Louis Kahn’s words | Oscar Tenreiro Degwitz

Uno de los famosos croquis de Kahn sobre su propuesta para Filadelfia (1956).
One of Kahn’s famous sketches on his offer for Philadelphia (1956).

I remember a conversation with Louis I. Kahn (1902-1974) in his office, 45 years ago. I took notes in a notebook that I preserve and in which the teacher planned a few minuscule sketches that I hoard.

Did I mention that Kahn had a way of expressing very particularly? It was doing in certain way linguistic philosophy, was exploring the meaning of the words and was doing deductions from them. It was throwing short phrases, since aforísmos, and because of it it was becoming difficult to follow the thread of what he was saying, to find where it was going. August Komendant, his engineer for many years, was unmarked thereby of expressing and was saying in rather hard key (the real friendship is like that) that Kahn was doing “Chinese philosophy”.

And inside my notebook there were three pages dated February 6 of 1962, signed by J. N. Kise, member of the equipment Harvard-MIT who was these years in Caracas occupied in Guayana City. It is a question of James Nelson Kise, today Urban Planner in Philadelphia. The pages are a preceded Memo like that:

“Following Willo Von Moltke’s suggestion (the Chief of the American group) I have extracted the following of a notebook of notes: He chats Luis Kahn’s, On March 6, 1961 for the study Peruvia (sic)”.

I deduce that it refers to Peru because Harvard in these years was employed also at this country.

The case is that on having read them me dí it tells that Kise’s notes have the same character of that I had scrawled, a succession of relatively unconnected some aphorisms of difficult sense. It encouraged me to continue publishing it mine. And also I will do it with them of him hereinafter.

As Kahn he speaks about his offer for the center of Philadelphia, I include an image of her, remembering that it had enormous repercussion, and though it was not received by any authority, it turned into an unavoidable reference. In her they emphasize what it was calling the “doors” of access to the center, that they were the enormous cylindrical buildings of parking (the word was using garages, not parkings), that they were containing “shopping centers”, destined to store the vehicles foreign to the central sector and to serve of “change way” for the visitors of the central zone turned into analogy of a strengthened enclosure.

Kahn on his plan for Philadelphia.

We are in a war against the car. In my plan for Philadelphia I propose that the cars should belong to the same zone of the city. The parkings are the doors of this zone, receive to the vehicles that come of out.

If in a city there is allowed that every vehicle should not belong to the same site, it will not have but confusion.

In my plans I want to express the order of the movement as differently from the order of the construction. The order of the movement leads to the sites that contain the institutions. It is because of it that my plans do not try to hide the garages.

The ideal thing would be that the building of the garajes is not an isolated piece but the street is a joint unit with the parking, in opposition to the architecture of the institutions.

The architecture of the movement does not have individual properties. It is as what they are the rivers. The streets are the rivers.

The system of streets follows a logical development.

If one was in search of a site as if it was in a flying carpet, it would be fixed generally in the rivers because they take something and drive towards some site. And nowadays if we were in search of a site we would see to the world formed by streets and ways of all kinds.

The order of the movement must say what the zoning must be.

But if it is begun by the zoning, it is as if it was said that the land is going to be delimited to then put the rivers.

The cities must say the sites where it is necessary to stop, as well as the rivers it has sites for it; backwaters, places.

The new order of the city is the recognition of the order of the water, of the movement. This comprehension of the importance of the precious value of the water, of the movement, it is necessary to to be the base for the form of the city.

The order of the water: light, water, movement, air, originates an architectural expression that will be in turn the origin of the new expression of the city. The streets must be capable of expressing this concept.

The architecture of the contours is very strong and the architecture of the institutions is light because the needs are different. In the medieval cities the walls were constructed first and then the churches.

About the Design.

The difference between design and quantity is the order.

The order depends on many factors. The design is personal and the order it is not. Nevertheless the order can be conceived by a man still when it does not have an individual comprehension.

The axe with his separated parts does not mean anything. The axe is the result of the comprehension of since the different parts relate. In it the design intervenes.

The form does not have contours. (There is here an untranslatable game with the words form and shape)

The form is there, always it exists, but it is necessary that one realizes his complexity. There is design when there is understood the paper of the different parts.

The form circle can have different sizes. When I say which is his diameter, it is a design.

A committee cannot do a circle, a person can do it.

The way like one designs inside the order can be realized by million persons.


When the first monastery was constructed the man realized all the things that a monastery was enclosing.

The good accomplishment is the one that joins to all the inspirations.

The isolated buildings are personal exercises but not the expression of a way of life.

It is better the correct thing does in any material that the incorrect thing in very good materials.

My influence of Le Corbusier? It is the same that would exist between a Haydn and a Mozart.

Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz, Architect.
Venezuela, november 2010,
Entre lo Cierto y lo Verdadero

Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz

Es un arquitecto venezolano, nacido en 1939, Premio Nacional de Arquitectura de su país en 2002-2003, profesor de Diseño Arquitectónico por más de treinta años en la Universidad Central de Venezuela, quien paralelamente con su ejercicio ha mantenido ya por años presencia en la prensa de su país en un esfuerzo de comunicación hacia la gente en general de los puntos de vista del arquitecto acerca de los más diversos temas, entre los cuales figuran los agudos problemas políticos de una sociedad como la venezolana. Tenreiro practica así lo que el llama el “pensamiento desde y hacia la arquitectura”, insistiendo en que lo hace como arquitecto en ejercicio, para escapar de los estereotipos y cautelas propios de la “crítica arquitectónica”. Respecto a la cual no oculta su desconfianza, que explica recurriendo al aforismo de Nietzsche sobre el crítico de arte “que ve el arte desde cerca sin llegar a tocarlo nunca”.

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