The stories that architects and historians like to tell about Kahn’s design thinking are mythical—about “silence and light,” about timeless and elemental forms, about a brick “wanting” to be an arch. Even in his own lectures and writing, Kahn ducked and weaved like a prize fighter, speaking in everyday terms about the experience of architecture and, in the next paragraph, invoking what can only be described as spiritual essences that center on Platonic ideals like Nature or Art.
On one hand, he could speak and write eloquently about hierarchy—“servant” and “served” spaces come to mind, a useful dichotomy that anyone can perceive in the organization of a building. On the other, a phrase like “existence will”—an amorphous “spirit” or “character”—breaks the clarity and we’re stranded in a conceptual funhouse, wondering how to connect words to building.
One of the interesting things about Kahn is, publicly, he had little regard for the liminal areas between served and servant spaces. Corridors, he noted on a few occasions, weren’t “worthy” in the larger enterprise of creating architecture. But if we believe, as he did, in the definition of architecture as “total harmony,” then his hallways or passageways, his vestibules or vestries, are not only worthy—they are some of his best spaces.