Title page for ETD etd-05022011-153804

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Esenwein, Frederick
Author's Email Address fesenwei@vt.edu
URN etd-05022011-153804
Title The Organic Imagination and Louis Kahn
Degree Master of Science
Department Architecture
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Gartner, Howard Scott Committee Chair
Rodriguez-Camilloni, Humberto L. Committee Member
Thompson, Steven Ross Committee Member
  • Myth
  • Imagination
  • Organicism
  • Transcendentalism
  • Mysticism
  • Romanticism
  • Kahn
  • Architecture
Date of Defense 2011-04-20
Availability unrestricted
This thesis investigates the relationship between architecture, Romanticism, American Transcendentalism, myth, and religious mysticism in the ideas of the American architect, Louis Kahn.

Part One builds a chronology from Hermeticism and Jewish mysticisms into German Romanticism and how they played a role in the world of Kahn’s parents shortly before his birth. The first chapter looks at mysticism and how it resonates with Kahn’s descriptions of silence and light. The second chapter outlines the transition from rational aesthetics during the German Enlightenment into German Romanticism. This exposes the beginning of organicism as a way of seeing the world as a growth from a mythic image towards a physical manifestation made by artists and poets. In chapter three, the ideas from Romanticism inspire a philosophical and political movement for independence and cultural expression in the native region of Kahn’s parents.

Part Two concentrates on the American approach to Romanticism via Transcendentalism and how Transcendentalism influenced Kahn’s childhood education in Philadelphia. It shows how the ideas of German Romanticism influenced English literature and criticism, especially Coleridge’s theories of organicism and literary criticism. Chapter four presents how the American Transcendentalists correlated the mind and imagination to an organism. In chapter five, we see how Transcendentalism’s aesthetic theory influenced the Public Industrial Arts School of Philadelphia’s approach to teaching art. Louis Kahn attended this school.

The final chapter deciphers Kahn’s ideas, such as “form and design,” “material as spent light,” “measurable and unmeasurable,” “law and rule,” “order,” and “nature.” Within the framework of Romanticism and American Transcendentalism, these ideas become intelligible and an enriching approach to understand his architecture.

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