Music
Of Architecture


Architecture is a meeting place between the measurable and the
immeasurable. The art of design is not only rooted in the aesthetic form, but in
the soul of the work. In Phenomena and Idea, Stephen Holl once wrote, " The
thinking-making couple of architecture occurs in silence. Afterward, these
"thoughts" are communicated in the silence of phenomenal experiences.
We hear the "music" of architecture as we move through spaces while
arcs of sunlight beam white light and shadow." Undoubtedly, Holl adopted
this concept from its author, Louis I. Kahn. Unquestionably, I am referring to
"Silence and Light", a concept created and nurtured by Khan, and one
that dominated the later half of his work. Kahn had chosen the word Silence to
define the immeasurable or that which has not yet come to be. According to Khan,
the immeasurable is the force that propels the creative spirit toward the
measurable, to the Light. When the inspired has reached that which is, that
which known, he has reached the Light. Eloquently expressing the architect\'s
passion for design, Khan wrote "Inspiration is the of feeling at the
beginning at the threshold where Silence and Light meet. Silence, the
immeasurable, desire to be. Desire to express, the source of new need, meets
Light, the measurable, giver of all presence, by will, by law, the measure of
thing already made, at a threshold which is inspiration, the sanctuary of art,
the treasury of shadow." Khan believed that in order for architectural
theory to be credible, it had to be constructed. Thirty years ago, Khan began
one of his most successful executions of the Silence and Light with the Library
at Phillips Exeter Academy. This New Hampshire landmark physically illustrates
and ideologically embodies many of Khan\'s concepts and incorporates many of his
beliefs, synthesizing them into a tight little package with a powerful punch.
The subtleties of materiality coupled with multiple plays of light truly embody
the spirit of Khan\'s philosophy at Exeter Academy. As Stephen Holl concisely
expresses "Architecture is born when actual phenomena and the idea that
drives it intersect…Meanings show through at this intersection of concept and
experience." It is exactly Khan\'s blending of idea and design that makes
this building a model for theoretical execution in design. The following essay
will explore the many architectural implementations of Khan\'s theories from
materials, to form, to function and to the Silence and Light. This investigation
shall probe the ideology in conjunction with its realization to the approach,
the circulation, the enclosure and the details. Additionally, the Library at
Phillips Exeter Academy shall be analyzed in relationship to his theories on
education, institutions and learning. As the quote "I asked the building
what it wanted to be" has been often attributed to Louis Khan, I shall ask
the question, "What did Khan want the building to be, and how did he
approach this challenge?" Institutions and Education Khan believed that
"Institution stems from the inspiration to live. This inspiration remains
meekly expressed in our institutions today. The three great inspirations are the
inspiration to learn, the inspiration to meet, and the inspiration for well
being". The architecture of Exeter Library captures the essence of these
inspirations, offering opportunities for all of them to blossom. Khan continued
"They all serve, really, the will to be, to express. This is, you might
say, the reason for living". It is this inspiration that enlivens the
spirits of the students, and motivates them to study and learn. I may suggest
then, that if the purpose of the institution lies within the Silence, then its
physical materialization becomes the Light. If we assume that the desire to seek
truth and universal knowledge is rooted in the Silence, then we may accept the
school building to be the Light, more precisely "spent light". Khan
believed that the first schools emerged from the Silence, from the desire to
learn. "Schools began with a man under a tree, who did not know he was a
teacher, discussing his realization with a few, who did not know they were
students. The students aspired that their sons also listen to such a man. Spaces
were erected and the first schools began." Since Khan believed the essence
of learning institutions should reflect these origins, he concluded that the
building should promote the fundamental inspiration of learning. Khan believed
that students had as much to teach as teachers, that students inspired the
teacher by their desire to be. "Teaching is an act of singularity to
singularity. It is not talking to a group. They teach you of your own
singularity, because only a singularity can