A talk with Louis Kahn that probably did not occur


I may or may not have spoken with Louis Kahn. Late 20th century icon of American Architecture. Master of putting a square thing inside of a round thing, and a round thing inside a square thing. Also adept at adding triangular openings in the round thing or square thing, and sometimes he put a shallow arched opening in the square thing OR the round thing. He used brick AND concrete. I think he also taught. I’m not sure. It looked like him, but maybe it wasn’t him, He was really short. But, he definitely looked like an Architect. But, he smelled like old books… Regardless, we had a nice chat:


Jody: Hey Lou, I’d love to design a truly great building. What’s that like?

Louis Kahn:  A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable.

Jody: Unmeasurable? Right. Start without measuring, go a little ways then start to measure, then stop measuring again. And.. then you won’t be able to measure it anymore? I don’t get it.

Louis Kahn:  You see, Architecture is the reaching out for the truth.

Jody: Ah…. the truth that can’t be measured of course, how far do you reach? Can you use a stick? I mean to kind of poke at the truth? But isn’t there a technical side to it too? a structural element?

Louis Kahn:  Consider the momentous event in architecture when the wall parted and the column became

Jody: Consider it? You mean like right now? Ok, <looks awkwardly at ceiling with one eye closed> umm, yeah, that’s a really beautiful phrase. Soooo, how do you make a beautiful building?

Louis Kahn: Design is not making beauty, beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration, love.

Jody: Right, selection, Love, affinities, got it. And, when does self expression come into play?

Louis Kahn:  To express is to drive. And when you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And there is where Design comes in.

Jody: Consult nature, select love, that’s where the design comes in, then you create beauty, check. <scribbles notes furiously> And what material should I use?

Louis Kahn:

And if you think of Brick, for instance, and you say to Brick,

“What do you want Brick?”

And Brick says to you “I like an Arch.”

 And if you say to Brick “Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you. What do you think of that?”


Brick says: “… I like an Arch”

Jody:  ummm, All right, I guess I’ll use brick….

<backs slowly away>



{ coffee with an architect }

cover photo from V I P E Z’s photostream on Flickr – other photos from Meanest Indian’s photostream on Flickr (all used under creative commons license)