Art Buzz February 3, 2012: Louis Kahn: Can You Tell An Architect Is Jewish By His Style of Building?

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Can You Tell An Architect Is Jewish By His Style of Building?

Source: Philly Curbed, 2-3-12

mikvehint.gif

Louis Kahn’s illustration of his design for Mikveh Israel via Louis I. Kahn Archives at Penn

Professor of Visual Studies at California College of the Arts Mitchell Schwarzer reviews Gavriel Rosenfeld‘s latest book, Building After Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust—and finds its “shaky thesis” is largely unsubstantiated. Rosenfeld claims that American Jewish architects in the 20th-century architecture have been markedly influenced by their Jewish identity, creating a “new Jewish architecture.”

Schwarzer is unconvinced. He assesses a few of the architects profiled—like Louis Kahn—and sees little evidence of Jewish thematics in their work.

Schwarzer writes:

It is only when the book reaches Louis Kahn that readers are asked to detect, and then only slightly, a Jewish building sensibility. Yet where does Kahn’s architecture show that sensibility? … We read that Kahn, though not a practicing Jew, visited Israel. This correlation seems a stretch.

In fact, the question of Kahn’s relationship to Judaism and architecture has been asked before. In Louis I. Kahn’s Jewish Architecture: Mikveh Israel and the Midcentury American Synagogue, Susan G. Solomon uses Kahn’s (later abandoned) plans for Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel to broach a larger conversation about the evolution of synagogue architecture. When the book came out, in 2009, it was Rosenfeld who reviewed the book for The Forward:

Does a building’s Jewishness lie in its form, its function, its designers’ personal background, its clients’ program? Solomon does not explore these questions in much detail, and so it remains difficult to glean exactly how Kahn injected “Jewish content.”

Apparently, he thought he could probe the subject more thoroughly than Solomon did, but according to Schwarzer, he’s failed to persuade.

REVIEW: MITCHELL SCHWARZER / Building After Auschwitz [Places]

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