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“The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn” To Be Reissued in a New Facsimile Edition

The influential modern architect called this 1962 publication his favorite book about his work.

By Steve Kroeter September 30, 2020

We are pleased and honored to announce that Designers & Books will be reissuing The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn, edited by Richard Saul Wurman and Eugene Feldman.

To learn more, we invite you to visit The Louis I. Kahn Facsimile Project website, which provides all the key details about the forthcoming exact reproduction of Notebooks and Drawings. Originally issued in 1962, the book was one of the earliest public acknowledgments of the genius of architect Louis Kahn (1901–74) and the first book to present Kahn’s work in his own hand. He called this his favorite book about his work.

 

Homepage of The Louis I. Kahn Facsimile Project by Designers & Books.

The facsimile will be accompanied by a Reader’s Guide that will include a wide array of material about the original book specifically and Kahn generally, most of which has not been published previously.

Collaborators on this Project will be Richard Saul Wurman, Nathaniel Kahn (Louis I. Kahn’s son), and William Whitaker of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania, assisted by the generous support of Steven and Larry Korman.

Here is how it all got started.

It was a bold and provocative idea by the 25-year-old, first-time author to propose it. It was a surprising and trusting decision by the 59-year-old architect to agree to it. So it happened that Louis Kahn allowed Richard Saul Wurman, along with his partner, Eugene Feldman (1921–75), to dream up and publish a completely new kind of architectural monograph—one that married simple, meaningful words to simple, arresting images, all elegantly presented in a generously oversized folio.

Detail of a 1956 study for center city in Philadelphia, ink on tracing paper, from The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn.

The year was 1962, and Kahn—whose designs include the Kimbell Art Museum, the Salk Institute, and Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park—was at that point still not extensively published. Wurman had had Kahn as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's architecture school and was currently working in Kahn’s downtown Philadelphia office. Convinced that Kahn had a unique vision that would someday be widely recognized, Wurman proposed his book project idea. In a highly unusual move, he told Kahn that while everything in the book would be from Kahn, Wurman wanted to choose, with no involvement from the architect, what would be included.

Kahn surprised even Wurman, and agreed. And that’s the way The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn was born—the book that became Kahn’s favorite about his work.

The first edition of Notebooks and Drawings was released by Feldman’s publishing firm, Falcon Press, in December 1962. The book consisted of 96 pages (showing 76 drawings), and was 15 inches tall and 11.25 inches wide, with cream-colored linen front and back covers. The front cover was gold embossed with four stylized trees, a detail from a Kahn drawing (number 27 in the book). There were four three-page gatefolds. The first 175 copies were signed by Kahn.

Front and back covers of The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn.

The sales information that was issued included this description:

This book is a collection of drawings by a master architect—Louis I. Kahn. The vigor and perception manifest in his buildings and teachings are mirrored in his conceptual drawings. The book is divided into two sections. The first is a group of sketches produced during his European travels, here reproduced actual size. The second section consists of early sketches as well as finished renderings of Lou Kahn's buildings and visions. They are arranged as close to chronological order as overlapping projects allow. The text is based largely on transcriptions of Lou Kahn's unpublished speeches during the past three years. We have edited these speeches, whereupon Lou Kahn completely reworked this copy from the spoken to the written word. There also are selections from his Voice of America broadcast, Universal Atlas Cement Company folder, the Museum of Modern Art booklet on the Richards Medical Building as well as an introduction written for this book.

The print run of 1,800 copies was widely admired and sold out quickly.

In 1973, a second edition of the book was issued, this time by MIT Press. The print run was 3,000 copies. The key distinguishing characteristic of this edition was the addition of a letter by Kahn to Wurman and Feldman. Dated June 15, 1973, it runs some 530 words and includes Kahn's comment,

“My remark that structure is the giver of light is hereby recalled.”

Discovering the original two editions of this book was both eye-opening and motivating: eye-opening to realize that in the past there had been a different, elegant, simplified approach to the architectural monograph; motivating because both editions of the book were long out of print, and copies were quite hard to find.

Detail of a 1957 sketch for the Richards Medical Reserach Building at the University of Pennsylvania, pencil on tracing paper, from The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn

Richard, it turns out, is not generally a fan of reprints. His idea for books is you print what you need to, release those copies out into the world, and then move along to the next project. So he did not respond favorably to my initial proposal to create a facsimile edition of the 45-year-old Notebooks and Drawings. What changed his mind was the concept of including a Reader’s Guide, as was done when Designers & Books published a facsimile of Depero Futurista (The Bolted Book). He liked the idea of having an additional, supplementary, companion volume to the facsimile that would not only celebrate and contextualize the material in Notebooks and Drawings but would also provide the opportunity to add new thoughts and insights about Kahn.

In addition to Richard’s, the Reader’s Guide to Notebooks and Drawings will include contributions from a wide variety of others with close connections to Kahn. There will be a piece from Kahn’s son, Nathaniel, who directed the Academy Award-nominated film My Architect. There will be extensive written and visual material from William Whitaker of the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, including some work previously unpublished and unseen by anyone except a few fortunate curators. Paul Goldberger will provide insights into Kahn’s work and also comment on the unusual circumstances he faced when writing Kahn’s obituary for the New York Times, aware as he (and almost everyone else) was of only a small part of the story of Kahn’s personal life. Steven and Larry Korman will write about being Kahn’s last residential client—and what it is like to live in a Kahn-designed house. Thumbnails of all the drawings in Notebooks and Drawings will be included, with extensive annotation about each one. And much more.

Special Offer: Join The Louis I. Kahn Facsimile Project

We will be launching Notebooks and Drawings on Kickstarter. The facsimile will be based on the second edition of Notebooks and Drawings, to take advantage of the opportunity to include Kahn’s letter to Richard and Eugene.

Join The Louis Kahn Facsimile Project’s mailing list and receive priority notice of the Kickstarter launch, including a special invitation to become a “Gold Backer” of the Project, which entitles you to one of the limited number of copies of the facsimile signed by Richard Saul Wurman and Nathaniel Kahn.

We look forward to sharing this unique publication with you.

Louis I. Kahn in Rabat, Morocco, c. 1974. Henry Wilcots Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania.

 

Visit The Louis I. Kahn Facsimile Project and view the entire book

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