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The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized

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2002.02.16 14:42
Re: Paper architecture...origin and uses of the term
I can remember the term "cardboard architecture" being used as a derogatory critical term during my years in architecture school (1975-81). I was taught by many former students of Louis Kahn, and my recollection is that it is a term that Kahn frequently used in his design studio at the Univ. of Pennsylvania during the 1960s, referring to student designs that could only be built out of chipboard, the material used to make architecture models. Actually, the vernacular I recall was "chipboard architecture".


2002.02.20 17:10
Re: paper architectures
This leads me to seriously question the validity of Young's other, earlier remark (16 Feb. 2002): "What has not been written, as far as I know, is how much Venturi stole from Viollet" First off, the term "stole" is inappropriate and foolish as far as good design history is concerned. Second, the influence of Frank Furness (American's VLD contemporary) on Venturi supercedes any VLD influence. Third, the 1980s redo of the Venturi and Scott Brown home (and later the VSBA renovation of UofP's Irvine Auditorium) clearly demonstrates a manifest Viollet-le-Duc 'reenactment' in terms of interior wall architectural decoration, but each room of the VSB home also clearly demonstrates Venturi el al's broader understanding and modern execution of historical architectural ornamentation.
In Quondam's inaugural exhibit "seeking precedents... ...finding inspiration" (20 March 1997 to 21 September 1997) there was one "page" that compared some plans from VLD's Dictionary with the plan of Louis Kahn's Convent for Dominican Sisters project.


2002.04.07 16:28
Re: art as architecture as art
Philadelphia is for sure a large place where the lion's share of its best architecture is by local architects--VSBA, M/G, Kahn, Cret, Trumbauer, Furness, Strickland, just to name at least 100 buildings.


2002.04.11 19:26
Re: being/critical
I do know John Lawson, but I haven't spoken with him in years. In fact, I had several conversations with him just as I was beginning to formulate Quondam (Fall 1996). Lawson was no doubt one of the top designer within the so-called "Philadelphia School", and I wanted to document the work of the Philadelphia School via Quondam. Lawson and his partner Rolin La France (architect and photographer of the famous picture of the Vanna Venturi House with Vanna sitting in front of it) are in possession of several sets of Mitchell/Giurgola working drawings that the now MGA(rchitects) no longer wanted to keep. I wanted to use some of these drawings to construct 3d models of two early unbuilt Mitchell/Guirgola works.
I spoke with two of the Park rangers at Independence National Park, and both immediately said they "hate" the current Liberty Bell pavilion, but they also both agree that that building has some of the nicest panes of glass anywhere. One ranger even said one could probably put in a bid for the glass before its demolished. He said, "You'd be surprised at how much is sold off." I replied, "Oh, I know all about how the Federal government "sells off" stuff, like National Park land."
There is one new visitors pavilion now open, a block north of the Liberty Bell. ...in all honestly, inside it's everything you've let us know you despise, and then some. I don't like it either. It looks and functions just like the "public" parts of Franklin Mills (Outlet) Mall (in far northeast Philadelphia). No barricades though.

2002.07.07 13:53
signs are a factor
Yes, signs are a factor of the (shopping center) metamorphosis, but never a complete 'picture' of the metamorphosis. There is much more retro-fitting that goes on inside and out, and yes, even whole buildings come and go (and Las Vegas is a prime example of that). What the shopping sites (at Olney at least) are more doing is reenacting themselves (and reenactment has never been an explicit Venturi et al design idea/analysis, although reenactment is occasionally a very implicit, and apparently even sub-conscious, Venturi et al design outcome).


2002.07.29
Kahn buildings to photograph
1. back of Ahavath--make note of the mistakes in the Complete Works p. 11.
2. Pennypack Housing--also a mistake in the Complete Works p. 11.
3. Philadelphia Psychiatric
4. Trenton Bath House
5. Tompkins House
6. Genel House
7. Weiss House
8. Mill Creek Housing
9. Richards Medical
10. Tribune Review Press
11. Esherick House
12. Erdman Hall
13. 921 Clinton Street - Louis Kahn Park
14. Olivetti-Underwood, Harrisburg(?)
15. J.F.K. Hospital(?)
16. Korman House


2002.07.30
Some[what] Incompletely Louis I. Kahn
1. neighborhood synagogues, particularly in North Philadelphia and along the North Broad Street corridor, Philadelphia's quondam Jewish neighborhoods.
2. architecture of osmosis / electromagnetism (Kimbell and Hurva) and thus discussion of BIA re: osm/em.
3. some reenactment, particularly Koolhaas, M/G, and even Venturi (Ahavath/Guild House).
4. Piranesi's Campo Marzio.
5. Guadet.
6. Northern Liberties photo documentation.
7. circle/square - does it lead to ideal scaling?; rescale the plan/models to match a 6' tall man, etc.
Last night (2002.08.03) I had the idea of reenacting Erdman Hall via a manipulation of the Hurva model.


2002.08.06 13:11
Somewhat Incompletely Louis I. Kahn
Somewhat Incompletely Louis I. Kahn, Somewhat Incompletely Venturi [Rauch] Scott Brown and Associates
In doing some research/reading yesterday, I found that Louis Kahn proposed marriage to Esther Israeli at Philadelphia's Rodin Museum. Anyone that has every visited the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia will surely remember the enormous and wonderful Gates of Hell as one enters the museum.

2002.08.11 10:44
Kahn and Wright
Here are two excerpts from Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture (1997) with some commentary following:
on page 64: Kahn's synagogue [Adath Jeshurun] was planned for a site on York Road in North Philadelphia near Elkins Park where Frank Lloyd Wright's Beth Sholom synagogue (1954-59) would shortly rise. Kahn kept clippings illustrating Wright's hexagonal plan; in his own design he effectively rationalized Wright's romantic essay.
on pages 79-80: Documented evidence of ties between Wright and Kahn is slight. His connection with Henry Klumb (1904-1985), a former associate of Wright's and a staunch supporter of his ideals, is noted in chapter 1. In 1952 Kahn and Wright both attended a convention of the American Institute of Architects, in 1955 (as previously noted) Kahn praised Wright's early work, and when Wright died in 1959 Kahn wrote in tribute [published in Architecture Record], "Wright gives insight to learn / that nature has no style / that nature is the greatest teacher of all / The ideas of Wright are the facets of his single thought." Scully recalls that later that same year Kahn made his first visit to a Wright building, the S.C. Johnson and Son Administration Building (1936-39), where, "to the depths of his soul, [he] was overwhelmed."
commentary: The first passage harbors mistakes. The site of Adath Jeshurun (1954-55) was on Old York Road and not in North Philadelphia, but indeed in Elkins Park, and not much more than a mile south of Beth Sholom, which is on the same street. Furthermore, Beth Sholom (from the exterior at least is a huge triangle in plan--I do not have a plan handy and could not easily find one online). Interestingly, Kahn's first scheme of Adath Jeshurun is a pure hexagon in plan, while the second (and final) scheme is a pure triangle in plan. These mistakes make me curious about the authors. Either they never investigated the exact site/location of Adath Jeshurun, or they purposefully distanced Adath Jeshurun/Kahn from Beth Sholom/Wright. (More on this point below.) In doing a web search for a plan of Beth Sholom, I found that Beth Sholom is the first Philadelphia Congregation to move to the suburbs (or so they themselves say).
The second passage is extremely curious in that the Scully quotation (from Scully's book Louis I. Kahn (1962)) also seems to harbor a mistake, a distancing again, and/or perhaps even an intentional fabrication. I, for one, find it hard to believe that Louis Kahn never visited Beth Sholom prior to late 1959, thus I doubt very much that it is true that the first Wright building Kahn visited was the S.C. Johnson building in Wisconsin. Now I have to wonder about Scully and Brownlee/DeLong (authors of Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture). Was Scully or even Kahn(!) fabricating a false history that would distance Kahn safely away from being suspected of having ever been really influenced by Wright? And why did Brownlee/DeLong not notice and/or correct what appears to be just plain false? The only real reason I'm pointing all this out is that I believe it is much more valuable to know how designs really came about rather than how they really didn't come about.
This leads me to bring up the anecdote RE shared here as to what Wright said to Venturi about Kahn, i.e., "Beware an architect with one idea." If Wright said this to Venturi circa 1955 (date of Beth Sholom construction), then the "one idea" Wright was speaking of may well be the Yale Art Gallery (1950-53). The Yale building is the first to get Kahn very wide recognition, particularly for its triangulated ceiling structures, a structure, moreover, that Kahn further investigated in the second scheme of Adath Jeshurun. Furthermore, the second scheme of Adath Jeshurun is remarkably similar diagrammatically to the stairwell plan within the Yale Art Gallery, i.e., a triangle within a circle.
Could it be that Venturi told Kahn what Wright said, and that is perhaps why Kahn wrote "The ideas of Wright are the facets of his single thought"?

2002.08.12 15:45
recent observations
As I was driving down Spring Garden Street yesterday, a detail of Venturi and Rauch's Guild House caught my eye. The white brick wall either side of the recessed entrance (in contrast to the red brick of the rest of the building) immediately reminded me of the new two-tone masonry at Ahavath Israel. As RE can confirm, from the first time I saw Ahavath Israel in 1998, I got the sense that Guild House was somewhat of a faint reenactment of the synagogue. Now one could say that the original is reenacting its reenactment.
Later, while touring Manayunk with a friend that had never been there, I couldn't help but notice the storefront display of the Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates office on Main Street. On the window is a big sign that reads "Learning From Everything" and in the display area is a ladder and saw and a smaller sign hanging from the ladder that reads "under construction." Do you suppose that the message there delivered is indeed for they and us to now "learn from everything under construction?"
Tomorrow, if the window display is still the same, I'm going to take a picture of it and title the picture Learning from Everything Being Incomplete.


2002.08.12 18:08
more reenactment than I thought
In just comparing images of Ahavath Israel and Guild House, there are several features strikingly similar between the two building:
1. the 'main' facades projects out to the street and stand in contrast to the adjacent building (elements).
2. the entrances are ground level recesses within the main facade. (Interestingly, Ahavath Israel had three columns later installed within the recess to augment failing support of the wall above, columns that are now removed due to the new facade work, while Guild House always had an exaggerated column standing within the recess.)
3. the three individual windows symmetrically framing the center balconies of Guild House very much echo the three sole windows to one side of Ahavath Israel's otherwise facade.
4. the cornerstone setting/detailing of each building is virtual identical, except for the dates, of course--5698/1937 vs. 1965.
I am now reminded of an anecdote RE told me the day after I took R and SB to see Ahavath Israel some Saturday morning October 2000 (I think). After our visit to the Kahn building, R and S went to have lunch with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. The guys told the famous architects about having just seen Kahn's first building. Venturi apparently acted in some kind of disbelief, as if the building didn't even exist. He said something like, "But it's not even in the catalogue!?!" I assume Venturi was referring the Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture (you know, the incomplete publication I'm reading these days). Ron told them to look up the (then) webpages at wqc that displayed images of the building.
I was immediately suspect of Venturi's apparent lack of knowledge of the building. Granted 1965 is a long time ago, and we all have incomplete memories. Nonetheless, Congregation Ahavath Israel (original sign and all) was very much featured within Vincent Scully's 1962 book Louis I. Kahn.
[Now imagine the computer screen you're looking at right now as an incomplete window display somewhere in Philadelphia, and repeat to yourself for the next 28 years, "Learning From Everything Venturi Forgot."]

2002.08.13 15:20
Kahn and Philadelphia Jewry
In doing all this recent research into Kahn's architecture prior to 1950, it becomes clear that most of Kahn's clients then were Jewish and/or Jewish institutions. Besides Ahavath Israel, Adath Jeshurun, and Philadelphia Psychiatric Hospital (now Belmont Rehab, and a subsidiary of Einstein Medical Center (on North Broad Street with an historic 1902(?) synagogue on its campus, btw)), about a dozen private houses, half of which were built, all appear to be for Jewish clients. It wouldn't surprise me if much of Kahn's 'networking' back then can actually be credited to his wife, Esther Israeli Kahn, a highly educated women, and a long-standing pillar of Philadelphia's Jewish community herself.
I'm mentioning all this because I believe it is indicative of how Kahn really began to achieve his greatness as an architect. Beyond the adage that "behind every great man there is a great woman," Kahn also had early exposure to great clients. So, before Kahn stepped up into the 'limelight' after the Yale Art Gallery, he was already at a nice, elevated place essentially created by Philadelphia's Jewry.


2002.10.18 12:25
other art and architecture highlights
There are several other art and architecture highlights from Life 1972 yet to be included, such as a review of Venturi's work...


2003.02.03
ideas
2. Mod Architecture--this started as a Venturi et al display/exhibit idea, but developed into an (uncanny) review of a lot of Quondam's collection..


2003.02.04 11:50
Re: Robert Venturi
I'm beginning to see a lot of Venturi et al architecture and design as 'mod'. Not Modern, not Post-Modern, not (just) Pop--specifically mod.
The Princeton Memorial Park tower is very mod, as is the Mr. and Mrs. Gooding house of a decade later.
Venturi, like Stirling, is a mod colorist (for sure), a distinct rarity within 20th century architectural history. A 'mod architecture' exhibit is in the works at Quondam.
For a very clear display of Venturi et al's work in the context of the POP era (1956-1968) see Les Annees Pop, the catalogue of the exhibit going by the same name held at the Centre Pompidou 15 March to 18 June 2001. Here, each year is displayed by what was produced in it. Unfortunately (for some like me) all the text is in French, but there are lots of images.


2003.05.12 14:01
Koolhaas the reenactor
A good look at very early Kahn, particularly his projects for Philadelphia, will shed interesting light on architecture of the 90s and the 00s.


2003.08.17 23:37
to see in Philly
Kahn's project for the Philadelphia College of Art was never executed, and the Mill Creek Housing project was demolished last year. There is the quondam Ahavath Israel Synagogue, Kahn's first independent building (1935-7), a couple blocks west of North Broad Street--the facade was redone sometime 2000, however. Erdman Hall, the dormitories at Bryn Mawr College, were just renovated 2002. Richards Medical Towers still at UofP and still looking good. There's lots more obscure early Kahn in the Philadelphia area, kind of like going on a treasure hunt.
By far, there is more Venturi et al architecture in and around Philadelphia than anyplace else on the planet. Ditto for the architecture of Mitchell/Giurgola.

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