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Creativity in Architecture: The Case of Louis Kahn

The creative use of the homospatial process by famous architect Louis Kahn.

Key points

  • The creative design for the ground plan of the Congress Hall in Venice was based on a homospatial conception.
  • Creative architect Louis Kahn regularly used the homospatial process in his architectural design.
  • The homospatial process is a critical function in visual art creativity.
  • The homospatial process involves superimposition of one or more visual or other sensory entities in the same mentally conceived space.

A striking example of the use of the creative homospatial process — conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same space, a conception leading to the articulation of new identities (Psychology Reports, July 21, 2015) — coming from architecture, derives from the thinking of American outstanding architect Louis Kahn.

The particular case, his design for the Palazzo dei Congressi in Venice, was not executed but was shown in a Single Building Exhibition in 1968, Kahn’s last exhibition during his lifetime. In making the design for this civic theatre, Kahn reported that he was from the first confronted with the problem of providing for the assemblage of a large crowd of people in a building to be constructed on a narrow and extended lot.

The solution he arrived at, represented in the diagrammatic drawing shown,

Source: Used with permission Kahn and Klotz
Source: Used with permission Kahn and Klotz

he discussed as follows:

"I don’t know how one identifies the first idea, but for me it is usually the sense of the building in its core, its full meaning, its nature, not its shape. Its nature was that of involvement, of participation. A simple shape which only emphasizes a direction — the narrow parallel lines — doesn’t have the nature of participation in it. It is, on the contrary, analogous to watching or hearing, not participation. The circle, to me, was participation. The fact that I could adjust to a site which was narrow has to require that one side looked to the other. But the shape should not be adjusted to that narrow site in such a way that it becomes purely directional, because there would be no participation. In the center of this is the organizational position, and this center was the dimension I had to include to make sure that people saw people. It was a confrontation of people with people."

The final ground plan he developed details his idea of a circular center merging with longer areas to allow for participation.

As an example of the homospatial process, the sequence Kahn describes provides a particularly full account of the rapidly occurring steps in the process. Kahn emphasizes that his first idea was a particular formulation — he was aware of the narrow building lot, but he wanted to produce a sense of involvement and participation in that space. This sense of involvement he thought of in terms of a particular shape: the circle. He then superimposed the circle upon the narrow lines representing the dimension and shape of the building lot. He conceived of the discrete shapes as occupying the same spatial location, because he felt creatively that they needed to do so. Then, as shown, he used this mental image as the basis for the actual ground plan he designed.

Fusing and superimposing discrete entities because they ought to be together is a critical feature of the homospatial process. They are not brought together because of accidental association, nor merely because of learned similarities. Creative artists and architects willfully and intentionally bring them together for aesthetic, functional, scientific, emotional, and philosophical reasons.

They may, for instance, want to provide for a particular function in a particular space, to explore the visual characteristics of particular forms, to relate either emotionally charged objects or colors, or to plumb the meaning of a personal or a more general experience. Often, there are similarities between aspects of the discrete entities brought together in this way, but such similarities do not dictate the superimposition and fusion; they merely facilitate it to some degree.

Unexpected similarities are discovered as a specific result of the homospatial process. In the visual arts, the homospatial process generally proceeds in the manner indicated in Kahn’s account. Sculptors, painters, graphic artists, and architects begin with a vague thought or intention. The thought may involve a functional idea, such as the need for assemblage, or it may primarily involve imagery, such as a preliminary representation of a painting based on a scene and/or on several colors, or shapes, or lines.

At some point in the thought process, discrete entities are conceived as occupying the same space and a visual metaphor or, in conjunction with other processes, a more orated visual artwork is produced.


Louis Kahn. 0 J. W. Cook and H. Klotz, Conversations with Architects (New York: Praeger, 1973