The sun on trial: Kahn's gnostic garden at Salk

1999 1999

Other formats:

At the request of the author, this graduate work is not available to view or purchase.

Abstract (summary)

This dissertation interprets Kahn's architectural practices in the form of a simultaneous reading of selected written and built works. Although it analyzes excerpts culled from the full accumulation of Kahn's writings and interviews over a forty-three year period, the dissertation treats primarily one building, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (1959–1965). The dissertation argues that Kahn's speech intones a theological, as distinct from a philosophical or literary practice; and that Kahn's theoretical interests comport with certain mystical themes, in particular gnostic duality, Kabbalistic restitution, and alchemical transformation.

Especially after 1950 and his mid-life sojourn in Rome—after his epiphanic encounter with the great pyramids and the ruins of antiquity—Kahn directs his mature work toward the perfectibility of “human agreement.” He elaborates this idea in a non-discursive commentary on form and institution, which variously serve as Kahn's synonyms for “type.” Kahn's dualistic “mysticism”—his insatiable interest in origins and in the cosmic signatures of nature—propels a broad project of intellectual reconciliation. At Salk, for example, Kahn seeks to reconcile the fissure dividing science from art. His theoretical investments bear fruit in the composition of the laboratory complex, in particular its courtyard, to the extent that the courtyard is Salk. In the courtyard Kahn symbolizes the reconciliation of being and matter (“the unmeasurable and the measurable”), which parallels the fundamental reconciliation of the high and the low. The reunification of high and low is the essential conflict of gnostic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic traditions.

Joseph Rykwert notes that seventeenth and eighteenth century English intellectuals and architects turned to the occult arts on “the belief, among men of goodwill, that forms of communal practice of the inner life would help to override theological differences and attendant savage intolerance.” Likewise, Kahn draws toward mystical speech not because he practices mystical arts—all he ever practices is architecture—but because, as a man of intelligence and goodwill, he believes that the inner life might help override the brutal contradiction and intolerance of twentieth century experience.

Indexing (details)

0729: Architecture
0304: Biographies
0469: Theology
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Communication and the arts; Language, literature and linguistics; California; Gnostic garden; Kahn, Louis I.; Louis I. Kahn; Salk
The sun on trial: Kahn's gnostic garden at Salk
Friedman, Daniel Shay
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 60/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780599258914, 0599258918
Leatherbarrow, David
University of Pennsylvania
University location
United States -- Pennsylvania
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
Access the complete full text

You can get the full text of this document if it is part of your institution's ProQuest subscription.

Try one of the following:

  • Connect to ProQuest through your library network and search for the document from there.
  • Request the document from your library.
  • Go to the ProQuest login page and enter a ProQuest or My Research username / password.