Louis Kahn's modernist mastermind celebrated through new collaborations

The legacy of modernist architect Louis Kahn lives on to inspire a new generation, thanks to collaborations with family and fans

Kimbell Art Museum sketch by Louis Kahn
Sketch by Louis Kahn of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas
(Image credit: courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Archives)

Louis Kahn’s work, though little recognized through much of his early career, became well-admired later in his life and after his untimely death in 1974. The architect is known for his use of light, material, and familiar geometric shapes - circles, squares, triangles, cubes, pyramids, spheres, tetrahedrons - in a way that is at once organic and systematic. It has resulted in a rare, for its time, global output and a series of acclaimed masterpieces, such as the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Kimbell Art Museum, National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, Four Freedoms Park, Phillips Exeter Academy Library and Dining Hall, and the Yale University Art Gallery.

The National Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh, completed in 1982

The National Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh, completed in 1982

(Image credit: View Pictures)

The new Louis Kahn book: 'The Last Notebook'

Kahn masterfully married dichotomies. He combined modernity with monumentality – taking inspiration from centuries-old buildings and structures of Greece and Egypt – as well as the spiritual through his use of concrete, wood, steel, and glass in ways that felt touched by the hand, drawing on the beauty of natural imperfections and the idiosyncrasies of each material. He created a dazzling choreography between light and shadow within his buildings in a way that few architects can achieve.

Portrait of Louis Kahn at the Kimbell Art Museum

Kahn photographed in the auditorium of the Kimbell Art Museum in 1972

(Image credit: courtesy of Bob Wharton)

The Last Notebook, published by Lars Müller this April, offers a very personal insight into Kahn’s mind. The reproduction of the architect’s final notebook, the book shows his early sketches of Four Freedoms Park, interiors and drawings of furniture, notes to himself, and a draft for an acceptance speech. ‘My dream for this book is that it not be a very precious thing, but something where you can see him as a person and not some kind of architectural idol that's on a pedestal,’ says Sue Ann Kahn. ‘And then I hope you are inspired to use the blank pages to make your own drawings, write your own thoughts.’

view of exterior of Louis Kahn's Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, completed in 1965

(Image credit: Photography: Education Images)

Simultaneously, Form Portfolios will be shedding light on Kahn’s furniture and interiors practice, which created a holistic experience ranging from the form and detail of the building itself to built-in shelving, desks and tables, lighting fixtures, chairs, and more – all designed by Kahn in his signature style. ‘Our principal mission is to perpetuate the legacy of Louis Kahn. He is widely known for his architecture, yet he was also an artist and designer. So today, we're telling an entirely new chapter of his legacy for the very first time,’ says Form Portfolios' founder and CEO Mark Masiello of a line of furniture and lighting they will be releasing with the Kahn estate and brand partners over the next year.

spread of Louis Kahn's notebook Faksimile book The Last Notebook

Pages from Kahn’s final notebook showing sketches for a sunken court entrance at the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut

(Image credit: Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Archives)

It is an apt time to be bringing this iconic and ever-present architect to the forefront. His Yale Center for British Art (his final building) and Yale University Art Gallery (one of his first commissions) sit just across the street from one another in New Haven, Connecticut. They are undergoing and completing recent conservation renovations respectively (the former led by Knight Architecture and the latter by Ennead Architects). 

Renowned architect and designer Carlo Scarpa said of Kahn on his unexpected death: ‘The “Master” is the one who express[es] new things in a way that other people can understand … The great modern architects are no longer with us. The last one, Louis Kahn, went away in a dramatic way – it’s an irreplaceable loss.’ Scarpa, like many architects, was a deep admirer of the work of Kahn, whose temple-like buildings, while not prolific in numbers, were so in iconicity. And we celebrate that even 50 years later. 


Louis I. Kahn: The Last Notebook, edited by Sue Ann Kahn, is released 16 April, and available to pre-order from Amazon

A version of this article appears in the May 2024 issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today