This issue of Ehituskunst only deals with one man, the architect Louis Isadore Kahn.
The decision to devote an entire issue to him is due to the Louis Kahn Days held in Kuressaare, Estonia, on October 6–8, 2006. During the Kahn Days, many exciting events took place: a portrait of Kahn, which was painted by Louis Kahn’s daughter Alexandra, was exhibited in the Kuressaare Town Hall; there was an exhibition of Louis Kahn’s works in the Castle of Kuressaare; the film My Architect was shown for the first time, with the author, Louis Kahn’s son Nataniel Kahn, present; and an international conference was held in the Theatre of Kuressaare. In addition, Louis Kahn’s and his family’s birth documents were made public; they were found after a long search, in the National History Archives of Latvia, only a few months before.
These events were all held in just three days and the participants certainly got a decent ‘dose’ of Kahn. The conference was filmed, many photos were taken, and numerous articles were published by both the Estonian and American press about the precedings and Kahn’s importance in Estonia and in the world. However, a summary was not released in print.
This issue does more than summarize all that occurred during the Kahn Days. Some persons are interviewed who were responsible for organising the days, who have learned from him and been inspired by him, but from somewhat different angles. We are publishing, for the first time, a chapter from August Komendant’s book 18 years with Louis Kahn, which has been translated into Estonian by Komendant himself. Olavi Pesti reviews the history of Kuressaare, together with the family history of Kahn. The articles by Alexandra and Anne Tyng and Nathaniel Kahn present their first-hand impressions based on their personal ties with Kahn and give an impression of the architect as a creator and a man. And there is more. Surprises and recognitions.
I personally hope that, after having read this issue, you feel clearer and brighter, and have a desire to know more about Kahn, so that we will have reason to organise the next Louis Kahn Days – still in Kuressaare, two years from now, in the autumn. You’re welcome to come!
Executive organiser of the 2006 Louis Kahn Days
Guest Editor of Ehituskunst No 47/48
Louis Kahn was born on the island of Saaremaa, in Estonia, at the beginning of the 20th century and left the country as a small child. During the 20th century, control of Estonia changed hands five times: Czarist Russia, the Republic of Estonia, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union again and then the restored Republic of Estonia.
Would Kahn have survived all those changes here as a Jewish architect, and been able to work even in the 1970s? Impossible. Are we in Estonia proud to claim him? Of course! The birth and background of Kahn were surrounded by a veil of mystery even when he was alive, a veil that has not dissolved in spite of time and research.
There comes a time in every man’s life when he recognizes that he is not able to experience everything, that something will be left for coming lives. If you see Kahn’s work, you will notice that it is loaded with so many different layers, and yet at the same time with a substance so archetypal that you must ask how it is possible for one man to be able to create it all during one life-time.
The people who visited the Kahn Days in Kuressaare in the autumn of 2006 – Kahn’s family, his friends and researchers – had to admit that the mysteries of Estonia’s flat and thicket-covered landscape are not easy to grasp. It is the same with Kahn: he only opens to those with sensitive and open minds.