Notes on the Phillips Exeter Academy Library

In 1966, Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974) was commissioned to build for the Exeter Academy (1), a boys' boarding school, a library (2) and an adjacent dining area. With this library, Kahn ends his personal quest to find the "form" of libraries (started in radically different with the Washington University Library), and does so with a comment:
"I see the library as a place where the librarian can display books, open the way to select pages to entice readers.There should be a site congrandes tables on which the librarian can bring books and readers can pick up the book and bring it to light " (3)

With this fragment and we define three spaces: one for the exhibition of books as objects, a second space to serve as a collective meeting in which users can meet with the books and finally, a third space where readers maintain a relationship "private" and intimate with books and light. We found a second comment yet Kahn's own, which clarifies and sets the boundaries for these three areas:
"Exeter began in the periphery, where there is light. I felt that the reading room had to be located where a person could be alone near a window and had to be a kind da kitchen cabinet, a sort of place found in the folds of the construction. I did the exterior of the building as a brick rim, independent of books. Inside I did it as a ring of concrete to store the books, points of light. The central area is the result of these two rings continguos;only at the entrance are visible through large books OBERTURAS circular. Thus one feels that the building has an invitation from the books " (4)

[caption id="attachment_4635" align="alignleft" width="260" caption="Exeter Library"][/caption]

Indeed, the central area as the culmination of other spaces. Spaces, the "shape" of space, and take physical form, mature in the mind of the architect as further material representation in the library building, cohesive as a single set and finish: the roundness of the post and showcase books contained therein, inviting in, but at the same time becomes a meeting place and encounter while meditation and reflection and pause. The actual cold, dark interior concrete fact. And finally, the clarity, nice outdoor space, the warmth of the brick. Three areas (three forms) or differentiated, separated by use and the role they have within the building, and with specific materials for each of them. The material and shape fusionan.Uno interrelated and probably could not exist without the other.To complete the spaces of the building are four zones in the corners for the vertical communications assistant, ventilation, services, etc...  (5)

For Kahn, it was important not only the "form" of the building. So was his outward form, to become as an early invitation to join the students to come and enjoy. To put it in some way, their overall relationship with their immediate environment. Draft Exeter, Kahn this was an aspect also to be noted. He writes:
"At Exeter I did not try to do something to stand out. Show my respect to the buildings around me picking the brick to sing with them "

"Libraries of all university faculties feel comfortable at the entrance to a small square in which all students have access, as a place that invites them permanently. The entry plazas and gardens and trails that connect to form a connection architecture " (6)

The three spaces

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="185" caption="The central space, with large symbolic circles which leave the books, calling into"]The central space, with large symbolic circles which leave the books, calling into[/caption]

The central space is a small compendium of logical order and geometric aspects Kahn especially prized, and that taken directly from the Renaissance architecture in which buildings were a small representation of something divine, harmonious and perfect (7). This is applied to the lines of Exeter, and libraries that Kahn was a superior type of buildings, a sort of gateway to a higher stage thanks to the books and, consequently, to his reading. Thus, the entrance hall and the interior, the container of books (visible from the scale), had to symbolically represent this cultural ascent.

Secondly, the interior space, the container for books, perhaps the space is treated less and less symbolic.Certainly for Kahn represented only a temporary transition, a necessary step area for books and take them to the reading area. The prosaic element concrete meaning, and simplicity, this concept help.

Leaving this transition represents the inner, users, and the books chosen, go to the "light" that represents the area outside the library, a nice area, full of light in the form of double-height galleries, taking advantage and endorsing the skin and the folds of the building. Both areas, inner and reading this, were separated by one of the goals we have mentioned above and to the shelves with books. These two elements form a natural barrier between the quiet zone il'assossegament outside the reading area, and the inner, more hustle and informal. Moreover, this barrier breaks one of the precepts most in-demand from the world of librarianship: the power control the entire library from the main point of attention to público.Se says panopticisme Exeter and there, Kahn wanted to separate it:attached great importance to the necessary tranquility of the act of reading, and the concentration required, and no inquisitive gaze of others or had to bring. One of the most important elements of the reading area is what Kahn called the cabinets, which received special attention in their design. In his own words:
"The cabinet is the room inside the room ... I made the cabinet associated with the light. It has its own window so that you can regulate their privacy and the amount of light you want " (8)

The biggest influence

In conclusion, I make mention of that in my opinion, was the biggest influence he had Kahn When planning the Exeter Library. An influence full of simplicity and simplicity, universal and eternal, without artifice. This is Etienne-Louis Boullee and library. In 1968, Kahn wrote (9):
"There is a picture of the library that contained no tables. It's a great room and sees imperialist people reaching up to books from people who are below.There are tables for reading, just the feeling of what should be a library, one enters the room and there are all the books. " (10)

I think these final lines reflect a transcendental idea: that of access. The simplicity that exudes is great. Kahn and Boullée already in the eighteenth century, imagine (and demand) some libraries more open, easier and with less artifice. Kahn did an emphasis on the "invitation" to enter the building itself, reinforcing and practice from the outside thought a library Boullée clean, almost minimal, which provides a direct and transferable between books and users. I think largely fulfilled their dreams.


  1. / [Accessed: 15/02/2006]

  2. The library website is: [Consulta: 15/02/2006]

  3. Kohane, Peter. "The search for the" form "of Louis I. Kahn: public and private spheres in the libraries of Washington University and Phillips Exeter Academy. In: Kahn: libraries = libraries. Barcelona: Colegio de Arquitectos de Catalunya, DL 1989. ISBN 84-600-7266-5, p. 99. Lobell originally quoted. Betwenn silence and light, p. 100

  4. Ibid, p. 99. Originally on: "The Mind of Louis I. Kahn. " In: Architectural Form, no. 137 (July-August 1972), p. 77

  5. Ibid, p. 101.

  6. Ibid, p. 103-105. Originally in: Louis I. Kahn. "Room, Window and Sun. In: Canadian Architect, n. 18 (june 1973), p. 53

  7. Ibid, p. 109. In 1956, following a conversation with Colin Rowe, this study Kahn sent Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, by Rudolph Wittkower. His reading for Kahn was decisive.

  8. Ibid, p. 117. Cited by Wurman. What will be, p. 179.

  9. Write these lines as a prelude to a presentation on draft Boullée. Kahn, Louis I. "Twelve lines. In: Visionary Architects: Boullée, Ledoux, Lequeu. Houston: University of St.. Thomas, 1968, p. 5

  10. Idid, p. 107. Cited by Wurman. Whay will be, p. 182


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