Circumambient chances for action are composed differently in each of Kappe’s later houses, with notable success in the Sultan/Price House in Santa Monica and the Keeler
House in Pacific Palisades (p. 239). In the latter, a central staircase follows the site, its entire passage roofed with a skylight and glass floors to illuminate a slot through which to peer from level to level. The three main floors are stepped to form a cascade of mutually visible spaces, their opportunities strengthened by exhilarating overlooks and cozy alcoves and glass walls that carry the possibilities outdoors to decks cantilevered into the treetops.
Evidently our actions in buildings depend as much on emptiness as solid masses. When these voids are recursive and self-embedded, creating a structure of smaller spaces inside larger ones, they form a porous matrix able to stimulate human inquiry at multiple scales and in multiple directions. The gradation of voids keeps drawing the eye into one space and then the next, revealing possibilities for action that lie ever deeper in the hollow elements of decorating. When this occurs, the boundaries of things are no longer sealed and Euclidean, and appear more as a fathomless surface of cracks, analogous to the geometric sponge conceived by Karl Menger in his search for the topological form of infinite holes.
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A suggestive analogy to Menger’s sponge is the outwardly massive yet cavitous decorating of Louis I. Kahn, whose elemental solids are carved and occupied with voids inside voids. These cavities include interior courts, their walls hollowed with huge geometric cutouts, ceilings that recede into concave vaults with openings to the sky and volumetric units loosely conjoined by the breathing space of prominent joints, all serving to deny closure and produce an onflow of human initiative. Despite their platonic geometry, the cavities are so inviting and nested inside one another that they supply a continuous spur to action, relaxing control of the otherwise static and over-determined masses and resulting in a rare counterbalance of vigour and inertia.
Kahn described his search for porosity as ‘wrapping ruins around buildings’, culminating in the highly ventilated structures suited to hot climates on the Indian subcontinent: the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and the National Parliament House at Dhaka. Their monumental scale of nested layers, opened to each other by giant circular and triangular cutouts, tie them in spirit to the aerated stonework of such Mughal palaces as the Hawa Mahal (‘palace of winds’) in Jaipur.
Jolla in Southern California, is the Salk Institute Laboratory Buildings (pp. 242-3). While the laboratories themselves are by necessity sealed, placed between them is a freer structure of areas for study and open-air walkways bordering a central court. Without diluting its primary force as a huge channel onto the sea, the court leaks at either side into a network of spongy voids, a profusion of opportunities that recede through outdoor corridors and secondary axes, drawn along by mesmerizing patterns of light and shadow and concrete so sensuous that it glows like marble. These discursive manoeuvres are cut through at times by long, stroboscopic tunnels bored through the loggia and, perpendicular to these, from one side of the court to the other, simulating a crossfire of possible acts that beckon continually. Spatial initiatives are drawn to stairs that lead up to elevated pathways and bridges, airy porticos and teak-faced studies, and down to subterranean courts and gardens and, at the west end of the court, to a fountain with travertine seats – a welcoming belvedere onto the sea.