Louis Kahn had a curiosity for medieval architecture which later on became a significant feature of his design style in architecture. Eventually, he mastered the use of historical monuments in modern design with weight and dignity. According to him, the material and the technology does not make the structure monumental. It is rather the design elements such as dome, vaults and arch which are still being used in modern architecture design with greater importance and adding more meanings. 

On referring to the statement, ‘Studies in Tectonic Culture: Louis Kahn Modernisation and the New Monumentality’ where it has mentioned, “Modernization and monumentality may be seen as the dialogical theme running throughout the later career of Louis Kahn………… Kahn’s unique contribution in this regard stems from his conviction that tectonic structure, rather than mass form or type, must be pursued as the first condition of monumental form.” (Frampton; pp. 209); question raises on how Louis Kahn’s conviction on the tectonic structure was pursued as a monumental form.

This paper will explain whether the tectonic structure follows the monumental form and if it does than how the monolithic and monumental style has been achieved in his design. It will study the examples of the structural and design elements used in ‘The Yale University of Art Gallery’ and ‘Kimbell Art Museum’, how these elements which have been used in different styles of architecture such as Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance add greater value and impression in the time of modern architecture. 

This paper will conclude whether he used any tectonic structure to make his work monumental and monolithic through analysis of the images of his works and the critical analysis of the design styles that were implemented. 

How Louis Kahn’s conviction on Tectonic structure was pursued as a monumental form - sheet1
Monumentality in Achitecture by Louis Kahn_archweb.cooper.edu

Yale University of Art Gallery 

On referring to the images of the Yale University of Art Gallery; we could notice that Louis Kahn has used solid concrete columns and beams that have been arranged in a tetrahedron pattern on the ceiling. This structural design amplifies the importance of space as an art gallery. 

Initially, Kahn had considered using the standard post and beam structure with the solid concrete floor slabs and plastered vaults for the ceiling. These plastered vaults had the provision to accommodate the mechanical system of the building. He had to reject this structural design idea as it was extremely conventional. 

Later, he came up with an innovative solution which solved the problem for accommodating the mechanical system of the building. It also strengthens the roof of the art gallery that had a long and wide span.

We could observe by referring to the images that the thick solid concrete slab on the ceiling of the art gallery that has hollows arranged in the tetrahedron pattern. The base of each triangle that runs horizontally along the length of the roof is thick compared to the other sides as reinforced rods have been installed. 

The remaining sides of the triangles that run diagonally along the width of the roof that creates tension to the reinforced concrete beam. This structural design of the ceiling increases the strength of the roof with long and wide spans. The hollow created in the ceiling while designing this tectonic structure has been used as the space for the mechanical system that includes ducts for electric and ventilation systems. 

Kahn created the truss system that is functional and aesthetically amplifies the importance of space. It also unites the ceiling with the floor that makes the space look monumental. 

How Louis Kahn’s conviction on Tectonic structure was pursued as a monumental form - sheet2
Structural Drawing of Yale University Art Gallery_pinterest.com
How Louis Kahn’s conviction on Tectonic structure was pursued as a monumental form - sheet3
Interior of Yale University Art Gallery_e-architect.com

Kimbell Art Museum

On referring to the images of the Kimbell Art Museum; we could notice that the cycloid vault of this art museum has been inspired by ancient architecture. This includes arch structures from the Roman period and granaries from the Egyptian period. We could observe the classical style of simplicity, well-proportioned and balanced from the images. The vaulted ceilings are equipped with skylights to allow the sunlight through it. 

This showcases the idea of Louis Kahn for adapting natural light. We could also locate the aluminium reflectors hung on the vaulted ceiling in the shape of a wing by referring to the interior and structural drawing images. This has been provided to diffuse the direct sunlight and illuminated the smooth concrete surface of the vault. 

The key structural element of the Kimbell Art Museum is the cycloid vault which was approved by Kahn by replacing the traditional use of a semi-circular vault. On referring to the interior image of the museum, we could notice the rise in the cycloid or the curve of the circle’s circumference that creates a monumental impact on the visitors without overpowering the artworks. 

These cycloid vaults have long steel cables that have been placed longitudinally through each vault. It is supported by square-shaped solid concrete columns of two square feet. Each of these columns is placed in a regular interval. 

On referring to the text, “the wall’s thickness and the mass of matter have definitely become space, giving both human beings and objects a full possibility of existence.” (Cacciatore, Google Book); we get to know that one can easily adapt into space and get involved with the art as space is accommodating. We could also notice the movable walls that are located under the soffits which creates the space more flexible as possible. 

How Louis Kahn’s conviction on Tectonic structure was pursued as a monumental form - sheet4
Structural Drawing of Kimbell Art Museum_sites.google.com
How Louis Kahn’s conviction on Tectonic structure was pursued as a monumental form - sheet5
Interior of Kimbell Art Museum_kimbellart.org

In analysing the tectonic structure of the two case studies, Yale University of Art Gallery and Kimbell Art Museum; we get to know that Louis Kahn designs the structural elements according to the functional requirements and proposes an innovative solution to the problem. These unique structural design elements make the space look monumental and monolithic without overpowering the visitors. 

Henceforth, we could say that Louis Kahn’s work follows his conviction about the tectonic structures being pursued as a monumental form. 


01)  Kenneth Frampton, “Studies in Tectonic Culture; Louis Kahn: Modernization and the New      Monumentality”; Cambridge, 1995; pp. 209-246

02) J. Francois Gabriel (Editor); “Beyond the Cube: The Architecture of Space Frames and Polyhedra”; John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997; pp. 128

03) Google Book; Francesco Cacciatore, “The Wall as Living Place: Hollow Structural forms in Louis Kahn’s Work”; Lettera Ventidue, 2014

04) Online Source; https://www.kimbellart.org/content/kahn-building-detail

05) Online Source; https://www.archdaily.com/123761/ad-classics-kimbell-art-museum-louis-kahn

06) Online Source; Spotlight: Louis Kahn | ArchDaily 


An architect and interior designer by profession. A passionate traveller who developed inquisitiveness on expanding her knowledge and gathering information on different styles of designs and architecture around the world. She strongly believes that nature and history plays a key role in the field of architecture.