Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture

Exploring Kahn’s life and work through architectural models, original drawings, travel sketches, photographs and films.

Described in his New York Times' obituary as one of America’s foremost living architects, Kahn was known for his monumental, modernist designs. An artist and a perfectionist his structures were always meticulously built, and drew on a range of eclectic influences; from ancient ruins to the DNA double helix and primary geometry. Yet, despite a long and prestigious career, when Kahn died in 1974 – a heart attack in the restroom of Penn Station in New York – it was revealed he was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Kahn believed that architects have an important social responsibility and spent his career seeking to create design that 'grows out of a sense of place'. Divided into six broad themes, the display explores his relationship with his adopted home city Philadelphia, his use of engineering and geometric structure and the importance of nature in his work. It also features examples of both his residential and public commissions, and the impact these have had on local communities.

Kahn's work inspired – and continues to inspire – many prominent architects. Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Peter Zumthor and Sou Fujimoto are among those who attest to this, and their interviews are shown as part of the display.

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It's an all encompassing exhibition, beginning with his early urban planning concepts and single-family houses and spanning right up to the Roosevelt Memorial (1973-74), which was completed posthumously in October 2012.

Many of Kahn’s greatest achievements are featured: The Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, designed to be ‘a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso’; the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, demonstrating his extraordinary ability to work with light and the National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which showcases his monumental style.


Venue details

Design Museum Shad Thames London SE1 2YD 020 7940 8783 designmuseum.org

Entry details

£6.20 with National Art Pass (standard entry £12.40)

The museum at Shad Thames is now closed. It will reopen at a new site in Kensington in November