Louis Kahn (1901-1974), a renowned American architect based in Philadelphia, was famous for creating the unique monolithic style, for the intricacy of his designs, for the promising nature of his proposals (many of which didn’t materialize), and for his principles in architecture. In 1935, Kahn founded his own studio and simultaneously also taught architecture at Yale and practiced as a design critic.
Kahn created a unique style that was monumental, unique, and inspiring. He was most famous for his intricate detailed built works, his promising proposals that did not build, and his teaching. His style of architecture impacted several architects of his time, and in fact, it continues to inform the work of many architects even today, as they try to adopt his principles into their work.
Millions of architects, designers, and students are inspired by his timeless masterworks of architecture and use them as guiding principles to decode what it truly meant to be an architect of monumentality with a tone of subtleness and yet power.
Each wall has a story to tell. This statement stands true for every corner of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad designed by Louis Kahn. IIM Ahmedabad is one of the most towering masterpieces that Kahn designed but unfortunately didn’t live to see it finished, is this prestigious structure that was completed in 1974. IIM-A, constructed between 1962-1974, is known for its exposed brickwork, concrete slabs, concrete lintels, and concrete beams, and it has many notable features like academic blocks, faculty offices, a library, 33 fully furnished dormitories, a plaza, an auditorium, and sport as well as recreational spaces.
Not only was Kahn well-known for juxtaposing elements of medieval and modernist architecture, but he was also an expert in the exposed brick architecture style, which can be seen in the way he has designed this institution’s 60-acre campus. The grand scale of the structure and the solidarity of every brick on this institution’s walls is what makes its design stand out.
Owing to the harsh Ahmedabad climate it was built in, decay began to set in immediately on the surface. However, this worn off, the rustic effect of the bricks came to become a point of beauty in the structure, as the different look of each brick promotes the notion of timelessness. As Kahn himself said, the bricks are what make a structure what it is with a new story to be told each time, and this can evidently be seen in this case. Each brick makes its presence felt like a heavy individual unit, thus making the whole structure visually very impactful.
They wanted to revolutionize the ideology of what education meant in India is what drove the design. BV Doshi believed Louis Kahn had the vision for a new, different, and modern school for India’s best students. Kahn’s outlook on the education system and the methods one can learn and experience subordinated him to develop ideas for the structure. The focus from classrooms, the served space then diverged into multiple open spaces and enveloped pathways that were also designed to be a part of the learning experience.
Material and Design | IIM Ahmedabad
Kahn used some similar tropes while designing IIM-A as he had used while designing the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh. He used local materials like brick and concrete and used many geometrical facades, thus employing his statement style of juxtaposing modern architecture and Indian tradition, in order to pay an ode to vernacular Indian architecture.
The massive brick framework of IIM-A is inspired by ancient and medieval architecture, thus contributing to the timeless nature of this structure. Being a monolithic masonry, many individual bricks were laid by hand and were used to build arches, semi-circles, and squares sliced out of multiple walls, pathways, and other elements of architecture.
Kahn’s design at IIM-A was not just ornamental, but also very functional. The geometrical facades were designed and positioned in a manner that they acted as light wells so that they could keep the interiors of the structure cool and protect it from India’s tropical climate. There are transitional spaces, different building wings, congregation points, and so on—all of which are used as filters for sunlight so they can protect against the tropical climate by providing shade and ventilation. Furthermore, the porosity of the structure enables the creation of new learning spaces beyond the classrooms.
“You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ And brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to brick, ‘Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.’ And then you say: ‘What do you think of that, brick?’ Brick says: ‘I like an arch.”
Planning and Design
The plan demonstrates a rigid order in a hierarchy according to different functions. There are expressive facades that host multiple uses ranging from providing transitional spaces to different building wings and faculty areas and also to act as a congregation point for students to come together.
The school embodies multiple programs like academic blocks, faculty offices, 33 fully furnished dormitories for student accommodation, an auditorium, a library, a plaza, and sporting recreational arrangements.
The revolutionary nature of IIM Ahmedabad
It can be generally theorized that a conceptual change in a space’s architecture can impact the function of that space. And this is precisely why Balakrishna Doshi approached Kahn to design the campus of IIM-A—he knew that Kahn’s revolutionary vision in architecture would be able to pave a new, improved and modern pathway for the future of India’s education.
Thus, Kahn’s ideas about potential productive changes in the Indian education system are what inspired him to design the structure of IIM-A in a specific manner. He not only focused on the classrooms but also designed multiple open spaces and enveloped pathways in order to make the student learning experience more holistic than before. As can be seen in the following quote:
“The conceptual rethinking of the educational practice transformed a school into an institute, where education was a collaborative, cross-disciplinary effort occurring in and out of the classroom.”
Evidently, this structure embodies Kahn’s idea that “architecture is the thoughtful making of space,” as his design of IIM-A surpassed the basic concepts of materials, spaces, and programs.
- ArchDaily. (2010). AD Classics: Indian Institute of Management / Louis Kahn. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/83697/ad-classics-indian-institute-of-management-louis-kahn.
- World Architecture Community. (n.d.). Louis Kahn’s IIM Ahmedabad: SNK Completes Restoration & Upgradation Of Vikram Sarabhai Library. [online] Available at: https://worldarchitecture.org/article-links/eccgn/louis-kahn-s-iim-ahmedabad-snk-completes-restoration-upgradation-of-vikram-sarabhai-library.html.
- IGNANT. (2020). Louis Kahn’s Indian Institute Of Management In Ahmedabad Is An Architectural Classic. [online] Available at: https://www.ignant.com/2020/01/02/louis-kahns-indian-institute-of-management-in-ahmedabad-is-an-architectural-classic/.
- ArchEyes. (2019). Louis Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. [online] Available at: https://archeyes.com/indian-institute-of-management-louis-kahn/.