The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized


There is a classic story about Carles Enrique Vallhonrat, a principal in Kahn's office and then chairman of the school, who upon being called up by Progressive Architecture for an interview responded: "Progressive Architecture? I don't think I know that magazine. . . . No, we don't give interviews."

Jan C. Rowen, “Wanting To Be: The Philadelphia School” (Progressive Architecture, April, 1961), 4002-4012.

Last month's first part of the P/A Symposium on the State of Architecture brought out quite clearly the prevalent confusion and aimlessness in today's architectural design philosophy. The sixties, it appears, began without any coherent ideologies and systematic disciplines; instead, a strange free-for-all is the admitted, accepted, and defended design approach. There are indications, however, that among this confusion there is already in existence a new design movement with a powerful ideology and a clearly defined design approach. This movement, stemming from Philadelphia, heralds a new renaissance that might prove to be at least as important to the course of architectural history as the emergence of the Chicago School in the late 19th Century. In this article, P/A's Managing Editor traces, describes, and explains this significant new development in contemporary architecture and refers to it as: The Philadelphia School

Is there is any other magazine article on architecture in which the word ‘transcendence’ is so often used?

To someone who started architecture school in Philadelphia a year and a half after Kahn’s death, “Wanting to be” reads like boilerplate on how to teach Kahn.


The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized is an exhibition just beginning at Quondam.

Preludes (from the fourth dimension)

There have been times in the past (and sometimes still on occassion) when I thought that one's own electro-magnetic waves either meshed well with computers or they didn't. Early on, I even wondered whether different musics meshed well with computers or not. When I first worked with CAD at Cooper Pratt Valhonrat Architects (1983), the big two-screen INTERGRAPH workstation was run by a PDP-11 (a pre-VAX mainframe about the size of two small refrigerators). All this hardware was in the same room/space somewhat partitioned from the rest of the drafting room. The other architects in the firm did not use CAD, but they always had to walk past the back of the PDP-11 to get from the front of the office to their desks. Everytime Carles Vallhonrat walked by there was a slight blip on the screen. I only noticed this because it actually happened most of the time. Carles was a true Kahn disciple (as in project architect of Salk Institute), he taught at Princeton at the time, and wasn't really happy about his situation at CPV Architects. Plus, although he never said so publicly, I believe he hated what CAD was doing to an otherwise traditional architectural office. I should also mention that Carles continually worked at projecting a strong personal character. Could it be that Carles' otherwise unseen electro-magnetics was at least registered by the PDP-11? After I told my CAD co-worker about the Carles/screen blip coincidences, he started watching for occurrances himself. Within a day of observation, Bernie confirmed that the computer system does appear to 'notice' whenever Carles is around.
2001.12.01 12:46

I saw My Architect yesterday, and a neat part of the film was when Nathaniel was speaking with a couple of taxi-cab drivers (who supposedly drove Kahn around Philadelphia over 30 years ago)--in the immediate background of this scene is the Ritz Theater (within which I was actually watching My Architect). Seeing the scene, I said to Tony, "Look, it's 3D," but watching a movie in a movie theater that you see the movie theater in is probably much more like 4D. Hence, I'll tell you what it's like being in My Architect, albeit from the fourth dimension.

Countless times between January 1982 and May 1985 I walked by and into 1501 Walnut Street (where Kahn's office used to be, where you see him walking outside of several times in the film). I worked at 1611 Walnut Street (for Cooper and Pratt Architects, later Cooper Pratt Vallhonrat). I used to buy my "Dunhill Green" cigarettes in the tiny tobacco store on the ground floor of 1501 Walnut Street. Cooper is the older brother of NY's Alex Cooper, Pratt is from Pratt-Lambert Paint money, and Vallhonrat was the project architect of Salk Institute--three bosses and a staff of four in the drafting room; we all knew each other fairly closely. Nathaniel speaks with the project manager of Salk Institute in the film. If you ever visit the new US Constitution Center in Philadelphia, look at the Federal Reserve Bank building across 6th Street, a design by Vallhonrat that tries hard to emulate Kahn's Mellon Art Gallery at Yale.

In 1979-80 there was a lecture series at the Art Institute on "The Philadelphia School." One night the lecturer was Anne Tyng, and I was one of the five or so people that attended. At the end, someone said to Anne that the attendance was so low because it was Yom Kippur as well. Cold comfort, I'm sure, for the "other woman." Tony remembers going with Franco to Tyng's house to pick up her article for Stanza in 1975.

Stanza was the student journal of Temple University's Architecture Program. Temple's Architecture Program began in 1973, a year before Kahn died, and was the 'brain-child' of John Knowles, a quondam Kahn student. When Tony and I started at Temple in 1975, Brigitte Knowles, John's wife, taught first year--you see Brigitte in the film a couple of times as the only female in one of Kahn's classes at Penn. (I worked for BJCKnowles Architects 1979-80.) Esther Kahn gave the first guest lecture I attended at Temple.

By the mid-1980s, I was working at/for the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Art--you see Kahn kind-of prancing around the Fine Arts campus in the film. The Kahn Collection was recently installed within the GSFA's Architectural Archives, and, since I was the resident 3D CAD expert at the time, I asked for access to the drawings of Kahn's design of the Dominican Sister's (who you also see in the film) Convent so I could then construct a 3D computer model of the unexecuted design. Julia Converse didn't allow me free access to any of the drawings done in Kahn's own hand, but I certainly spent several hours over several days going through all the office drawings relative to the project--this all predates Kent Larson's computer model construction of Hurva Synagogue; in fact, the computer model of Hurva Synagogue in Quondam's collection even predates Larson's.

You know, Nathaniel's whole premise of the film is his search for a father that he never really knew, while the reality is that Nathaniel knew Kahn in a very real way that no one else did. Searching for Kahn, for me, really was trying to find an unknown. Unlike Nathaniel, I would never bother speaking with Johnson or Pei or Gehry or Stern to find Kahn, rather I went to Piranesi because Kahn, during his mature years, had the Ichnographia Campus Martius hanging on the wall above his office desk. Yes, were it not for that, I would never have found/discovered (in 1999, in the same building where Kahn taught at Penn) the heretofore unknown first version of Piranesi's great Campo Marzio plan.

I enjoyed My Architect, especially seeing Kahn resembled in all three of his offspring--the daughter of Esther, the daughter of Anne and the son of Harriet. My only regret is that I didn't have the opportunity to coach Nathaniel before he talked with Edmond Bacon. After having several (business related) conversations with Bacon myself in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I finally learned how to best put Bacon in his place (although he still owes me $200).
2003.12.22 13:58


The second set of CAD CDs I produced were for a project by Carles Vallhonrat (he was the project architect for Kahn's Salk Institute) and he very much sought to work within the CAD drawing aesthetic which ultimately were meshed with the CD drawing standards he set years earlier for the CDs of Salk Institute. There is no doubt in my mind that that was a rare exercise/experience in 1984. I was most glad that he complied with my wish to "print" the drawings at 11" x 17", thus using the electrostatic printer (as opposed to the pen plotter) and then the xerox machine for copies instead of the "blue print" machine.
2006.03.29 20:39


Jul 4, 12 1:37 pm

“This would be all right if the architect were simply a servant. Perhaps he is. But during the past generation he has given himself airs as a social engineer, a man of high ideals and touchy honor. If so, it is probably time for him to draw the stub of whatever remains to him now. Perhaps he will get on the other side of the table himself, as Barnett, Stern, Robertson, and others have done in New York and elsewhere, since the most challenging and rewarding projects of the future, such as proper mass housing and so on, will be handled there, and real professional competence must be available lest all be lost. To save his soul he may take up Advocacy Planning of the kind organized through the Architects’ Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH) by Richard hatch, since succeeded by Max Bond, as the black community moves toward the control of its own neighborhoods. Perhaps the architect will organize in other ways outside the agencies, reshaping the American Institute of Architects to act as a true urban force as he himself slowly grows into an understanding of what such forces are. In that connection, it will be interesting to see if the A.I.A. will attempt to defend the commendable design by Romaldo Giurgola for its own projected building in Washington, to which it gave a prize in an honest competition, and to which Washington’s Fine Arts Commission has since denied a building permit. “You will thank us someday, Mr. Giurgola,” one of the more unlikely members of that commission was heard to say. (As this book went to press, in late 1968, Giurgola had been forced to return some half-dozen times with changes required by the Commission’s undeniably offensive and certainly narrow-minded dominant architectural member. Finally, after having injured his light and buoyant design considerably in order to conform to the Commission’s ponderously classicizing taste, Giurgola was forced by his professional integrity to resign the commission. The A.I.A. backed him not at all. Again, Robert Venturi’s design for the Transportation Square Office Building, also a competition winner and already approved by the Washington Redevelopment Authority, was denied a permit in a hearing that was conducted at such a low level of personal and professional abuse that the Commission refused to release its transcript.”
--Vincent Scully, American Architecture and Urbanism (1969), pp. 227-9.

The “Commission’s undeniably offensive and certainly narrow-minded dominant architectural member” was Gordon Bunshaft--Bunshaft was a member of The Commission of Fine Arts, Washington D.C. from 1963 to 1972.

For excerpts of the Transportation Square Office Building meeting ‘transcript’ see pages 140-1 of the first edition of Learning from Las Vegas. Here we learn that “the Washington Fine Arts Commission rejected it as “ugly and ordinary.”” But my favorite quotation comes from the Chairman, John Walton: “Will that woman [no doubt Denise Scott Brown] be quiet. I know how to run my own meetings.”

The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized will often investigate the (early) relationship between Giurgola architecture and Venturi architecture, as well as their respective relationships with Kahn architecture. One of the last episodes between Giurgola and Venturi occurred at the very beginnings of Roma Interrotta. When each of the invited architects received their section of the Nolli map of Rome, they also got to see what sections the other invited architects received. The Venturi office preferred the section received by the Giurgola office, so the Venturi office asked the Giurgola office if they wouldn't mind exchanging sections. The Giurgola office said they'd be happy to exchange, but they would rather ask the Roma Interrotta people before doing so. The Roma Interrotta people said the exchange was OK, and the rest is (somewhat less obscure) architectural history.


Jul 6, 12 12:19 pm

In an October 1969 (“The Big Little Magazine: Perspecta 12 and the future of the architectural past,” Architectural Forum) review of Perspecta 12, Peter Eisenman writes:

“It is difficult to judge in retrospect whether Perspecta, while purporting to be a reflection of history, was not in itself creating history. And while the making of history cannot, of course, be directly ascribed to Perspecta, one can practically trace the history of post-war American architecture through its pages, from the appearance of Paul Rudolph’s early Florida houses in Perspecta 1, to the Adler and DeVore houses of Louis Kahn in Perspecta 3, which in a quiet way signaled a significant, if marginal, change in the course of the Modern Movement--the eclipse of the free plan and a return to a direct modulation of space through structure.”

Eisenman continues:

“There has unfortunately flourished, since the war, around the Modern Movement, a body of secondary literature which has tended not only to obscure some of the original ideas adherent to this movement, but also in some cases, in a search for an over-simplified version of history (and because of highly simplistic criteria of explanation), created an idealized picture of it--which can hardly be regarded as a representation of reality. Thus, Kenneth Frampton’s article on Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre, both in its style of presentation and its choice of material, can be seen as a break from this tradition. And while such a documentation of this building, as well as other canonical works of the Modern Movement, is long overdue as a contribution to the history of the recent past, it is the quality and scope of the documentation which commands our attention. Here is a set of precise, hard-line drawings, restrained, elegant, almost in the genre of the building itself, which certainly must establish a standard for such a presentation. But further, it is the abstract style of drawing in itself, the emphasis on plan, section, and axonometric view, which makes them useful for an analytical approach to the building. It is important to note that it was Frampton who had these drawings made in this particular manner; first because they probably did not exist, and second, because they present the building and the ideas inherent in it in a way that is not possible to retain, even when one is confronted with the actual fact.”

Thirty-five years later Eisenman publishes Ten Canonical Buildings 19500-2000 (2008), where Louis I. Kahn’s Adler and DeVore Houses are featured (which actually makes for a total of eleven canonical buildings within the book, bit who’s counting). Regarding the Adler and DeVore Houses:

“In the Adler and DeVore Houses of 1954-55, unlike in many of his other projects, Kahn achieves what could be considered an architectural text in diachronic space. This is brought about by the superposition of classical and modern space; that neither of these “times” dominates results in a dislocation of moments or, in other terms, a disjunction that is experienced in space. In the Adler and DeVore Houses, Kahn presents architecture both as a complex object and as the potential for the subject to experience the object as both a real space and an imaginary space. Both conditions are present and can be read, each in turn displacing the other. It is this unresolved moment in the Adler and DeVore Houses, which are themselves suspended in real time between the Trenton Bathhouse and the Richards Medical Center, that makes these two houses different from much of Kahn’s other work. It is in the context of the denial of axial symmetries and part-to-whole relationships evident in much of Kahn’s later work that these differences lie.

Thus the Adler and DeVore Houses can be seen to articulate an alternate internal logic: first, as a conscious, didactic proposal against the free plan of modern architecture, and second, as a critique of modern architecture.”

To be precise, the Adler and DeVore Houses (1954-55) predate the Trenton Jewish Community Center Bathhouse (1956-57).

Eisenman continues: “The hipped roofs of Kahn’s Trenton Bathhouse, as well as its emphatic materiality, are clearly antecedents to the Adler and DeVore Houses, given that initial sketches  of both houses similarly have hipped roofs. The Trenton Bathhouse is the first example in America of a massive brick and concrete structure denying the free plan and dynamic asymmetries of modernism with a classicizing nine-square plan. While only a small portion of the Trenton Bathhouse was built...”

Again, it is in fact the early hipped roofs schemes of the Adler and DeVore Houses that are antecedents to the Trenton Bathhouse, and, as built, the Trenton Bathhouse is complete. Eisenman confuses the Trenton Jewish Community Center Bathhouse with the much larger Trenton Jewish Community Center Community Building which was a wholly separate building design never executed.

When seen in (correct) chronological order and (mostly) at the same scale, a number of Kahn designs, centering on the Adler and DeVore Houses, reveal a more interesting evolutionary development of the “eclipse of the free plan and a return to a direct modulation of space through structure.”

Fruchter House, 1952-53. (not to scale)


Adler House, 1954-55. (not to scale)


DeVore House, 1954-55.


Trenton Jewish Community Center Bathhouse 1956-57.


Trenton Jewish Community Center Day Care 1957.


Goldenberg House, 1959.


Fisher House, 1960-64.


Jul 10, 12 8:52 pm


Alison Smithson, Patterns of association - Each district with a different function, 1953.

Louis I. Kahn, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, first design phase, 1959-60.

OMA, Penang Tropical City, 2004.

Patterns of association, indeed.


Jul 11, 12 1:33 pm

As I found out yesterday, Architecture on the Edge of Post Modernism: Collected Essays 1964-1988 (2009) is one of the very few books (if not the only book) on architecture where the term ‘Philadelphia School’ is used on more than a few separate occasions--six times to be precise, but further reference to the architects of the so-called Philadelphia School implicitly expands the number of citations. In one sense, this shows the relative obscurity of the notion of a Philadelphia School, yet, at the same time, it is not surprising that Stern is the one to have often written about it. As the editor of Perspecta 9/10--a book I often heard referred to as “the Bible” while I attended architecture school in Philadelphia in the mid-1970s--Stern did much to expand the distinction of the Philadelphia School. For example, without Perspecta 9/10 in early 1965 there very likely would not have been Zodiac 17 in 1967.

It may well be that the first time the name Robert Stern appeared within a published architectural text is on the first two pages and the second to last page of Vincent Scully’s Louis I. Kahn (1962):

Much material for them was gathered by Thomas R. Vreeland, Jr., of Philadelphia, a graduate of Yale, who was employed in Kahn's office for a number of years, and they have been completed and rearranged under my direction by Robert A. M. Stern, a graduate student at Yale, whose developing study of the life and times of George Howe, a close associate of Kahn's, has aided me immeasurably in this book.

But the researches of Banham and, more recently, of Stern, now force us to recognize the tenacious solidity of much of its academic theory, as distilled from Viollet-le-Duc and others by Choisy, Guadet, and Moore.

Auguste Choisy, Histoire de l'Architecture, Paris, 1899. We are indebted to Reyner Banham, in his Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, New York, 1960, for insisting upon the general significance of Choisy in modern architectural theory. A related theme has been treated by Robert Stern in his article on George Howe's academic background, "P.S.F.S.: Beaux-Arts Theory and Rational Expressionism," to be published in the Journal of the Society of! Architectural Historians in 1962, along with William Jordy's discussion of the same building as a monument of the International Style.

The last paragraph of "P.S.F.S.: Beaux-Arts Theory and Rational Expressionism" reads:

Louis I. Kahn, in many ways a spiritual successor to George Howe, seems to understand, better than any architect alive today, the Beaux-Arts theories of architecture. These he learned from Paul Cret [It was Esther Israeli Kahn who surprisingly told us in 1975 that our architecture school was actually within a 1920s office building designed by Paul Cret.] and from his years of association with Howe. In his actual building Kahn has not always been able to find suitable expressions for his theoretical convictions, and his growth has been slow. But it seems fitting that today it is Kahn who speaks for an architecture of ‘meaningful form’ and ‘meaningful spaces’, an architecture which seeks to use what Howe called ‘imaginative gifts’, for what he also called a ‘penetration of the meaning of things.’ Furness, Cret, Howe, and Kahn perhaps constitute a Philadelphia School, one based upon principles other than those of simple parochialism or regionalism. In their architecture of imagination and intellect PSFS will always hold a central and honorable place. (note 55)

55. Jan C. Rowan’s application of the term ‘Philadelphia School’ to the architects currently practicing and studying in that city seems to me a bit premature. See Progressive Architecture XLII (April 1961).

Apparently, what happened between 1962 and early 1965 is that Venturi and Giurgola, specifically, accumulated a body of both theory and design work which Stern featured prominently within Perspecta 9/10.

Jul 18, 12 3:45 pm


I just went to and found out that Robert Venturi is now retired from practice and Denise Scott Brown is remaining busy writing and exhibiting her work. Now see

I'm sitting here feeling a very real deterritorialization.


Jul 18, 12 7:04 pm

Cat's away, mice will play or Mom goes eclectic.


Jul 19, 12 3:41 pm

About a half mile into my exercise walk this morning, I looked up and was surprised to see the path abruptly end in a great mass of foliage. It’s the same path I take everyday, basically walking through the woods along Pennypack creek, but today I was also deep in thought about what I read last night, and instinctively mostly looking down at the path for the occasional debris there since the last rain storm. In a truly uncanny way, immediately upon perceiving the path ending in a great mass of foliage, my mind told me I was suddenly in a whole different place; it was like waking up from a trace or something and finding myself in a whole other place I hadn’t been before, but the sensation only lasted that initial second of perception. What happened is a substantial limb of a tree fell, probably yesterday during the heavy winds at dusk, directly down on the path, and luckily you could rather easily work your way around the obstacle. Subsequently, this little episode of deterritorialization changed the focus, so to speak, on what I was already thinking about, namely, Sam Rodell’s “The Influence of Robert Venturi on Louis Kahn.”

Without ever expressly saying so, Rodell’s “thesis” boils down to being very much about deterritorialization. There is the whole notion of Venturi influencing Kahn, a not-too-commonly held historical fact, yet a quite deterritorializing proposition if indeed true--it really shouldn’t be so hard to believe that the servant space can have a significant influence on the served space as much as the served space can significantly influence the servant space, however. Yet there is also the notion that the evidence of Venturi’s influence on Kahn is more circumstantial than substantial, a simultaneous ‘there’ and ‘not there’, again a quite deterritorialized state of being. It’s not like “the jury’s still out” though, because there is general agreement that Venturi would have inevitably had an influence on Kahn, but it is not all that easy, except in about three specific cases, to pinpoint exactly what the influences were.

Excerpts from the interview with historian David Brownlee:
DB: In any case, what happens in the late ‘50’s is a more palpable historical reference. There is the peculiarity of what I call the Philadelphia corner – the plan form that is sucked in at the corner – the diagonal across the corner (refers to Kahn’s Goldenberg house and Venturi’s beach house). They are both ’59. Now I have to say, on the face of it, this (Goldenberg) is a lot more sophisticated looking design. But that element of design is seen in Mitchell Giurgola’s work, and in Vreeland’s work. That’s a vocabulary that has gone around – it pops up in Kahn’s work at this time - Kahn’s dorm at Bryn Mawr, and the Richards Medical Building has it sort of implicitly – you enter off the diagonal of a corner…

SR: You see this corner treatment as something specifically about the Philadelphia School?

DB: I do. It all appears about the same time?

SR: Do you think anyone can be identified as being responsible for it? Does Venturi have a hand in it?

DB: I don’t know. One of the things I would venture is to say that a more established architect like Kahn – with a formal vocabulary already established – may not be the place where you look for such provocative innovation. It certainly happens – but it is a teasing sort of thing. And another formal trait I see coming in at this time are, what I call another Philadelphia School trait, the big chimneys. They pop up out of the skyline in everybody’s work about this time. Those would be places I would look for anything you can in terms of concretely dating ‘who does what first.’ I have found nothing written that acknowledges or even suggests that kind of influence between the two, having worked through the papers of both. There is not much to go on – Kahn, I think, writes a letter of recommendation for Rome. But that’s about it. It has always been said that after the ‘60’s Kahn expressed verbally his respect for Venturi, but said he was unwilling to ‘go that far.’ He did not follow Venturi’s interest into Pop culture. Or, you know, large graphics. Or into the vocabulary of commerce and the strip. And fundamentally, I think, continued to believe in abstraction. He did not believe that buildings required words or intelligible historical references in order to be meaningful. At one point, he said that he ‘liked ruins because in ruins the architectural forms had been detached from associated use.” They had no denotative meaning left with them anymore, and in that sense continued to be an abstractionist, a modernist of that kind. The things that I see that I can plausibly say are the contributions are some of those stylistic – I won’t call them quirks, but they are stylish bits and pieces – and within that, the broader acceptance of things that people could call ‘historical’ in his work. Now mind you, he was almost always hostile to the notion that anything he did had specific historical references. His willingness to talk about his fondness for history generally, and to speak admiringly of medieval and ancient buildings, never allowed you to draw a connection (that was pretty obvious) between these historical precedents and his work. Whereas Venturi, of course, was underlining that connection wherever possible. Certainly, the younger man’s rhetorical style, in using those forms, did not rub off on Kahn at all. But I think the case is plausible that in the period of ’54 to ’58, as the Philadelphia School was coming together, that some of the distinctive features of it were created by people other than Louis Kahn – although Kahn gets to be their Guru.

DB: I find it hard to think of Kahn as a mannerist. But I… Maybe the Goldenberg house, which is almost unique; right where you expect the corner to be, there is nothing. [The corner deterritorialized!?]

And from the interview with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown:
SR: Dr. Brownlee was talking about a couple of things he thinks of as being characteristic of the ‘Philadelphia School.’ One: big chimneys. The other: what he calls the ‘Philadelphia corner.’ The latter, I think he may have written about – how various architectural historical approaches ‘solve the corner problem.’ Is that ringing any bells for you?

RV: What does he mean by the corner? Big chimney – actually I think I may have possibly been influenced by Kahn to some extent, but I don’t think he ever had a chimney like that. My beach house project, with its big high chimney – never built – horrified Vince Scully. But then also fascinated him at the same time.

DSB: You know, the diagonal was very much Philadelphia School.

RV: Yes. The diagonal. That’s right, that diagonal. That, I got from Louis Kahn.

DSB: Well, I know where Lou Kahn got it. He got it from Team Ten. You know, in Europe, there was a lot of thinking about diagonals at that point. Lou had more influence from Team Ten earlier than has been generally recognized. I think I discovered how that happened, too. But that’s another story. You know, the conference in Amsterdam in ’59 he met Blag Valenca and Aldo Van Eyck. That’s how Aldo Van Eyck eventually wound up coming to Penn. [The diagonal deterritorialized!?]

Note to self:
Don’t forget Dr. David Brownlee’s skillful deterritorialization of mid-century ‘context’.

By the end of my walk I started to wonder whether anyone [else] is thinking about who subsequent to Venturi may have had an influence on him. Prime candidates, of course, are Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, but maybe also Friday Architects or Kieran/Timberlake. Alas, who knows?

And after I took a shower, I thought about Scott Brown’s first association with Venturi and Rauch, the competition for a Monumental Fountain on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (1964).

Here we have an enormous egg, cracked open by a very long diagonal(!) axis with a giant jet-stream gushing inside.

Yesterday was Venturi and Scott Brown’s 45th wedding anniversary.

Jul 24, 12 5:21 pm

It’s nice when coincidences spur a story. 

Yesterday, I viewed the three latest entries to Archive of Affinities. The first image...

Roche/Dinkeloo’s Knights of Columbus Office building, 1969, immediately revealed a connection I’ve never noticed before. The second image...

the 7 1/2 floor of Being John Malkovich--well, if that’s not the movie of deterritorialization and reterritorialization I don’t know what is! And the third image...

Mitchell/Giurgola’s Acadia National Park Headquarters building, 1965, is what I finished ‘building’ the outer shell of just over a week ago.

After the work on Acadia, I moved on to building the outer shells of Louis Kahn’s Mikveh Israel Synagogue complex, version eight, 1964-66, the chapel of which... clearly the antecedent to Roche/Dinkeloo’s Knights of Columbus Office building. Now’s the time to start imagining a new twisted movie--Being Louis Kahn.

Mitchell/Giurgola’s Acadia National Park Headquarters building was never built, but, nevertheless, it’s a design I’ve admired for a very long time. Although I have no direct memory of trying to emulate the Acadia design, the first project from my second year of architecture school--

a PSFS branch bank, October 1976--indicates that the Acadia plan may have already been well stored in my mind.

In any case, a CAD model of the Acadia National Park Headquarters building is now finally part of Quondam’s collection. Putting a concentrated focus on the building, got me wondering why it seems so unique within the Mitchell/Giurgola oeuvre. Unlike many other M/G designs, its pedigree is not at all easily discernible. Then, because of ongoing “Philadelphia School” work, I was studying Kahn and Noguchi’s Levy Memorial Playground designs, particularly the third version from late 1963.

The pyramidal form in the lower right corner is very likely the earliest precedent for the Acadia design, yet Kahn himself added further precedent for the Acadia design via the very early 1965 design of the building for the Council of Islamic Ideology at Islamabad...

...which no doubt stems from Kahn’s coincident collaboration with Noguchi. Alas, the Levy Memorial Playground and the Council of Islamic Ideology designs were also never executed in built form, but there are two very real, legitimate offspring of these designs in Italy:

Vittorio De Feo, Institute for Draghtsmen (Terni Province: 1968).

Vittorio De Feo, Library abd Cultural Centre (Torre del Greco: 1969).

[Aside: I would not know the architecture of Vittorio De Feo if I had not purchased an A+U magazine focusing on Vittorio De Feo at Wittenborn Books in Manhattan sometime early Spring 1977. I told my second year second semester studio crit, Hal Guida, that I and six other classmates were going to Manhatten for Spring Break, and he right away suggested I visit Wittenborn Books. There was a sizable compilation of back issues of A+U magazines for sale, and I bought about six of them. Hal Guida worked at Mitchell/Giurgola, assisted Giurgola with Roma Interrotta in 1978, and moved to Australia with Giurgola to work on the new Parliament Building in Canberra in 1981.]

The Venturi and Rauch designs that come into play here are the three buildings for Princeton Memorial Park, 1966. The tower... clearly derived from the light cylinders of Kahn’s Mikvek Israel Synagogue, to the point of being almost an homage. And the Entrance and Administration building and the Crypts...

...have an affinity with the architectures of the Levy Memorial Playground and the Council of Islamic Ideology, although Venturi had already used bermed forms within the F.D.R. Memorial Park competition, 1960.


Aug 8, 12 6:38 pm

10 years ago today, etc.

I revisited Ahavath Israel today, and sadly the facade has been changed, I was told circa 2000. The whole portion of the facade above the recessed entry is no longer brick, but now a salmon colored, textured CMU. This is yet another building to have changed since I last took pictures of it. The curse of Quondam I guess.

It dawned on me last night that both Wright's Beth Sholom and Kahn's Adath Jeshurun are hugely triangular in plan. Wright mailed the preliminary drawings to Rabbi Mortimer Cohen on 15 March 1954. Kahn's design is dated 1954-55. Since Beth Sholom and Adath Jeshurun are (next-door) neighboring congregations, it wouldn't surprise me at all if architectural rivalry between the congregations was going on, and that Kahn even saw the Wright plans before he came up with his design. Has anyone heard of this possible connection before?

I've been doing a lot of Kahn building photographing this week. I've never seen the Trenton Bath House before, and it was wonderful to see it. Today I was at Bryn Mawn College to photograph the Kahn dormitory exterior. The building is in the final stages of a full overhaul/restoration. The place was/is crawling with workmen, so I went in and found my way up to the roof. and what a great Kahnscape that is. Mill Creek Housing Project, Philadelphia is now completely abandoned and boarded up. Richards Medical Buildings, U of P, still looks good, but are hard to photograph because of tight quarters and lots of surrounding vegetation.

It looks like I went to the furthest destination first and then worked my way back.

Erdman Hall (Bryn Mawr College, 1960-65).
The view across the roof reminds me of that classic shot of the view across the court toward the horizon at Salk Institute.

Mill Creek Housing Project (Philadelphia, 1951-56, 1956-63).
The high-rise towers were imploded November 24, 2002.

Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Building and Biology Building
(University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1957-65).
Within the little ‘jungle’ behind the Medical Research buildings is a set of greenhouses, designed by Carles Vallhonrat in 1984. I drew the construction documents for this building, thus it is very likely the second building in Philadelphia designed and documented with the use of CAD.

Congregation Ahavath Israel (Philadelphia, 1935-7) is now Grace Temple Church Inc. Talk about having it all!

Mr. & Mrs. Jesse Oser House (Elkins Park, 1940-2).

Negative notes
2007.10.12 11:17

In Goldhagen's Louis Kahn's Situated Modernism we read:
"In 1951, the [Adath Jeshurun] synagogue's leaders purchased a large polygonal site in Elkins Park, where many of its members were moving. The short end of the lot faced a major thoroughfare, and the remainder sloped back into a more pastoral setting that was bisected diagonally by a small stream (Fig. 4.1)."

And the caption of Fig. 4.1 reads: Sketch of the Elkins Park site for the Adath Jeshurun synagogue, 1954. From the Kahn Collection.

These citings convey misinformation. Kahn's design for Adath Jeshurun was sited on Old York Road within Philadelphia. Kahn's design was never executed, but Adath Jeshurun did ultimately build a new synagogue on a site (within a more pastoral setting) further north up Old York Road in Elkins Park. [This site misinformation is also conveyed within Louis I. Kahn: Complete Works 1935-1974.]

Goldhagen also mentions Wright's Beth Shalom [sic] synagogue. Beth Sholom is about a mile further north up Old York Road from the current Adath Jeshurun and about two miles north of Kahn's site for Adath Jeshurun.

Just coincidentally, Kahn's first independent build work, the quondam Ahavath Israel synagogue, is about a half mile away from the Philadelphia site of Adath Jeshurun. And Kahn's Oser House is practically across the street from the built Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park. And Trumbauer built three Elkins' mansions for which Elkins Park is named. It's like a little architectural Mecca along an ancient Indian trail.


Back in 2003, in to see in Philly, a quondam thread here at archinect/forum, I wrote, “There's more obscure early Kahn in the Philadelphia area, kind of like going on a treasure hunt.” Since then, someone has actually gone on that “treasure hunt” and published the findings on flickr.


Aug 9, 12 1:09 pm

“Society teeth and a bread”

We went to Philadelphia a few times in ‘64 and ‘65. Sam Green knew a lot of people there, and carloads of us would drive down. In ‘65 Sam got made the director of exhibits at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the University of Pennsylvania campus. We used Philadelphia as a backdrop for a lot of the movies we shot, and we screened quite a lot of our movies down there, too. Sometimes Sam’s rich distant cousin Henry McIlhenny would have dinners for us in his townhouse on Rittenhouse Square with a footman behind every chair and we’d be sitting there in Queens College sweatshirts. (Cecil Beaton was at one of those dinners and when I asked him if I could do his portrait, he said of course, so we went right upstairs and I drew his foot with a rose between his toes.)

When Sam started at the institute, there was an advisory board and a university governing thing, and a couple of governors wanted to have Gauguin and Renoir retrospectives. Sam told me, “Fortunately they don’t have the budget to do anything that boring.” What he suggested instead was that they have an Andy Warhol retrospective. They were very reluctant at first, so he told them that if they agreed to this Pop thing, they could all work on an Abstract Expressionist show next and wouldn’t that be fun. Finally they decided that they couldn’t make this decision themselves, they’d have to send a delegate up to New York to make it for them.

Sam had this good friend Lally Lloyd--her husband was H. (for Horatio) Gates Lloyd, one of the heads of the CIA, and she herself was a Biddle from the Main Line with a big estate. Sam introduced us at a dinner that the art dealer Alexandre Iolas gave for Nicky se St. Phalle at the Café Nicholson. (Right before the dinner he’d told me, “Now please don’t do your monosyllabic shy act and ruin everything.”) Mrs. Lloyd was telling me how flattering it was that I considering their tiny museum for a show (it would be my first nongallery show, actually) when out of the blue I asked her if she wanted to be in a movie.

:She asked you what she’s have to do,” Sam reminded me, “and when you deadpanned, ‘Have sex with Sam,’ she thought you were so outrageous that from then on everything went beautifully--and the main thing was she liked your work. And she got the museum advisory board to allot four thousand dollars for the exhibition. Of course, it wound up costing a lot more, but we raised the rest ourselves by getting you to do the Green Stamp poster for the exhibition and having blouses made out of silk printed up with Green Stamps on them, and there was even enough silk left over to make a tie for me. And then, remember, I wheedled actual labels out of the Campbell’s Soup Company and printed the invitation for the October 7-November 21 [1965] exhibit on the back side of them.”

Sam arranged about four solid months of publicity before the show. He got a few of our films screened in theaters around town and on the Penn campus, and he sent Philadelphia society reporters up to New York to interview us. “I’ve told them to make sure to get scandalous photos.”

Sam had Society teeth and a beard and he especially liked Society ladies who were dying not to be stuffy anymore. He’d say things to them like “There’s this madman named Warhol who brings this entourage into your house and apparently makes an entire movie in an afternoon. You must meet him.” And since Sam knew about drag queens and offbeat things, the ladies thought he was fun. I met a lot of grand gals with Sam who were out looking for fun.

So Sam got Philadelphia reporters to come by with their notepads to glance around. In those practically no one tape-recorded news interviews; they took notes instead. I liked that better because when it got written up, it would always be different from what I’d actually said--and a lot more fun for me to read. Like if I’d said, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” it could come out, “In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous.”

When we walked into the Philadelphia opening, there were floodlights turned on us and television camera. It was very hot and I was all in black--T-shirt, jeans, short jacket, what I always wore in those days--and the yellow-lens wraparound sun/ski glasses didn’t keep the glare out; I wasn’t ready for it.

There were four thousand kids packed into two rooms. They’d had to take all my paintings--my “retrospective”--off the walls because they were getting crushed. It was fabulous: an art opening with no art! Sam stood there in his white jacket and Green Stamp ties--the members of the advisory board were running around in their Green Stamp silk blouses--and told the press that nobody came to art openings to see the art anyway. The music was going full blast and all the kids were doing the jerk to songs like “Dancin’ and Prancin’” and “It’s All Over Now” and “You Really Turn Me On.”

When the kids saw me and Edie walk in, they started actually screaming. I couldn’t believe it--one day you’re in an art gallery in Toronto and not one person comes in all day to see you, and then suddenly there are who get hysterical at the sight of you. It was crazy. Older people in evening gowns were next to kids in jeans. They had to lead us through the crowd--the only place we wouldn’t get mobbed was on some iron stairs that lead up to a sealed-off door. They put guards at the bottom of the steps so nobody would rush us. All the people we came down from New York with were on these stairs--Paul, Gerard, Chuck Wein, Donald Lyons, David Bourdon, and Sam, too. Edie was wearing a pink Rudi Gernreich floor-length T-shirt dress made out of stretchy Lurex-type material. It had elastic sleeves that were supposed to stay rolled up but she unrolled one of them about twelve feet past her arm--perfect for this setup, because she could have a drink in one hand and be draping and dipping and dangling her sleeve over the heads of the crowd below. She was putting on the performance of her life. Every guy wanted to be up there with her--she was looking around for somebody she knew who was going to school down there, calling out to him and everything, and you could tell from the faces on all the boys that they were really envious of whoever it was.

We were on those steps for at least two hours. People were passing things up to be autographed--shopping bags, candy wrappers, address books, train tickets, soup cans. I signed some things but Edie was signing most of them “Andy Warhol” herself. There was no way to leave--we knew we’d be mobbed as soon as we came down. Finally the officials ordered the fire department to break through the sealed door behind us with crowbars, and we were led out that way, through a library, onto the roof [of the very same building where the Philadelphia School happened], over an adjoining building, down a fire escape, and into waiting police cars. Now things were getting really interesting.
--Andy Warhol, Pat Hackett, Popism: The Warhol ‘60s (1980).

"The Lieb House [1969]," Denise Scott-Brown Venturi explained, “is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. It is like the landscape and not like the landscape--ugly and beautiful. It is the tension between these opposites. We are saying it is like everything else; we admit that. It is like everything else in the way that the Pop artists make something like a Campbell's Soup can. It is like, but isn't like. See what I mean?”

23 July 1967

Louis Kahn at the construction site of the Tribune Review Press building, circa 1961:

“Trust me guys, in the future everybody will be watching a television show where everyone looks and acts just like us, and it will be called Mad Men.”

Aug 14, 12 3:22 pm

Spent a good part of this morning taking pictures around the exterior of Louis Kahn's Fisher House, in Hatboro, PA. Just by chance I found out last Friday that the house is currently on the market (and may actually be sold at this point), and the house is presently vacant. The exterior of the house is very nicely detailed, and still inspiring. It's also the plan of this house that inspired a collage technique I employ from time to time.


Aug 28, 12 8:59 pm

a whole bunch of objectified deterritorialization?

- - - - - - - - -


2026 Vision?

This past Saturday I received a postcard inviting me to the world premiere of Open Air:
This fall, head to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and take part in the largest crowd-sourced public art experience ever seen in Philadelphia. Open Air will employ 24 searchlights, a free mobile app, and your voice and GPS position to transform the night sky.
Created for Philadelphia by internationally acclaimed artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

I was immediately reminded of Venturi & Rauch’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway Celebration for 1976 (1 December 1972).

Today I went online to see if Venturi & Rauch’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway Celebration for 1976 is anywhere mentioned as inspiration for Open Air, and there is no ‘official’ mention of Venturi & Rauch’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway Celebration for 1976 in conjunction with Open Air except a commentor to one of the Open Air news posts, Andy Blanka, did mention that Venturi & Rauch had already designed something similar. In any case and forty years later, Open Air will be an un-official tribute to the ideas of Venturi, Rauch, Scott Brown and Izenour (who did the above drawings).

Ideas for the Bicentennial were first published within the October 1969 issue of The Architectural Forum--"The Bicentennial Commemoration 1976"--a rare piece of writing where Denise Scott Brown precedes Robert Venturi as co-author. Seen now in retrospect, many of the ideas proposed were ground-breaking and indeed influential in the long run, and still relevant today with regard to current notions of architecture and advocacy. To offer one flavor of the piece I parsed out the sentences that contain the words ‘little’ and then the sentences that contain the word ‘big’:

“It is significant that Expo 67, hailed as a triumph, produced little innovation in architecture or structure.”

“Still very much employed and perhaps even more challenged, since now their ingenuity would be taxed to make much out of the little available for building, to make meaningful in built structures the serious aims of the nation, and on top of this to make our show fun, seductive and delightful.”

“The Commemoration should serve, starting now, as a major aid to economic development of the black community, otherwise we shall have little to celebrate in 1976.”

“Why should Little Upper Begonia strive to show us its plastic factory when it has so much to say on the harnessing of teen-age revolt or on the housing of rural migrants?”

“An Expo based on interaction of people in meeting places spread over several cities could look a little low.”

“We recommend, because of the social tasks, the use of modest buildings with big signs.”

“We advocate, because of the social tasks, the use of modest buildings with big signs.”

There is an authors’ note at the end of the piece:
We owe much in the development of our ideas to Mr. Tom Wolfe (who coined the phrase “electrographic architecture”), to Mr. David A. Crane, to members of the Philadelphia Bicentennial International Exposition Planning Group, and to the Philadelphia Citizens’ Committee to Preserve and Develop the Crosstown Community, and all their advisors.

This brings to mind a curious footnote within Charles Jencks’ The Story of Post-Modernism (2011):
Tom Wolfe lampooned architects’ inability to reach the exuberance of Las Vegas sign artists, or ‘Electrographic Architecture’, in many articles. One key essay, republished in his collection Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York), 1965, was written in his neo-hysterical style--’Las Vegas (What?) Las Vegas (Can’t hear you! Too noisy) Las Vegas!!!’ Tim Vreeland has told me that when Venturi and Scott Brown were visiting Albuquerque circa 1968, he put a copy of Wolfe’s book on the bedside table, and the couple were so impressed they drove off to see Las Vegas the next day. Their own shift in taste-culture towards commercial vernacular and Route 66, culminated first in an article, ‘A Significance for A&P Parking Lots’ (1968) and then the whole argument, Learning from Las Vegas, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA/London), 1972. Thus the Las Vegas polemic may date from Wolfe’s humorous assault on professional taste, and that he too was to carry on with another attack on Minimalist Modernism, From Bauhaus to Our House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York), 1981. Reyner Banham took the Las Vegas sign artists in another direction, towards the dematerialized city of electronics, light, and environmental control. His The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment, Architectural Press (London), 1969, inverts the Corbusian definition of architecture--’pure forms seen in sunlight’--to ‘coloured light seen in impure forms’.

To clear up some of the chronology suggested above:

1965: On her way to California to teach in the School of Environmental Design at Berkeley for the spring semester, Scott Brown stops off in Las Vegas. That summer she travels in the southwest [including Albuquerque?]. In September, Scott Brown moves to Los Angeles and accepts the position of co-chair of the Urban Design Program at UCLA, where she remains through 1967. She recruits Venturi to act as a visiting critic.

1966: Scott Brown invites Venturi to visit Las Vegas with her for a four-day trip. In November the two travel the Las Vegas strip, from casino to casino, being alternately “appalled and fascinated” by what they see. [“Next I was taken to Las Vegas in 1966 by Denise Scott Brown--prepared a little by Tom Wolfe and a lot by Baroque Rome. Out of that trip came our studio at Yale and then our book Learning from Las Vegas.”]
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is published by the Museum of Modern Art as the first in an intended series of occasional papers addressing issues of architecture and design (actual distribution is not until March 1967).


I doubt very much I'll actually see Open Air in person, but I could easily make a virtual model of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Celebration for 1976. Or better yet, I should start publishing my ideas for the Semiquincentennial!



Sep 3, 12 4:52 pm

Jan C. Rowen, “Wanting To Be: The Philadelphia School” (Progressive Architecture, April, 1961. The actual magazine article pages at 4001 and follows.

The article is very generous, in scope, layout and sentiment. Read in tandem with "Denise Scott Brown and Louis I. Kahn" one gets a somewhat deterritorialized view of the situation back then.

Oct 29, 16 8:23 pm

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