Louis Kahn, an architect from Saaremaa, searched for beauty and wonder in architecture.
There is a global cult of Louis Kahn, claimed Richard Saul Wur- man, Kahn’s student at the University of Pennsylvania. Wur- man is known as the initiator of TED Talks and the publisher of numerous city atlases and although he is sceptical of cults, he claims to be a member of that particular cult.
This statement is a rather apt description of the attitude to Louis Kahn (1901–1974) among the architects and architecture lovers of many countries. Kahn was born on Saaremaa and is considered one of the most influential 20th century architects in the world. Kahn rather considered himself an artist, or perhaps a poet.
Today’s rational people are unable to comprehend all the unfath- omable aspects related to the personality and work of Louis Kahn. In his famous lecture at the Aspen Design Conference in 1972, Louis Kahn spoke at a slow pace, pausing for thought and emphasising certain words, so that listeners drifted into a world of ideas: “From the first dealings of beauty… from the first sense of it… and that of wonder which follows it.”
Louis Kahn often talked about beginnings. Architecture research- ers associate that with his trips to Europe and places considered to be the beginning of world architecture (Ancient Egypt) or the beginning of Western architecture (Ancient Greece).
However, if we listen carefully, we can believe that the architect also encoded his own beginning into the keyword ‘beginning’. All those beauties and wonders noticed by a small child who per- ceives nature and the environment while still in a pre-word state. Louis Kahn and his family lived in Kuressaare until he was 5 years old. His father worked as a clerk at the castle and his hobby was glass painting. The father emigrated to America in 1903 and the mother followed with their three children in 1906. Louis Kahn claimed that in 1928 he visited Riga and Saaremaa, then as a young architect. His grandmother Lina lived there and he most probably had to revisit the castle in Kuressaare, which had left a strong impression on his visual memory from childhood.
One of the last commissions by Louis Kahn in 1973–74 was the Four Freedoms Park built on an island in the New York East River.
Louis Kahn combined nature and a thick-walled open structure so that people could see the metropolis, the flowing river and the sunrise through spaces in the walls.
When we come back to the ‘cult’ associated with Louis Kahn, it is entirely unfathomable how the architect’s main work, the Bangladesh Parliament House in Dhaka was completed in 1962– 1982. The world’s poorest country laid the foundations for the idea of a future independent state, symbolised by its Parliament House. Louis Kahn chose concrete and marble as the building materials, thus combining a low (cheap) material and a high (expensive) material. The swampy ground underneath the build- ing first had to be drained. The building was erected using human effort, just like the Kuressaare Bishopric Castle and the medieval churches of Saaremaa were built in the 14th century. The construction of the parliament building was suspended for polit- ical reasons in 1971 when Dhaka was bombed. As seen from the air, the half-finished building looked like a pointless heap of ruins not worth wasting bombs on.
Louis Kahn himself did not see the completion of the Four Freedoms Park on the New York island or the Dhaka Parliament House surrounded by its defence moat. We cannot ask him what kind of impression the natural world of Saaremaa and the medieval architecture left on his life and work.
But may it remain unfathomable and mysterious, it is, nevertheless clear upon closer investigation that the same words apply to Saaremaa – beauty and wonder.
Focusing on Rare Plants
„Nothing grows in Saaremaa but junipers and pines,” is a line from a song that paints a rather skewed picture…
Home: Ansuvälja 2.0
The family of Eva-Lisa and Ain Kollo moved into the Ansuvälja farm – house 19 years ago. Their initial structural…
Under the Kuressaare Sun
Truly, I’ve never felt such a strong sense of peace and love for a place as I do now. Stepping…
Resort town Kuressaare
No matter how one looks at it, Kuressaare has duly earned the title of Estonia’s spa capital. We can regard…