‘Believe in the Monumental’ is the title for the brief introduction by Design Museum Director Deyan Sudjic. Given Kahn’s limited portfolio of realised projects, it is an appropriate frame to surround the works in this exhibition. Never having seen Kahn’s buildings in situ, this exhibition does provide the viewer with a sense that the palette of materials Kahn used harked back to ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt. The triangle, circle and square are the dominant forms in Kahn’s repertoire and remain at the forefront of my mind when I exit and go upstairs to the Designs of the Year exhibition.
The exhibition has the aura of an archive. The architectural models are beautiful, intricate and varying in media from paper and wood to bronze. There are documents, such as the ‘delicious’ office calendar pictured above, letters written on a letterhead that could not be more austere. Sketches, pastel illustrations, paintings, and pencil and charcoal sketches are presented in narrative themed sections.
It is the leap from his imagination, through drawings, missives and diagrams to projections and models where we get a sense of Kahn’s ambition. These preparatory artifacts do little to communicate a sense of scale, light, shade and relationship to the surrounding environment that belies Kahn’s signature style, for this one must visit the sites. This exhibition is successful in that it excites me in wanting to visit Yale, New York, Bangladesh, La Jolla and more besides.