Louis Kahn (1901-1974), one of the Masters of 20th-century architecture, nurtured a special relationship with Venice. It began in 1928, when he arrived in Venice on his first Grand Tour, in the Europe he had left as a child, emigrating from Estonia to Philadelphia. He had many other encounters with the city in the following years, enriching his knowledge of its architecture and his personal acquaintance with some of its distinguished inhabitants, including Carlo Scarpa and Giuseppe Mazzariol.
The ties between Venice and Philadelphia became even closer when, in 1968, at the height of his career, Kahn was commissioned to design a splendid Palazzo dei Congressi in the Giardini della Biennale. The project, which regrettably never went beyond the drawing board, still appears one of the most interesting of his unbuilt works. It is also a chapter in that unrealized Venice that includes projects by Palladio, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and many others.
Louis Kahn and Venice: human relationships, projects, exhibitions, encounters with students, lectures and significant reflections, as in the lecture he delivered on the roof of the Doge’s Palace, before the domes of St Mark’s Basilica. Each chapter of this liaison develops thoughts on complex issues: the relation between the memory of the past and the culture of the present; the rereading of ancient architecture by a modern visionary; the partnership between architecture and engineering in a Palazzo imagined as a great suspension bridge; the reception of Kahn’s work in Italy and hopes for the project in modern culture. The sum of these experiences reveals Louis Kahn’s reading of Venice, offering insights explored in a historical key and in relation to the problems of the city today. Kahn’s lesson remains valuable, his teaching timely and relevant.
Mendrisio, Teatro dell’architettura, October 2018 - January 2019