The editor of Kahn at Penn: Transformative Teacher of Architecture, responds to Norman Weinstein’s review
Norman Weinstein’s book review (‘Louis Kahn, don’t stop talking!’) shortchanges the reader by focusing only on a couple of pages of Kahn at Penn: Transformative Teacher of Architecture, erroneously leading the prospective reader to conclude that I disapprove of Kahn’s unique use of language. In fact, along with the great majority of Kahn’s former students and others quoted, I readily acknowledge Kahn’s power to inspire, while at the same time allowing his critics to have their say.
It seems to be an inconvenient truth for Weinstein that Robert Venturi, Vincent Scully and some former Kahn students have criticised Kahn for what they perceive to be the intentional obfuscation of his rhetoric. Weinstein asserts that to point this out amounts to ‘oneupmanship’ and ‘catching Socrates with his toga dragging in the mud’. But as Kahn himself admitted, some of his obscurity was intentional, a way of encouraging deeper thought.
Weinstein largely ignores most of the book’s content, including the application of psychology’s insights into the role of the unconscious as a new way of understanding Kahn’s creative process. I argue that Kahn’s reliance upon poetic rather than straightforward language was not primarily a manifestation of personal insecurity, as some of his detractors have claimed. Rather, it was the result of his struggle to gain access to unconscious sources of creativity, which he sensed but never fully understood.
Weinstein is correct that this book is not hagiography. But to suggest that taken as a whole my point of view is unappreciative of Kahn’s inspiring gifts as a teacher indicates a fundamental misreading of the text.
James F. Williamson, FAIA
Associate Professor of Architecture, University of Memphis