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Louis Kahn's Platonic approach to number and geometry

posted on 2023-05-22, 15:53 authored by Fleming, S

A debate in the Nexus Network Journal over the proportional aspects of Palladio's Villa Emo highlights a sticking point in the analysis of partially-documented ancient buildings. Where Lionel March (March 2001) finds no documentary evidence to warrant cloaking the Villa Emo in the gold of the golden proportion, Rachel Fletcher maintains that an accurate survey of the building as it was ultimately constructed, does reveal golden mean proportions, regardless of what the extant documentation suggests (Fletcher 2001). Doubts about on-site procedures, the relevance of surveys and certain historical evidence could fuel such a debate indefinitely. If, on the other hand, March and Fletcher were debating the proportions of a modern building, one for which dimensioned working drawings and complete office files were in existence, Fletcher would have fewer avenues to refute March's arithmetisation of geometry. In his books on the works of Le Corbusier (Gast 2000) and Louis Kahn (Gast 1998), Klaus-Peter Gast provides a lively and scholarly commentary on the works of these two great architects, accompanied by some of the author's own very revealing photographs. The two books also present a number geometrical analyses which can be compared with dimensioned working drawings and complete office correspondence held in the respective archives of these two figures. The quantity of such evidence in each of Gast's books has already been remarked upon in book reviews published by the present author (Fleming and Ostwald 2001; Fleming 1998). The current chapter is more specific in its critique, arithmetically testing some of Gast' s claims about Kahn's buildings against those buildings' known dimensions. Discrepencies between Kahn's drawings and Gast' s analysis prompt an alternative interpretation of mathematics within Kahn's work.

The discussion will focus primarily on Kahn's First Unitarian Church and School in Rochester, New York, since this building is a prime exemplar of what Kahn refers to as his "form and design" thesis. Later, it will be seen that this thesis could hold the key to Kahn's actual approach to number and geometry.


Publication title

Architecture and Mathematics from Antiquity to the Future. Volume II: The 1500s to the Future


K Williams, MJ Ostwald






School of Architecture and Design



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Copyright 2015 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

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Expanding knowledge in built environment and design

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