they werestudents. The students aspired that their sons also listen to such a man. Spaceswere erected and the first schools began. ” Since Khan believed the essenceof learning institutions should reflect these origins, he concluded that thebuilding should promote the fundamental inspiration of learning.
Khan believedthat students had as much to teach as teachers, that students inspired theteacher by their desire to be. “Teaching is an act of singularity tosingularity. It is not talking to a group. They teach you of your ownsingularity, because only a singularity can teach a singularity.
“Postulating that teaching could only happen when learning was present, Khansought to embrace the singularity for students. “Singularity is in themovement from Silence, which is the seat of the immeasurable and the desire tobe, to express, moving towards the means to express, which is material made ofLight. Light comes to you because actually it is not divided; it is simply thatwhich desires to be manifest, coming together with that which has becomemanifest. That movement meets at a point which may be called yoursingularity.
” In other words, the greatest potential of discovery stemsfrom the meeting of the desire to learn and the desire to teach. Although Khanwas fond of learning, he maintained contempt for the educational system. Hebelieved that the “the will to learn, the desire to learn, is one of thegreatest inspirations. I am not that impressed by education. Learning, yes.
Education is something, which is always on trial because no system can evercapture the real meaning of learning. ” Hence, the basic nature of learningis a personal desire to learn not a series of requirements dictated down byschool boards. Khan theorized that for students, forced to memorize of dates,facts and formulas only to be forgotten soon after served no purpose in therealm of true learning. For Khan, teaching is an art form, an acquired talentthat must be able to teach a man to fish, not feed him for a day.
“The workof students should not be directed to the solution of problems, but rather tosensing the nature of a thing. But you cannot know a nature without getting itout of your guts. You must sense what it is, and then you can look up what otherpeople think it is. What you sense must belong to you, and the words of teachingmust not in any way be in evidence, so completely has it been transformed intothe singularity. ” Therefore, it is not the responsibility of the teacher toforce students to process data nor to use mnemonics, but to provide the vehicleneeded to access information.
Information plays an important role in forming ourunderstanding of reality. However, the complexity of everyday life andsurrounding environments is often unreadable to us unless seen as a combinationof interrelating sub-elements. The situation is paradoxical: we no longerbelieve in mindless subdivisions of reality as a method to understand it, but atthe same time, we do not easily comprehend the ‘globallity’ of everydayexperience. In the design of the Exeter Library, Khan arranged a series ofsub-elements, his ideas into a rich design thick with meaning and full of light.
And only, through an independent study of each of these sub-elements does onehave the opportunity to understand the overall structure. Defining and study ofthat interdependency of objects was the main theme of this investigation. Iconclude then, at Phillips Exeter Academy, Khan began to manifest his beliefsinto design, the Library gave Light to Khan’s Silence. From the Silence to theLight. After receiving the commission for the Library at Phillips ExeterAcademy, Louis Kahn first asked himself what a library should be. To guide hisdesign process, his first objective was to ascertain the rudimental meaning of alibrary.
“It is good for the mind to go back to the beginning, because thebeginning of any established activity is its most wonderful moment. ” Khandid not investigate antecedents, precedents, nor did he survey its potentialusers. Treating this library as if no other had come before it, Khan sought thebasic nature of the institution. Kahn’s design outline began with thedeclaration, “I see a library as a place where the librarian can lay outthe books, open especially to selected pages to seduce the readers. There shouldbe a place with great tables on which the librarian can put the books, and thereaders should be able to take the books and go to the light. ” This concisestatement summarizes the essential quality of the Library design.
Not only doesthis mission statement promote his philosophy toward learning, but it alsodescribes the procession, the circulation, and the management and manipulationof its users. Kahn is stating the idea from which he will “grow” threedifferent spaces: one where students would come together in the presence ofbooks, another of the books, and a third for reading in the light. Since themovement of the user is of such great importance, that procession through thebuilding shall become the outline for this analysis. Following this path, Ishall proceed to illustrate the Silence behind the Light at the Exeter Library. I shall illustrate through photos and Khan’s words, how I as the userexperienced the Light.
The Approach and Enclosure Extruding from the middle of agrass covered courtyard, the Library at Phillips Exeter Academy flanked on threesides by existing brick buildings embellished with New England Neo-Georgianflavor. This abundance of brick influenced Khan’s decision making whileselecting a material for the building exterior. He said, “Brick was themost friendly material in the environment. I didn’t want the building to beshockingly different in any way.
I never lost my love of the oldbuildings. ” . On first glance, it appeared to me as if all the facades werethe same, until after closer observation it became evident that there were smallmanipulations of wood and glazing. As I neared the facade, I also discoveredvariation in the width of the masonry piers between the windows. Kahn felt thatit was important to be true to the nature of a material, “It is importantthat you honor the material you use. You don’t bandy it about as though to say,”Well, we have a lot of material, we can do it one way, we can do itanother way.
” It’s not true. You must honor and glorify the brick insteadof short-changing it and giving it an inferior job to do in which it loses itscharacter, as, for example, when you use it as infill material, which I havedone and you have done. Using brick so makes it feel as though it is a servant,and brick is a beautiful material. It has done beautiful work in many places andstill does. ” Therefore the brick should be treated as a load-bearingmaterial; not a veneer attached to a reinforced concrete frame. “He arguedfurther that the force of gravity and the weight of the masonry should beevident in the construction.
Thus, as the Library’s brick piers rise and theload they must carry decreases, they become progressively narrower. ” Thisaction creates a dramatic as the movement of energy is seen as the eye travelsthe height of the façade. As I studied the wall, I recalled Kahn’s essay The Wall, the Column from BetweenSilence and Light The wall did well for man. In its thickness and its strength,it protected man against destruction.
But soon, the will to look out made manmake a hole in the wall, and the wall was pained, and said, “What are youdoing to me? I protected you; I made you feel secure-and now you put a holethrough me! ” And man said, “But I see wonderful things, and I want tolook out. ” And the wall felt very sad. Later man didn’t just hack a holethrough the wall, but made a discerning opening, one trimmed with fine stone,and he put a lintel over the opening. And soon the wall felt pretty well.
Consider also the momentous event in architecture when the wall parted and thecolumn became. ” ” Upon my approach I noticed the arcade that formedthe base of the structures was cast in shadow, and the entrance was not apparentimmediately. Due to the language of modern architecture, this absence ofhierarchy would not normally surprise me. However, since Khan was one of a fewmodernists who believed in Hierarchy, I was dumbfounded by its dearth. Onlythrough research did I discover Khan’s true intent, “From all sides (of thecampus) there is an entrance.
If you are scurrying in a rain to get to thebuilding, you can come in at any point and find your entrance. It’s a continuouscampus style entrance. ” Unfortunately, as in my case, I entered the arcadefrom the east and walked south and had to circumnavigate the entire buildingbefore I found the front entrance. As I walked between the light and shadow ofthe arcade, my senses tingled with delight of knowing something special awaitedinside. Walking through the arcade, I noticed at closer detail that Khan hadcontinued to honor the brick by creating flat arch lintels at the opening as hehad done with the facade.
Again I was reminded of Khan’s writings “If youthink of brick, and you’re consulting the Orders, you consider the nature ofbrick. You say to brick, “What do you want, brick?” Brick says to you,”I like an arch. ” If you say to brick, “Arches are expensive, andI can use a concrete lintel over an opening. What do you think of that,brick?” Brick says, “I like an arch. ” It was at this moment thatI began to realize that Khan had truly traveled from the Silence to the Light.
The Seduction Inside After experiencing the exterior plaza, I was immediatelygreeted by a sweeping, grand curved monumental stair upon entering the library. Made of marble to reinforce its monumental nature, the stair entices you up aflight to the main level. In an almost ceremonial procession, the invitation toexplore further is overwhelming. As I have previously stated, it was Kahn’sintention to create three different spaces: one where students would cometogether in the presence of books, another of the books, and a third for readingin the light. It is at the top of these stairs, in the grand central hall thatthe invitation or presence of books begins.
It is in this space that thelibrarians, as khan hoped, lay out the books, open especially to selected pagesto seduce the readers. The books are set on tables as well as in case. Inaddition, the book carts, so important to the function of the librarian’s job,are kept in full view, alerting the user to the lifeblood of the library. “At a more essential level, however the design of the building itselfparticipates in the seduction of the user. Moving up the stair and standing inthe hall, users can look through the large circular openings and into the mainbook stacks of the library.
” These large circles of the central hall arethe windows from where the sirens of books call out the user, seducing thestudent to venture to the second space, the “place of books”. It isalso an opportunity to allow the books to “speak” to each other, fromeither side or from a different floor, a form of social interaction of thespaces. When Kahn spoke of the plan, he desired to create the interaction ofspace to space, from light to light. “I think that a plan is a society ofrooms. A real plan is one in which rooms have spoken to each other.
When you seea plan, you can say that it is the structure of the spaces in their light”. Along the perimeter of the central hall Khan design shelving with counterspace for the presentation of books. Once the user has reached this destination,he shall enter the place of books. The stacks are situated in a utilitarianatmosphere, with basic industrial style lighting.
The exposure to concrete is inremarkable contrast to the warmth of the brick reading areas. Once the userselects a book, he proceeds to the third function of space, the reading areas. The first reading area, the carrels form the perimeter ring at the exteriorwalls of the library. In addition, Khan provided private reading rooms for thefaculty, and an exterior arcade. This meeting place occurs on the roof, in thepresence of the truest forms of light, the sun.
Homage to the Light When oneexperiences the Library at Phillips Exeter Academy, he or she cannot help butnotice the constant shifting of Silence and Light. It is almost a dance betweenthe shadow and light, one that effect the spirit and mood of each space and itsuser. The performance of light begins at the base, as the piers create a rhythmof lightness and darkness and travels the height of the facade. From theever-changing color of the brick to the depth of the window openings, lightdances its way across the building enclosure. As the natural light penetratesthe interior, Khan skillfully controls its every movement throughout theinterior spaces.
Kahn’s truly impressive use of light emanates in its executionto the three functions of the library. As Khan had stated “A plan of abuilding shall read like a harmony of spaces in light. Even a space intended tobe dark should have just enough light from some mysterious opening to tell ushow dark it really is. Each space must be defined by its structure and thecharacter of its natural light.
” In this utilitarian stairwell, the sourceof light emanates from a deflecting path of glass and wall. Understanding theimportance for various sources, type and intensity of light, Khan design thelibrary to take advantage light’s many properties. Khan provided three distinctareas of light for the each of his important spaces. The areas for reading inthe Light received natural light that was skillfully designed to enhance withoutinhibiting the ability to read, “Glare is bad in the library; wall space isimportant.
Little spaces where you can adjourn with a book are tremendouslyimportant,” Khan wrote about the Exeter Library. Khan believed thepotential of learning was just as great from looking out the window as fromreading a book, however he also understood the need to limit the outsidedistractions, both of people and of light. . At the perimeter he allowed thelight to enliven the reading area, yet he controlled the glare at the readingcarrels, through window height and the use of sliding shutters. In areas of moreserious study, he limited the windows to a source of light from a clerestory. Because the rays of direct sunlight are harmful to books, Khan used dimfluorescent lighting in the “place of books”, offering only enough toallow the user to find a book.
This action however, somewhat contradicts hisprevious statements on artificial light ” Space can never reach its placein architecture without natural light. Artificial light is the light of nightexpressed in positioned chandeliers not to be compared with the unpredictableplay of natural light” Khan understood the materials and their reactionstoward the light. “At Exeter, the meaning of light is a demonstration ofKahn’s most profound philosophical beliefs. As a result of ever-changingexternal conditions, the interior space comes alive with a constant flux oflight and shade. The room exists in the realm of shadows, that is, between thesilence of ideas and the light of material reality.
” Quite possibly one ofKahn’s most notable innovations in the control of light is found in the ceilingof the great hall. “With the light tower of Yale University Art Gallery, weare familiar with Khan’s principle of “light blades” which deflectlight downward and simultaneously perform structural functions. “Additionally, the cross shape emphasizes the centrality of the space. As one cansee in the photo to the left, it concisely illustrates all three importantconditions of light; the invitation of books, the place of books, and thereading in the light. Conclusion The Library at Phillips Exeter Academy is theLight, the physical manifestation of Khan’s theories and writings.
This projectis more about the accumulation of experience or intention of idea than just aplace to store and read books. It goes beyond the realm of the known, beyond themortar and bricks. It is the threshold between the Silence and the Light. If ourimpression of a building is defined by our knowledge of space, by what we see ata particular moment or what we just saw a few seconds ago, then it is also whatwe would like to see.
“However, if we attempt to see a larger world, onethat includes that which is not yet along with that which is, as the creativeartist, scientist, and architect must, then a more powerful discipline isneeded, one used by the poets, which the ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher LaoTzu called the Tao, the existential philosopher Martin Heidegger called Being,and Louis Kahn called Order. ” In his essay on Architecture, Khan said”You must follow the laws of nature and use quantities of brick, methods ofconstruction, and engineering. But in the end, when the building becomes part ofliving, it evokes immeasurable qualities, and the spirit of its existence takesover. ” Thus, space can be seen also as possibility .
. . present in ourimagination. The question of physical existence is inappropriate.
Moreappropriately, one should ask For what is an architectural concept if not thematerial and spatial expression of spiritual intentions?BibliographyBrownlee, David B. and David G. De Long. Lois IKahn: In the Realm of Architecture. New York, Rizzoli, 1991. Buttiker, Urs.
Louis I. Khan: Light and Space, Basel, Birkhuser Verlag, 1994. Holl, Stephen. “Phenomena and Idea” Date Visited 5/10/99 Jordy, William H.
“TheSpan of Kahn,” Architectural review 155, no. 928. June 1974 Khan, Louis I. “Silence and Light: Louis Kahn’s Words” in Between Silence and Light,John Lobell, Boulder, Shambhala Publications, Inc.
, 1979. Khan, Louis I. Bibliotecas – Libraries, New York, Garland, 1988. Lobell, John. Between Silenceand Light, Boulder, Shambhala Publications, Inc. , 1979.
Ronner, H. , Jhaveri, S. Complete Work 1935-74, Basel, Birkhuser Verlag, 2nd Ed. , 1987. Wiggens, Glen E. ,Louis I Kahn: The Library at Phillips Exeter Academy, New York, Van NostrandReinhold, 1997.
Wurman, Richard Saul, Ed. What Will Be Has Always Been: TheWords of Louis I. Khan. New York, Access Press and Rizzoli InternationalPublications, Inc. 1986.
Wurman, R. S. , “What will be has always been. Thewords of Louis I. Kahn.
” Progressive Architecture 1969, special edition,wanting to be: the Philadelphia School. p. 89. Cambridge, MA and London, England,MIT Press, 1973 Wurman, R. S. , Feldman, E.
The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Khan. Cambridge, MA and London, England, MIT Press, 1973Architecture

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