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Abstract

Discuss about the 20th Century Architecture for Social and Development Sciences.

This assignment discusses the impact of Robert Venturi and Luis Kahn in the postmodern architecture of America. These two-genius helped to shape the path of architecture’s history that the postmodern architects and designers along with planners experienced the expansion of new architectural styles. These two geniuses were the complementary for each other. One followed the path of practical works and another theoretical writing which compelled the contemporary designers to think about the American-built environment. The essence of natural light in the architectural fashion and responsible use of it was the chief focus of both Venturi and Kahn. They effect the works of each other also though Kahn was mostly influenced by the theories of Venturi. This paper concludes with the role of these two architect’s manipulative ideas in the flourishment of new style in the field of architecture. 

The 20th century architecture has its own unique philosophy when the expressionist architects started to rebel against the functionalistindustrial style of structures of the modernist architecture. These expressionist architectures preferred highly articulated and more sinuous formswhich included spirals, curves and non-symmetricalelements. These structures had expressive values of particular materials and they are widely emphasized. Among the pioneers of this styles, Robert Venturi and Luis Kahn can be named. Both of them helped to shape the path that the 20th century architects and planners experience the expansion of architectural styles. Through his practical works and theoreticalwritings, he made the designers think about the American-built environment. However, Venturi and Kahn had influenced each other through more dynamic exchange of ideas. Youthful Venturi contributed on elder Kahn and his works became more matured leading to distinct signature architecture. Venturi in his explained the importance of natural light as an element of architecture that influence the building both positively and negatively. As discussed inThe Possibility of an Absolute Architecture byPier Vittorio Aureli a perfected formal consciousness in the architecture is the precondition for cultural, political and social engagement which can be clearly viewed in the works of with the city.

The subject of architectural treatments of the natural light as well as layering of the designare closely related. This is the reason why the two architects had a critical point of view on these two aspects of architecture. In this context Turner has pointed out that the natural light has become one of the most apparentelement in the design and planning of buildings which was not in vogue before. Venturi hadfocused on the potentiality of the natural lightings in the designs as well as analyzed the problemsof this kind of light in the culture of architecture. This topic was incorporated in the theoretical discussion of this architecture and in his teachings also. This genius had outlined the theoretical framework of treating natural light in distinctive terms through his lectures, essay, statements to press and panel discussions. Though these medium Venturi had spoken about the role of nature in this designing and using natural light in the architecture. To him, natural light gives opportunity to use it both positives as well as negative ways which an artificial light can never give. The potential of natural light is so intense that the architect can perform certain services relating to utilize the space efficiently. Proper knowledge and skill of handling natural light helps the architectto effectively construct what he tries to do and perform the functions he tries to accommodate. To venturi, the general source of light in a room is window which is constant and agreed upon since very early age. This is why Venturi has admitted that though the windows are the general devices for light to enter, but these can be of many shapes. The function of light to Venturi is the medium of creation of space and symbol of indication, therefore, he does not call the source as window. He neither calls it the purpose illuminationas he thinks the function of illuminating a space limits the potential of natural light by only analyzing the creation of light and its contribution in the illumination process. 

Robert Venturi: Focus on Natural Light


Louis Kahn is the practitioner of what venturi had theorized in this essay and lectures. He mastered the art of using natural light in the same way Venturi aimed to design. He did not use light as the surface effect but as the chief means of shaping the spaces. In this aspect the architect has mentioned his love and attraction for window is unmatchable because to him it is the only element of the room that is the most marvelous. To him, it is the element that captures the slice of sun from morning to night and season after season which affect the rage of moods of the people living there. Kahn defines his philosophy of light quite differently from the analysis of Venturi. This is because Kahn was more an artist than academic like Venturi and he is more eloquent with his materials and drawings than words.This is the reason why his analysis of natural light is much more paired and ambiguous. His perspectivecaptures the opposites of mass and void, servants and the served and light as well as shadow.

As evident from the projects by Venturi and Kahn it can be stated that these projects directly and implicitly relate their ideologies and perspectives regarding natural light in the architecture. The projects like Vanna Venturi House by Venturi and Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban by Kahn can be perfect examples of their desire to weave perfect balance of light and shadow by their own unique ways.Vanna Venturi House is an example of post-modern architecture located in Philadelphia. It was constructed by Venturi for his mother between 1962 to 1964. It is a five-roomhouse that stands about 30 feet tall at the top of chimney. This building has a monumental formfaçade. This effect is achieved by intentionally manipulating architectural elements which often indicate the building’s scale. Here the architecture has used the hole in the wall windows which directly opposes the traditional orthodox ideology of the modern architectures. His book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture is an open challenge to this orthodoxy which incur support fromnumerous critics who termed this masterpiece of Venturi as the biggest small building of the second half of the twentieth century.

Louis Kahn designed the complex of Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, the parliament of Bangladesh. This building consists of the lawns, lakes and the residences for the MPs. The key philosophy of this particular design is to represent the culture of the country as well as its heritage in one hand and optimizing the utilization of the space. The simplicity of this building’s exterior has a striking feature. The huge walls are deeply recessed by the large openings with regular geometric shapes and porticoes. This building is divided into three parts presidential plaza, south plaza and main plaza. The main building is situated at the center of the complex. There is n artificial lake which surrounds the three edgesof theJatiya Sangsad Bhaban’s main building. This gives the essence of the natural beauty of Bangladesh and adds to aesthetic value of the site. The main building design includes eight individual blocks surrounding one octagonal block. These are consisted of different functional spaces with different levels that are inter-linked vertically and horizontally by corridors, stairs,lifts, light courts along with circular areas.Kahn has designed the entire structure to intermingle into single and non-differentiable unit which will be appearingas a single storyfrom the exterior. 

Luis Kahn: Mastering the Art of Natural Light


Each architect adopts his point of view of emphasizing on natural light in hisown project. Venturi’s mother’s house is a masterpiece which went against the accepted norms of architecture in the modern age. This building is said to be one of the 10 designs that changed the perspectives of the American architects. In this piece the creator has used hybrid elements rather than pure. The design is compromising more than clear and much distorted than to be straight forward. The style of this building has a messy vitality over an obvious unity. The design of this house is full of ambiguity where the creator has incorporateda diverse group of individual elements into one. From the outside if the house, the most prominent element is the large front façade which is split into two triangles though the gap in the middle revealing an asymmetricalchimney which sits back from the front of the house. The large cutout of the exterior entry has been made to feel larger by the shallow depth and smaller front door concealed within it. As mentioned before the source of light here is the windows and the architect here has used proficient use of windows of many sizes. In the center near the main entrance, one can find two windows allowing profuse natural light. These windows are situatedbased on the functionality of the interior. The upstairs bedroom of the house has an archshaped balcony doors and bedroom windowsattached with each other which allows natural light profusely into the room. The kitchen is not exception, where there is a modernistribbon window allowing natural light to enter the kitchen and a square window attached in the bathroom making the best optimization of the space. The horizontal and lateral walls in the storage places, bedrooms and kitchens rise up to form awkward angle which createscope for natural light to enter and playcreating more contradiction and complexity. Not only the windows, but the doors of the house also, are the medium though which the lights enter the house. These doors are wide but low in height contrasting the grandness to the entrance. The light from the doors playa vitalrole is extracting the actual size of the rooms. There is a contrast of light and shadow in each roomforked by the oversized lunette windows as well as wider doors. Though proper utilization of natural lights, the architect has exaggerated as well as minimized the circulation space in the design of the rooms and hid the minimum subdivisions between the large distinct rooms. By using glass walls the architect has madethe exterior walls both screens and walls which also served to be medium to allow more natural light in the rooms. The eastern glass wall has been recessed to form the covered yard which is screened by back wall. Similarly, the same idea has been used for the upstairs bedroom on the western side of this house.

Projects and Examples

Unlike the lesser architecture where the importance of lights is often afterthought and take isolated aspect of the whole design, Kahn’s planning brings the elements of light in the forefront of the creation. Kahn’s project of Bangladesh’s Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban or the assembly the architecthas introduced the light-giving elements to interior of itsdesign. All the elements used have their different connotationsassociated with light and shades. The architecture says that his choice of columnsis the choice of light. These columns in the assembly of the main plaza are solid frames creating spaces for light. In all his works, Kahn have used the natural light as the DNA of the structure and used it to be the most vital characterizesto locate, use, structure, ideas of place and scale the height. This perspective of the creator can be seen in his plan which is not only the diagram of the structure but a poem having rhythm of light andshades. Inthis structure of Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, the architecture has demonstrated his structure decision to be the decision of light. This building is a search for comprehensivearchitectural balance and order that address space, structure and light.After exploiting all these elements, he focused on the materials of the structure as well as the surface but all of these also respond the light and atmosphere of the region. In this respect the architect’s archetypal forms can be related to the Greek architectures which he states to have contributing factors in his ideology of playing with light and shadow. The columns which can be found abundantly in the creatingof this architecture are the chief tools to create this marvel of light and shadow. To him, the columns are in that part where there is no light and the spaces between where the light is. The element of light is obviously central to the philosophy of Kahn which he regards as the giver of all presence. To him all the living objects of the earth are made of light and have their own rhythm. Kahn believedthat the dark shadow is also the effect of absence of light. For him, the glimpses of light clarified the levels of darkness. To Kahn the plan of the building must be read like the harmony of the spaces in the light. However, even the spaces intended to remain dark must have a just enough lights from some of the mysterious opening for telling how dark the place really is. As the result, the light as a source is often hidden behind louvers or secondary walls, thus concentrating attention on the effect of the light and not on its origin.  

Conclusion


The intersection designing for natural light between the two projects for the two different architects demonstrate that both these architects have similar focusing area in creating the masterpieces. The attempt to bright and dark contrast discloses their knack to use the natural lights instead of artificial one. Natural light plays a significant role in architecture and both Kahn and Venturi were probably the first ones in the modern century who realized its importance.

The National Parliament House built by Kahn in Bangladesh and the Vanna Venturi House built by Venturi in America although are distant in both time and lace of construction, intersect in ideas. Kahn’s Parliament House shows increased use of columns and walls that allow spaces for natural light to enter. Venturi’s Vanna House also has increased use of overhead day lighting that gives a serene touch to it (Appendix C).

The designing of the Mother’s House is such that it contradicts all the elements of the modernist architecture and paves way for postmodernism (Appendix D). Postmodernism in architecture is characterized by the increased focus on and use of natural light while designing buildings. The National Parliament House is a strong and evident example of postmodern architecture where Kahn himself stated that he wanted to give it a poetic touch. Here, the ideas of the two architects also seem to intersect or rather influenced by one another. Venturi also believed designs that allowed for simple and smooth flow of lights. Therefore, it is easily visible in both architects’ work that their ideas of designing for natural light intersected.

The National Parliament House in Bangladesh, known in native language as the Jatiya Sangsad Bhavan is one of the many masterpieces designed by Luis Kahn. The building is filled with instances of the use of natural light. While designing the building, Kahn made sure that it represents the culture and heritage of Bangladesh. This thought of Kahn’s can be attributed to Robert Venturi because Kahn had limited inclination towards historical and cultural significance of architecture during his early works. It was Venturi who directly and indirectly influenced Kahn to divert from the “International School dogma”.

While designing the building, Kahn laid special emphasis on the use of natural light, which is visible from the interior of the building (Appendix A).. He made a series of columns that paved the way for natural light to enter and create a visual beauty by its own (Appendix B). This is evidently influenced by the 1965 University of Pennsylvania lecture by Robert Venturi where he emphasizes on the use of light that “serves to illuminate space”. Kahn, while describing the design of the building also states he intended to use light to such a degree that is turns into a poetic unit that possesses its own splendor outside of its position in the composition. As evident from his explanation, Kahn drew lot of inspiration from the early works and thoughts of Venturi, who deviated from modernism, which he thought, had no value for light. It was either the absence of wall or the absence of windows.

References

Robert Venturi’s one of the most renowned structures was the Vanna Venturi House, which he designed in the year spanning 1959 to 1964. The house was built by Venturi for his mother and hence it was popular as “Mother’s House”. The very structure of the house was an opposition of the modernist views of architecture that focused only on banal and mundane flat structures. Venturi believed in using elements that deviated from the pure and concentrated on hybrid. He designed the house in such a way that the light found enough space to enter and play on its own splendor.

As Venturi himself had confessed, the initial design of the Mother’s House was heavily influenced by Luis Kahn. The use of diagonal elements that allowed the natural light to enhance the visual splendor of the house was also inspired by Kahn’s work, especially the Shawn Townhouse built by him in 1957. Similar to the Townhouse, Venturi included the double- hung windows in his work that further enhanced the influence of the natural light. However, it needs mentioning that the overhead lighting through the big chimney was Venturi’s own idea that had been derived from his previous experiences. Kahn’s later works largely show this influence. The Shaw Townhouse had many elements of natural light through its use of the double-hung windows that inspired Mother’s House by Venturi but Kahn himself was then not interested nor aware of the value of natural light in architecture. It was Venturi who changed his perception and which is reflected in his later works.

As discussed in the previous section, both Kahn and Venturi had remarkable influence on each other. Venturi was younger to Kahn in both age and experience but had a completely different and fresh view on architecture detached from Kahn. Louis Kahn, on the other, although was much senior to Venturi, but his later works were mostly inspired by him.

In his initial years, Louis Kahn was more interested in medieval architecture, which he witnessed during his trip to Europe in the late 1920s. Kahn’s earlier works also display his close affiliation with the ideals of the International School that viewed history as having no role to play in architecture. Kahn demonstrated no interest in the relevance of history, the layered space or the use of natural light or even complexities and contradictions with which Venturi had so much obsession. However, Venturi’s association with Kahn during 1953-54 when he joined Kahn’s office in Pennsylvania and his consequent separation in 1964 led to marked change in Kahn’s style. The later works of Kahn like that of the Parliament House in Bangladesh or the Yale University Art Gallery, all reflected Venturi’s poetic influence on Kahn as these structures had great similarities with the early works of Venturi. Some scholars and close associates of Kahn ad Venturi even state that Venturi was the one who had liberated Kahn from the shackles of the monotonous works of modernist architecture. According to Johnson, Venturi helped Kahn renew his perceptions about history from his early visits to Europe and induce that in his works. This had a major role to play in Kahn’s development as an aesthetic architect.

Robert Venturi used to idolize Kahn not just as a great architect but also as his mentor. Most of his earlier works like that of his most famous Mother’s House have evidence of this influence. The two shared a good bond until 1964 when Venturi was ultimately disillusioned by Kahn. During a 1964 public lecture, Venturi discovered that Kahn represented his ideas precisely and claimed those to be his own. After this, Venturi separated from Kahn and developed his career. In an interview in 2017, Venturi spoke extensively about his disillusionment with Louis Kahn and how he felt betrayed by the person he once used to admire. Although Venturi was in some ways betrayed by Kahn, this betrayal also led to his development as an architect. Kahn had initial influence on Venturi’s work especially his final model of the Mother’s House where he included the double-hung window inspired by Kahn’s Shaw Townhouse work. In the later years, Kahn had an indirect influence on Venturi’s development as an architect as he witnessed his mentor inspired by his work, although never acknowledging it. This was a sort of moral victory and appreciation for Venturi.

More than Kahn, Venturi had a larger influence that has never been acknowledged by Kahn. He used to claim himself to be a Lone Genius. However, it is evident from the works and theories of both the architects that they had a significant role to play in each other’s development.

In the end, it has to be stated that Venturi’s ideas about architecture and designing for natural light had more influence on Kahn than Kahn’s ideas on Venturi. Kahn all through his life had believed that he is the Lone Genius who is responsible for bringing revolution in the field of architecture but the truth is that he had assistance from and influence of many of his juniors. Kahn and Venturi’s ideas intersected on other points as well for instance, both admired the historical essence in architecture although Kahn realized it through Venturi. The question in the end remains whether Kahn and Venturi could have worked together to produce genius designs for natural light. 

References:

Aureli, Pier Vittorio. The possibility of an absolute architecture. MIT press, 2011.

Brown, Robert. 2018. "My Disillusionment With Louis Kahn". Web Of Stories. https://www.webofstories.com/play/robert.venturi.and.denise.scott.brown/52.

Choudhury, Bayezid Ismail, Peter Armstrong, and Paul Jones. "JSB as Democratic Emblem and Urban Focal Point: The Imagined Socio-Political Construction of Space." Journal of Social and Development Sciences 4, no. 6 (2013): 294.

Costanzo, Denise. "Text, Lies and Architecture: Colin Rowe, Robert Venturi and Mannerism." The Journal of Architecture18, no. 4 (2013): 455-473.

Goldberger, Paul. 2018. "Beyond The Master's Voice". Nytimes.Com. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/13/magazine/beyond-the-master-s-voice.html.

Johnson, Eugene J., and Michael J. Lewis. Drawn from the source: the travel sketches of Louis I. Kahn. Williamstown, MA: Williams College Museum of Art, 1996.

Ksiazek, Sarah. "Architectural Culture in the Fifties: Louis Kahn and the National Assembly Complex in Dhaka." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 52, no. 4 (1993): 416-435.

Ley, David. "Modernism, postmodernism and the struggleforplace." The Power of Place (RLE Social & Cultural Geography): Bringing Together Geographical and Sociological Imaginations (2014).

Mattsson, Helena. "Revisiting Swedish Postmodernism: Gendered Architecture and Other Stories." Konsthistorisktidskrift/Journal of Art History 85, no. 1 (2016): 109-125.

Muratovski, Gjoko. "Urban Branding: The Politics of Architecture." Design Principles & Practice: An International Journal 6, no. 1 (2012).

Turner, Tony. City as landscape: a post post-modern view of design and planning. Taylor & Francis, 2014.

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