Louis Kahn and Sir John Soane

I have recently been researching Louis Kahn and Sir John Soane. I investigated Kahn’s Fisher House (1960-67) in Pennsylvania for a villa analysis project. This was teamwork, and our first project that was longer than a few days. This was also the first time that I had been to produce technical, measured drawings and models.

My model of Kahn’s Fisher House

I thoroughly enjoyed this project, and became fascinated by the concepts and techniques that Kahn used as well as the many obvious parallels between this and Kahn’s other works. I do not want this to turn into a reproduction of my submission last week, so I will try to express my personal feelings of what influenced me without going into too many less relevant details! I found it interesting that not many windows featured in the private “cube” in this house. I can see that Kahn and his clients wished to keep this more private, to protect against the road and neighbours on this side. In a way, this is a common theme in a lot of the villas studied by other teams. The one that stands out as a comparison for me is the Crescent House by Ken Shuttleworth, whose back wall is solid and thicker, against an industrial area. Though I understand the reasoning and appreciate that the Fisher House has more openings than the blocked off Crescent House, I am not sure if I would like the lack of windows.

East windows for bedrooms and entrance hall.

I do like that the bedroom windows (on the east side, as shown below, right) are much bigger and so will receive the morning light. For me, the placement of the bedrooms is good because I often need encouragement to get up. Light is an important factor in this process!
Another window feature, consistent throughout the house, is the use of ventilation boxes instead of openable windows. These are basically vertical boxes with little doors inside. I like this concept. It gives the actual glazed window a sense of being important for light or view (in this house, most windows concentrate on framing views, although light is an intrinsic element in Kahn’s ideologies). This feature also increases the significance of ventilating the house, in my opinion. This is because, instead of a more traditional opening of a window, you would have to make the effort to go to the box specifically for letting in air. These are mostly situated beside windows, so the process does not become overly complicated but more significant.

View from the road to the entrance. (from philly.curbed.com)

A concept that interested me also was the connections between the site and interiors. Made from local materials; red cedar and Montgomery county stone, the house already blends with its environment. The chimney, starting in the basement of the public cube as a barbecue, and continuing up through the double height living area (where it features a fireplace) contributes to the connections between exterior and interior. As the house is dug into a slope, the stone basement cannot be seen from the front entrance, and so introducing the same material on the inside, especially as a focus, reminds you (or of course introduces, if you have not yet seen the basement from the garden) of the rustic elements employed beneath as well as seeming to bring a part of the outside world in, as it is squared rubble.

Dining Room (Found as a link on the Fisher House Wikipedia page)

Combining the use of windows and the concept of bringing together the environment and living spaces is apparent in the dining room. In my opinion this could make an important impact on the atmosphere inside. The Fishers said that the house changes with the seasons. A dining room is a place of regularity, where inhabitants convene every night (or more often). This place becomes a constant and so the changing seasons would have a great impact on the atmosphere inside the house.

I hope that for my upcoming design projects, I can learn from the way that Kahn implemented these concepts to try to design a house that achieves similar effects.

Sir John Soane, I don’t feel like I know enough about yet. I did some very quick research about him for an essay draft. My impression of Soane was that his philosophy was everything to him. I was very inspired by his love for the classics and his desires to utilise the elements that he admired in them. Through reading even just the small amount that I did about Soane, has allowed me to appreciate Neo-Classicism far more than I did before. For some reason, my impression of Neo-Classicists was that they copied the classical without considering how to make use of the successful techniques.

Soane has changed my views in this way, and I fully intend to visit his house (now a museum) the next time that I am in London.


Update: I followed up on my initial interest in Sir John Soane and collaborated on a piece on him and eclecticism at Architecture Travels.

What do you think?