The design that appears to have been the transitional project between his post- Rome work and what I will refer to as his ‘late’ work is the Bernard Shapiro house (1959- 73). Where Kahn’s previous residential designs were predominately organized by the separation of ‘living’ and ‘sleeping’ volumes, both the initial and final schemes for the Shapiro House introduce a progressive rationalization of habitation spaces. Both schemes were generated via geometric grids – the first scheme based on an 8-foot hexagonal grid, while the second scheme was derived from a typical orthogonal grid – but the transition between each shows a clear movement from one spatial organization to the other.
The first scheme, with its hexagonal grid, exhibits the strong influence of Anne Tyng and Kahn’s movement toward a more aggressive diagonal grid. Nonetheless, it appears to have been the most literal starting point of any of his housing designs to that point. As he stated in 1973, he always began his designs with a square and progressed from there; but in the first Shapiro scheme, Kahn seemed constrained by the hexagonal grid, consolidating programmatic elements to fit the awkward spaces, which induced equally-awkward bi-products. The early design drawings present little evidence of Kahn’s typical design progression, as though the grid dictated the placement of served and servant spaces and reduced the architect to a continuous compromiser.
At first glance, the second phase scheme looks to be a more orthogonal version of the Trenton Bathhouse plan with various recessions. In its simplest terms, the plan is a single rectilinear volume divided into two main living spaces by a central servant core. A bi-level plan organized in typical Kahnian division, the upper level contains spaces for living while the more privatized lower level contains spaces for sleeping. The Shapiro House exhibits the most simplified version of Kahn’s devices to date, organizing all servant spaces within the central core. Vertical and horizontal circulation is simplified through this placement, enabling a more compact and uniform structure. Virtually symmetrical in form, the plan has a logic and clarity that exists within a fully integrated volume. This logic surly pleased Kahn, as he continued the basic formula in his concurrent design for the Margaret Esherick House.
As will be discussed at length in Chapter Four, whereas the Shapiro house represents a noticeable transition in Kahn’s thinking, it is the Esherick house and the Fisher house that truly mark a progression toward a synthesis between the mind and the built form. Utilizing historic motifs, Kahn was able to retranslate the traditionalism he may have deemed intrinsic to the human soul through detailing. It was this retranslation of native forms, augmented by the innovations of modern technology, that enabled Kahn to characterize each space while aiding his formulation of an entirely unique architecture.
Pierson William Booher. (2009). Louis Kahn’s Fisher House: A Case Study on The Architectural Detail and Design Intent.Theses. University of Pennsylvania.