On the evening of March 17, 1974, a 73-year-old man died of a heart attack at New York’s Pennsylvania Station while returning home from a business trip to India. The only means of identification found on the corpse was a passport with the address scratched out, so it took police two days to establish that this small man with a heavily scarred face and hands had been an architect based in Philadelphia.
The circumstances of Louis I Kahn’s departure from the world reflected only too accurately the mess and precariousness that had characterised much of his life. At the time he was facing bankruptcy and the failure of his marriage, one of three concurrent relationships that had each resulted in a child. And yet somehow amid the chaos of his personal arrangements, Kahn succeeded in realising some of the most magisterially assured works of architecture of the 20th century, an achievement that has now been celebrated by a major retrospective at London’s Design Museum. Marked by a positively Roman feeling for scale, order and longevity, the monumental output of his final 20 years seems particularly freighted with longing for a stability that the architect, himself, was denied.