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Louis Kahn Power of Architecture Journey Continues in Philly

Do you feel like your life is made up of serendipitous events? It often feels that way to me. A month ago while fact checking a reference for my Louis Kahn Pilgrimage blog post, Google brought up The Fabric Workshop Museum (FWM) website. On it, a special event associated with the Louis Kahn Power of Architecture exhibit, was listed. William Whitaker, curator, University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives and co-author, The Houses of Louis Kahn would be leading a tour of 2 Kahn residences - the Fisher House in Hatsboro and the Esherick House in Chestnut Hill.

I sent the link to my fellow docent at the Salk, who immediately said "I'm going!" It wasn't a practical time for me to travel from San Diego to Philadelphia, so I thought she could travel and guest post the experience on my blog. However - after sleeping on the idea, I decided, practical or not, that I had to do it. After all, when would I get the chance to visit these private residences and with such a knowledgeable tour guide?

Recall that I had followed the exhibit across 3 cities - Bellevue, WA, San Diego (my hometown) and Fort Worth, TX. Now, it would be at it's final stop - Philadelphia, a most appropriate place to exhibit as it is the city where Louis Kahn lived, practiced architecture and taught.

Plans were made to fly on a Friday, take the tour Saturday and return to San Diego Sunday. We'd stay near Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia within walking distance of the FWM.  After arrival and dinner Fri., we decided to walk to FWM to get our bearings so that Sat. we'd not feel stressed.

The weather was a tad humid, but temperatures nice and we were rewarded with a lovely video display, the perfect experience to set the stage for the tour!

Saturday morning, we arrived nice and early, managing to get seats up front on the bus. The photo below shows us seated by our guide William Whitaker.

Kahn designed more than 30 houses during his lifetime, nine of which were built in the Philadelphia area for private clients. All nine are still standing. The 2 that we visited are both part of the National Trust with protective easements to ensure the properties' preservation. 

The articles on the National Trust for Preservation site describes what it's like to live in the Fisher House and the Esherick House  and contain photos of the interiors. For our visit we were allowed to take photos of the exteriors, but not the interiors as the homes are private residences. Stunning as the exteriors are, the interiors are truly remarkable with the play of light through the windows, ever changing as the day progresses. I can easily imagine spending a whole day indoors spent on a window seat experiencing the natural views outside and the changing light and shadows in the interior.

The Fisher House (1967)

While Kahn was designing high-profile buildings (the Phillips Exeter Academy Library and the Salk Institute), he still loved to create houses for the right clients. Kahn spent four years designing the Fisher house which then took another 3 years to build. The home is beautifully simple: two connecting cubes—one for sleeping and the other for living—set at a 45-degree angle from one another. In addition to the house, the pictures show a Kahn designed tool shed to the left as you view the house and a Kahn designed bridge added later. As mentioned before, I have no interior photos, but feel the need to mention the rough plaster walls in the Fisher house that catch the light so uniquely.

Native natural materials are used for the exterior. The lower walls are constructed of a local limestone known as Montgomeryville stone and the upper walls are clad in vertical cypress siding.

Esherick House (1961)

The Esherick house was commissioned by Margaret Esherick, a book seller, in 1959 and completed in 1961. Its copper and wood kitchen was created by Wharton Esherick a nationally know craftsman and artist who was her uncle as well as a friend of Kahn. It is a single-bedroom house (2500 sq feet) - flat-roofed and rectangular with its long side facing the street. The primary building material is concrete block with stucco facing. 

There a so many details of the architecture, all of which can be read about at the link. A highlight of the living room, which occupies all of the house to the right of the front door, is the built-in bookcase that reaches up to the horizontal window at the second story.

On the upper floor (left of the front door), the bedroom runs the full width of the house from front to rear. The bathtub is located in an area that contains a fireplace. The bathtub has a sliding wooden cover that can be pulled over it to convert it into a seating area beside the fireplace.

The Power of Architecture Exhibit

After the home tour completed, we had a chance to step through the exhibit which occupied floors 1, 2 and 8 at FWM. I enjoyed the walking through the gallery spaces and viewing again old favorites of the models and sketches. It's interesting to experience an exhibit in different venues and I appreciated the manner it was displayed here. 

1501 Walnut St.

Of course, our trip would not be complete without a stop at 1501 Walnut St. Today there is a sign nearby. It's brief description states "Kahn redefined architecture through his use of mass, light, and structure. A Penn professor, his office was here."