Louis Isadore Kahn

Architect | 1901-1974
Louis Kahn (right) and La Jolla-based architect Robert Mosher (left) in 1962. Photo by Roy Wieghorst

Internationally recognized for his architecture, Louis Kahn worked with Jonas Salk to develop designs for the Salk Institute between 1959-65. The project stands as a beacon to international travelers to visit La Jolla and see what is likely the most important work of 20th century architecture west of the Mississippi.

Louis Kahn (right) and La Jolla-based architect Robert Mosher (left) in 1962. Photo by Roy Wieghorst
Salk Institute. Photograph by Julius Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

Born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky in Pärnu, Louis Kahn spent his early childhood in Kuressaare on the Estonian island of Saaremaa (then part of the Russian Empire). At age 3, captivated by the light provided by coals in the stove, he placed them in his apron which caught on fire and seared his face. He carried these scars with him for the rest of his life.

In 1906, Kahn’s family immigrated to the United States, fearing that his father would be recalled into the military during the Russo-Japanese War. According to his son's 2003 documentary, My Architect, the family could not afford pencils but made their own charcoal sticks from burnt twigs so that Louis could earn a little money from drawings and later by playing piano to accompany silent movies. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1914. His father changed their name in 1915.

After completing his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1924, Kahn worked as senior draftsman in the office of City Architect John Molitor. In 1928, Kahn made a European tour and took a particular interest in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne. After returning to the States in 1929, Kahn worked in the offices of Paul Philippe Cret, his former studio critic at the University of Pennsylvania, and in the offices of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary in Philadelphia. Kahn established his own office in 1935.

From 1957 until his death, he was a professor of architecture at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. Famous for his meticulously built works, his provocative unbuilt proposals, and his teaching, Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century.

Partial List of Projects

Adler, Francis House (1955)
Montgomery County, PA

Clever House, Fred E. and Elaine C. (1957-1962)
417 Sherry Way, Cherry Hill NJ

Devore, Weber House (1954)
Montgomery County, PA

Ehle House (1948)
Merion Township, PA
Designed with Abel Sorensen

Erdman Hall Dormitories (1960)
Bryn Mawr College, Morris Avenue, Bryn Mawr PA

Esherick, Margaret House (1959)
204 Sunrise Lane, Philadelphia PA

Esherick, Wharton Esherick Studio (1956)
1520 Horseshoe Trail, Malvern PA

FDR Monument (2012)
Roosevelt Island, New York City

Finklestein, Lea and Arthur Addition (1942)
645 Overhill Road, Ardmore, PA

Fisher, Norman & Doris House (1960-67)
197 East Mill Road, Hatboro PA

Fleisher House (1959)
Elkins Park, PA

Fruchter House (1954)
New Rochelle, NY

Genel, Samuel House (1951)
201 Indian Creek Road, Wynnewood PA

Goldenberg House (1959)
Rydal, PA

Greenbelt Knoll Project (1956)
1-19 Longford Street, Philadelphia, PA

Honickman House (1971)
Whitemarsh Township, PA

Hooper House Addition (1946)
Baltimore, MD

Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban (National Assembly Building)
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Korman, Steven House (1971)
6019 Sheaff Lane, Fort Washington PA

Morris House (1958)
Mount Kisco, NY

Oser, Jesse House (1940)
628 Stetson Road, Elkins Park, PA

President's Estate (1966)
Islamabad, Pakistan

Roche, Phillip Q. House (1947-49)
2101 Harts Lane, Conshohocken, PA

Salk Institute (1959-65)
10010 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla

Sherman, Jacob House (1950)
414 Sycamore Avenue, Merion PA

Stern House (1970)
Washington, DC

Tompkins House (1949)
Germantown, PA

Weiss, Morton (Bubby) and Lenore House (1950)
2935 Whitehall Road, Norristown PA