Throughout the centuries, Architecture has always been subjected to change. It is never one style that everyone follows or one approach that always should be respected. This is because of the continuous change of people’s needs and perceptions of art and life. Architecture is the only science that tends to refer to art and welcomes the different human natures with open arms. There are millions of theories about architecture that no one can tell definitely if one is more correct than the other. It depends on the going movements and changes in the world and how people are responding to the occurring events.

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One of the biggest dilemmas that are facing the architects in the past century is this combination between art and science between efficiency and beauty. Does form follow function or form follow art? The autonomous dichotomy between building the most efficient architecture while compromising the beauty of the structure, or to create a masterpiece that highly values the human perception of art. The answer is neither, it is not a question of only one correct answer. That is the beauty of architecture. It is possible to balance between the two theories without giving up any of the main pillars of architecture: art and science. Fortunately, many architects succeeded in solving this hard equation to achieve the optimum balance. 

In this article, I will be tackling a comparative analysis between two of the most spectacular architects who reached the deep meaning of architecture but through two different paths. Louis Khan and Buckminster Fuller between Heavy and Light Architecture.

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Louis Isadore Khan was an American architect who was born in 1901. He was raised in Pennsylvania. He is credited for creating Monolithic and Monumental Architecture. His buildings never hid their weight, and materials had always been given great attention. He was described as “Mystic” or “Guru” due to his insightful understanding of architecture. What makes his buildings mind-blowing is how he used heavy materials such as concrete without scarifying the air and light entering the building. He solved the enigma of creating his meticulously built prodigious architecture with high efficiency and sustainability. (1,2)

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©aasarchitecture.com
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Louis Kahn in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1953. ©Lionel Freedman Archives

Kimbell Art Museum

Year: 1972.
Location: Fort Worth, Texas.

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The key elements of this project are material and natural light. The museum hosts elegant spaces that perfectly suits the art it houses. It consists of cycloid barrel vaults that are rimmed with narrow plexiglass skylights, pouring light into the interior exhibition spaces. Moreover, to diffuse light in the interior space, pierced-aluminum reflectors are hung to illuminate the concrete vault which imparts the sense of elegance and glory for the works of art. Also, the building is punctuated by three courtyards, allowing for more light, airflow, and relationships between interior and exterior spaces. (3)

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Cycloid barrel vaults giving hint to Roman Architecture ©kimbellart.org
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Aluminum reflectors to diffuse the light. ©archdaily.com

Salk Institute in La Jolla

Year: 1965
Location: San Diego, USA.

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It is a biological research center for Salk, whose vaccine had already had a profound impact on the prevention of the Polio disease. The site is located in La Jolla along the Pacific Ocean which privileges the project with a spectacular view. The institute is constructed in a way similar to a monastery, providing a secluded intellectual community. It consists of a linear central void space lined from the two sides by a series of detached laboratory towers. These towers are characterized by their diagonal protrusions and open to an unobstructed view of the ocean, allowing natural light and air into space. Despite the simplicity and the durable appearance of the structure, Khan was able to create motivational and comfortable spaces for work, taking advantage of all the natural features of the site while maintaining the monumental appearance of his architecture. (4)

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A thin channel of water bisects the plaza, drawing one’s eye toward the blue horizon. ©archdaily.com
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Towers turn to the picturesque view of ocean ©medium.com

Here is more of Khan’s prominent work that achieved the perfect combination between form, composition, and functionality. He was able to put modern architecture in a new context that never compromises identity for proficiency and always making architecture express itself visually and spiritually.

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National Assembly Building of Bangladesh. ©pinterest.ch
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Exeter Library (Class of 1945 Library). ©en.wikipedia.org

Buckminster Fuller did not adopt a different theory than Louis Khan but he chose to express architecture differently. He was an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist. He was known as “The father of sustainability”. Fuller studied the properties of the material and adopted the concept of “Do the most with the least!”. He used science as a gate to develop the architecture, embracing its ability to respond to the growing needs of life while investing the natural resources to save the environment. Therefore, his work took the privilege of energy and material efficiency in the field of design and engineering. (5)

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Buckminster Fuller, 1895-1983 ©dwell.com
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Buckminster Fuller, Inventions: Twelve Around One, 1981 ©mcachicago.org

Geodesic dome

Year: 1946

A spherical structure Fuller patented with an Omni triangulated surface that gave it super strength. It is a thin structure that withstands heavy loads compared to its weight and size. The dome can also be constructed with a lightweight aluminum framework that can either be bolted or welded together or can be connected with a more flexible nodal connection. These domes are usually clad with glass which is held in situ with a PVC coping. Now the Montreal Biosphere, formerly the American Pavilion of Expo 67, adopts the Geodesic dome. (6,7)

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Light and durable Geodesic Dome structure. ©architectmagazine.com
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Lightweight aluminum framework. ©wallhere.com

Fly’s Eye Dome

The Fly’s Eye Dome is also one of the prominent inventions of R. Buckminster Fuller. It was originally intended to provide economical, efficient housing “autonomous dwelling machines”. Fly’s Eye Dome can be constructed of lightweight fiberglass. It features circular openings, called “oculi,” in a pattern similar to the lenses of a fly’s eye. Accordingly, the structure allows natural light and air to enter without compromising the integrity of the structure. The structure is so much ahead of its time as it accommodates many of the futuristic concepts that flourished in the 21st century such as biomimicry and biomorphic architecture. (8)

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Buckminster Fuller Fly’sEye Dome, 1979/80-2014 ©miamidesigndistrict.net
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©flickr.com

More of Fuller’s Light Legacy

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R. Buckminster Fuller and Anne Hewlett Dome Home ©stirworld.com
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Courtesy of Vitra Design Museum ©architecturaldigest.com

Between the heaviest and the lightest, the two architects were able to answer the call of architecture. Each of them created his unique collection of masterpieces that remained till now functioning and serving people as they intended to do. Louis Khan wanted his architecture to stand still and appear as so, while Buckminster fuller wanted to import mystery to his architecture, making people wonder how such light structures also stand still. In the end, both of them valued the environment and natural resources as much as art, creating a sustainable and spectacular legacy.

References:                                                                                                                               

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Kahn#Designs
  2. https://www.archdaily.com/334095/happy-112th-birthday-louis-kahn
  3. https://www.archdaily.com/123761/ad-classics-kimbell-art-museum-louis-kahn
  4. https://www.archdaily.com/61288/ad-classics-salk-institute-louis-kahn
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminster_Fuller
  6. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/buckminster-fuller-architecture
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geodesic_dome
  8. https://crystalbridges.org/flys-eye-dome/
Author

A young student of architecture in the 4th year who believes that architecture is the art of changing people’s life not only by the physical existence of buildings but also by being provocative to the emotional and psychology of people.

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