Kahn

In a recent interview in the Huffington Post, Boston architectural critic Robert Campbell makes a striking comment: “Since the death of Kahn way back in the 1970s I’m not sure we have a figure of comparable standing.” When I read this I was at first taken aback. Kahn is one of the great American architects, up there with Mies, Wright, Richardson, and Jefferson, but in forty years have there really been no successors? On reflection, I think Campbell is right. No one in Kahn’s generation—not Saarinen, Rudolph, or Pei—quite measures up. Certainly not that great dilettante, Philip Johnson. The most prominent—and most talented—American architect practicing today is probably Frank Gehry, yet he does not bear comparison either. Kahn struggled mightily with the essence of building, but Gehry seems to be on a personal quest. One can admire his skill, but his journey seems too quixotic, too eccentric. While he teaches (at Yale), unlike Kahn, he is not perceived as a “great teacher.” Like Wright, Kahn could be frustratingly opaque in his pronouncements, yet he likewise influenced a generation of American architects. We are still awaiting his successor.

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