Architecture historian Caroline Maniaque and photographer Cemal Emden revisit Louis Kahn’s architecture in a new compendium of his most significant works.


From his native city of Philadelphia to the heart of Bangladesh, the architecture of Louis Kahn (1901- 1974) reflected his broad fascination with science, mathematics, history, and art.

A new book – extracts of which are presented below – brings together his most significant projects with previously unpublished photography and new commentary from leading academics to produce a comprehensive analysis of the qualities that came to define him as one of the greatest architects of the 20th century.

Published by Prestel, The Essential Louis Kahn includes previously photography by Turkey-based architect and photographer Cemal Emden alongside commentary by academics Caroline Maniaque, Jale Erzen and Zekiye Abali, as well as a selection of statements by Kahn himself.


Salk Institute for Biological Studies
La Jolla, San Diego, California, 1959-65

Situated on the edge of a canyon, the SalkInstitute, a medical research laboratory, has a commanding position over the La Jolla plateau, with cliffs overlooking the PacificOcean near San Diego, California.

For this building, Kahn had many productive discussions with the virologistJonas Salk, who had developed the first effective polio vaccine a few years earlier and now planned to establish a research institute. Together they visited the Kahn-designed Richards Medical ResearchLaboratories at the University ofPennsylvania, using this earlier building as a point of reference for their new project. ButSalk’s intention was more ambitious; he is quoted by Kahn as saying that he wished to invite Picasso to the laboratories. Kahn imagined three different spaces for the scientific community at the new institute:the work areas, with laboratories and offices for the researchers; a public pavilion for conferences and cultural events; and a residential space. For financial reasons, only the laboratories were completed, in 1965.

On a vast travertine platform, two groups of buildings face the ocean; two continuous wings containing the laboratories, each with five pavilions punctuating the open central area that separates them. The central plaza is a great achievement. Like avast sundial, it emphasises the presence of the light. A narrow waterway runs through the middle towards the sea. The perpetual movement of the water, running through an elegant travertine channel, suggests continuity and eternity. The water breaks into a succession of waterfalls flowing into a series of ornamental pools below the level of the platform. All of these elements are reminiscent of the layout of the Mughal gardens that Kahn had had the opportunity to visit during his travels to India.


Indian Institute of Management
Ahmedabad, India, 1962-74

Kahn had used brick cladding in some of his earlier work, but here brick became a structural element. Local production of this material and the lower cost of labour made this choice preferable to concrete. Kahn had already demonstrated his appreciation of this simple and robust material. Indeed, in a lecture in 1973 he even imagined a dialogue between an architect and a brick:

“If you talk to a brick and ask what it likes, it’ll say it likes an arch. And you say to it, look arches are expensive and you can always use a concrete lintel to take the place of an arch. And the arch says, I know it’s expensive and I’m afraid it probably cannot be built these days, but if you ask me whatI like it’s still an arch.”

The pilasters and brick vaults and the lintels with their concrete reinforcements are structural elements that also contribute to the ornamentation of the building.

Again working with what had become an established principle for him, Kahn set the workplaces (libraries, administrative offices and classrooms) at the heart of the building, surrounding them with ever finer rings containing the student accommodation and, on the periphery, housing for the professors.

Six cubic classrooms, each in the form of an amphitheatre and 14.63 metres on each side, make up the wing of buildings grouped around a central courtyard


Sher-e Bangla Nagar
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1962-83

In 1962, the government of Pakistan contacted Kahn to ask him to design a government headquarters in Dhaka, with the National Assembly as its focal point.At the time, the state was divided into two territories, West Pakistan and East Pakistan.In 1971, as a result of conflicts with India, the eastern province finally became a separate state: Bangladesh.

Originally designed to strengthen the unity of a two-headed nation, the construction of the capitol in Dhaka resumed after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, this time celebrating the establishing of independence. As the political capital of Bangladesh, the complex consists of the National Assembly (a vast building incorporating a hemicycle, or semicircular debating chamber, a mosque, meeting rooms, offices and other areas), and two residential wings intended as accommodation for ministers and parliamentarians. This group of buildings, resembling a citadel, is surrounded by an artificial lake, its waters reflecting the concrete walls, whose joints are inlaid with white marble. The use of brick was reserved for the residential parts of the complex. The lake is occasionally used as a storm water retention pond during the monsoon season.

The National Assembly building is arranged in the form of an octagon. As with the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, here Kahn surrounded the parliamentary chamber with a rampart of smaller, separate buildings placed side by side, each with its own specific geometric shape. Inside, an interior “street” is created between the chamber in the centre and the offices located on the periphery. Perhaps because of its similarity to the cloisters of a monastery,Kahn referred to this continuous circular space as an “ambulatory


Ayub Central Hospital
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1963-74

Ayub Central Hospital is sited to the north-west of Kahn’s National Assembly building. Built in brick, it comprises a large general hospital connected to an out patient clinic. The plan is organised around a central top-lit hall, with the services arranged on the north and south edges.

Extending across the face of the building, a deep arcade punctuated with circular openings ensures the interior areas are not exposed to the heat and glare of the sun. Arches connect this to the building’s main body, creating, as Kahn’s daughter Alexandra Tyng describes it, “an arcade that catches the sunlight and shelters a second inner hallway from glare… essentially a building for living, surrounded by a building for the sun”.