Louis I. Kahn, Salk Institute Laboratory Buildings (1965), California, ground-floor plan of central court and loggia, lower terrace and fountain at left.
Salk Institute Laboratory Buildings, lower terrace with fountain and seating, and view to south wing of scientists’ studies
Salk Institute Laboratory Buildings, enfilade of loggia with courtyard at right; view across bridge to portico of scientists’ studies and courtyard beyond; structure of holes in the bridges, porticos and studies; and loggia with bridges to studies and sunken gardens and courtyards below (clockwise from top left)
In many of Kahn’s buildings, the ruins are inside, rather than outside, creating a hidden field of action. Such is the case at the Phillips Exeter Academy Library in New Hampshire, which forms a magical cavern inside a cubic brick mass that is surprising and startling every time it is entered. The tall central atrium, with walls containing circular cutouts, encourages arrivals to gaze about and peer into five different levels of blog stacks.
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It is instructive to compare Kahn’s symmetric and orderly hollows with Joseph Esherick’s rambling cavities at The Cannery in San Francisco. In order to transform the monolithic mass and systematic windows of the Del Monte Foods canning factory into a new public market, Esherick carved and infilled the structure to eliminate its controlling geometry. While lacking the presence and scalar range of Kahn’s voids, Esherick’s understated design achieves a deeper, less predictable scope of action. Multiple layers of archways, some glazed, others left open, reveal options involving people and places, cafes and shops, shade and sun – receding up and down four different levels of space. The most varied freedom occurs along the pedestrian street excavated from the old structure. This winding channel open to the sky mingles into arcades at its edge, and swells periodically into small plazas, with each point in space linked to others by a maze of inviting stairs and escalators, bridges and porticos. The Cannery’s total disinterest in formal aesthetics but rich provision of ongoing experience seem to echo the words of the poet Charles Olson: ‘At root (or stump) what is, is no longer THINGS but what happens BETWEEN things, these are the terms of the reality contemporary to us – and the terms of what we are. ?130
The idea that decorating might be conceived as a structure of holes reaches another pinnacle in Herman Hertzberger’s Centraal Beheer office complex, in Apeldoorn,