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Baseball, Architecture, Time, and Creativity

By Richard Saul Wurman October 18, 2022

Editors’ note: Baseball’s World Series, set to begin later this month, prompts some recollections from Richard Saul Wurman about the game and how it connects to his close relationship with the architect Louis Kahn — and to the nature of architecture and creativity.

As a freshman architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1953, Wurman first met Louis Kahn when he sat in on one of his graduate classes. After hearing Kahn talk, Wurman went home and told his parents he had just met someone who surely would become important on the world stage. Soon after he graduated, Wurman went to work in Kahn’s Philadelphia office. The two became friends, sharing meals, travel, and trips to baseball games — both were big Phillies fans.

Louis Kahn, c. 1967, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Eileen Christelow Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania. Photo: Eileen Christelow 

“On several occasions I went to baseball games to watch the Philadelphia Phillies play with Lou, Gene Feldman (the artist and printer), and Ian McHarg (the landscape architect and Penn faculty member). Quite a heady group! We occupied the box right behind first base, the best seats in the stadium. This box was the perfect place to sit around and talk, because baseball, when you sum it all up, is watching the grass grow, with lots of different times to talk to people. Time between plays. Time between pitches. Time between innings. The seventh inning stretch …

Time is literally, liberally part of the game.

The box was a perfect place, and the game was a perfect thing because we’d yell things at the players that we knew they couldn’t hear and would do them no good, but got us involved in giving free advice that was never taken.

Watch out!


No, he wasn't out!

Boo! It was a ball, not a strike!

We yelled at the umpires and players as if we were the owners.

And then we applauded — over and over again — mere competency. After all, they're supposed to hit! Every hit should have been a home run. But we’d applaud anything that was a hit. We applauded a walk. We applauded if somebody got hit by a ball. We applauded if somebody stole a base when stealing is a pejorative in our society.

I thought of this box behind first base when I was thinking of what I might say to Lou now. And I thought about how all around us are things we talk to. That we have a conversation with.

Louis I. Kahn, c. 1960. Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of
Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Lou was not taken seriously at first. In fact, people tittered and laughed at Lou when he said (now famously) that he’d had a conversation with a brick.

But they completely missed the profundity of that simple little story.

Even when he expanded it: what would I say to steel? To concrete? When he expanded it to giving speeches that nobody could understand (because he was working out this conversation with himself), or when he expanded it to making drawings so he could rub them out with the heel of his hand and begin again. Like the building was in motion: a fluidity of ideas being created, changed, and recreated, and changed again. Even when he had the arrogance to say to the sun that it didn't know how important it was, how great it was, until it hit the side of a fine building. Of one of Lou’s buildings.

So thinking about Lou, and about us in this little box at the game, I was thinking about conversations that we’d had. Conversations between friends with so much shared background, nobody else would understand what we were talking about. A shared sense of ethics, and humor. A kind of pathos and understanding. A shared love of fables and fairy-tales.

So what would I say to him now? If I’m on a desert island with Lou? I think I would want to talk about what we could learn from the sand. What does it tell us? What does our thirst tell us? What do we learn from the silence — from nothingness? What memories would we have about each of our experiences of our youth, even if he was twice my age at that time?

And that architecture, space, creativity, relationships — they are all about having that conversation in a box at a baseball game.”

Editors’ postscript
: Richard Saul Wurman says that being in a Kahn building is like having a conversation with the architect. See our list of buildings designed by Louis Kahn that are open to the public.

Phillips Exeter Academy Library, designed by Louis Kahn, opened 1971. Photo: Tadaye Nishimura 

More recollections of Louis Kahn can be found in
A Profound Scrapbook, edited by Richard Saul Wurman, the reader’s guide that accompanies our 2022 facsimile edition (produced with the Yale Center for British Art) of The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn (originally published in 1962 and edited and designed by Wurman and Eugene Feldman). Now available.

Left to right: Facsimile edition of The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn (Designers & Books/Yale Center for British Art, 2022), A Profound Scrapbook (reader’s guide), and decorative sleeve for the two-book set. Photo: Scott Kalberer


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