Kahn Tour: Time and Materials

| Sep 10, 2008
by: J. Tobias

In his oracular style, Kahn said that “material is spent light.” I think of the glowing coals as the reverse: light is spent material. Or rather, the glow is the material in the process of being spent. The word “transfix” incorporates this moment of transformation: trans (motion) plus fix (stasis).

Did I learn that as a child, Kahn used this coal for drawing, for lack of other material? (Paging a volunteer fact checker–I think it’s in My Architect). His use of soft charcoal (and carpenter pencil) is also well known. With this ever mutable powder, he could explore an idea and wipe it away in an instant, or push it around with his fingers like a sculptor with clay. See, for example, his perspective of the unbuilt Mikveh Israel Synagogue (1961).

Perhaps it’s no accident that Rodin is a recurring theme in Kahn’s biography and article. He writes, “The drawings this great sculptor made took form with his eye on the final results in stone.”

In situ drawing, on the other hand, deals with the final results, the (literally) concrete. Here materials spend light on actual mass and volume. The hard lines and colored washes of my tour sketches try to reflect this.

During the tour someone quoted…someone…who said that Kahn worked on a project until he got fired. In this spirit, his drawings are not so much unfinished as transfixed.

Image: Jennifer Tobias. Trenton Bath House (1954-1959).

Rodin quote from Louis Kahn. “The Value and Aim in Sketching.” T-Square Club Journal of Philadelphia. May 1931, 18-21.

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