For thousands of years, the most common building materials have been stone, brick and wood. They have also been the most charming, ageing beautifully and suggesting a special kind of nobility and strength. When modernist architecture was born in the early 20th century, traditional materials quickly gave way to the three quintessential modern ingredients: concrete, steel and sheet glass. The result has in far too many cases appeared brutal, uncaring and alienating. The buildings have not aged well either.
Could modern architects not learn to work with traditional materials while retaining the forms and the spirit of our own times? This is the question so beautifully answered by one of the greatest of all modernists, the American architect Louis Kahn.
Louis Isadore Kahn (born February 20, 1901, Osel, Estonia, Russian Empire [now Saaremaa, Estonia]—died March 17, 1974), was an American architect. His family immigrated to the United States when he was four, settling in Philadelphia, where they had relatives already living nearby. As a young man he studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, but his career truly blossomed in the 1950s after a trip to Rome led him to a new appreciation of the beauty of Roman architecture. Kahn’s major contribution to modern architecture was to include ancient elements in his work without losing the innovation and clarity of modernism. His buildings, characterized by powerful, massive forms, made him one of the most discussed architects to emerge after World War II. He reminded the Modernists that they could be in dialogue with their most illustrious predecessors.