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The Korman House (1971–1973) is two stories (plus basement) and 6,950 square feet. Its primary materials are brick, glass, cypress, douglas fir, white oak, pine, and brick. Its four acres are part of a 70-acre compound divided among the extended Korman family.

The house is in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, a section of Whitemarsh Township approximately twenty miles from downtown Philadelphia. William Whitaker, curator of the University of Pennsylvania’s Architectural Archives and co-author of The Houses of Louis Kahn, points out that in all of his residential projects, Kahn was sensitive to the history of a place, choice of materials, and how to situate a house within its landscape.1 Fort Washington represented a specific historical context as well as an opportunity to think about the future. Estate farms and pastureland mark the landscape, reminders of the region’s past. Also “formative to Kahn’s approach” was the nearby William Stix Wasserman House (1932), a modernist country home designed by William Lescaze and George Howe, Kahn’s colleague and former partner.2

The moment of arrival is drawn out: a long, winding driveway leads to a forecourt. A first view of the house reveals a cypress and glass façade and a 27.5-foot brick chimney (two more chimneys, each with slightly different dimensions, anchor the southeast side of the house).3 

Beneath the chimney, the large glass windows reveal an informal family dining room. When the house is lit at dusk or evening, the family table is the first thing seen from outside.

According to Whitaker, although the building “embraces some of the finer aspects of the Philadelphia country house,” Kahn’s decision to display the family table in such a way gives it an “edge”—unusual both in the early 1970s and within the older lineage of modernist and country homes from which the Korman house emerged.4

A walk around the perimeter reveals the house’s different faces in changing light. By stripping away the ornaments we associate with traditional homes, says Whitaker, Kahn made his final house about the fundamental experience of family and connection to nature. Despite its scale, the Korman House has “all of the intimacy and surprise found in his more modest works,” a revelation that begins with our arrival and carries through each room.5

Notes:

  1. ^ We are grateful to William Whitaker for sharing his insights during a tour of the Korman House in November 2012, which formed the basis of this text. For more information about all of Kahn’s residential works, see Whitaker and George Marcus’s The Houses of Louis Kahn (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) and Yutaka Saito’s Louis I. Kahn Houses (Tokyo: TOTO Shuppan, 2003).
  2. ^ Marcus and Whitaker, The Houses of Louis Kahn, p. 223.
  3. ^ Harriet Pattison, the project’s landscape architect, suggests that the chimney at the entrance projects something “mythical”: the primal idea of dwelling as a place to gather around a fire (interview, July 2013). The material also has a specific meaning: brick is a major part of Philadelphia’s architectural identity, from colonial Independence Hall to the urban structures of Kahn’s own century. Nathaniel Kahn (Pattison and Kahn’s son) discusses the influence of North Philadelphia/Northern Liberties architecture on Kahn in his documentary My Architect (2003). Ken Finkel recalls that during a walk through Center City Philadelphia in 1973, Kahn was taken by a sight near 10th and Spruce: “a cluster of brick chimneys profiled against the western sky rearranged itself as we walked, accommodating every step with a fresh perspective. Before we passed by the last of these views, Kahn declared: ‘That is what a city should look like.’ (“Kahn’s Kind of Skyline,” 11 March 2013, Phillyhistory.org). For more images of brick (and a discussion of the material in Kahn’s work), visit the living room
  4. ^ Whitaker, private tour, November 2012.
  5. ^ Marcus and Whitaker, The Houses of Louis Kahn, p. 223.

From the west: arrival, 2014

The breakfast room and part of the sleeping block are visible. A sheltered entrance connects these two sections of the house.

Photo: Matt Wargo

From the west: dusk, 2012

Photo: Matt Wargo

Breakfast room closeup

Photo: Jon Rohrer

From northwest: 2015

Photo: Matt Wargo

Chimney detail

2013

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Entrance

2013

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Entrance detail

2013

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Entrance detail

Most of the exterior is made of narrow, tongue-and-groove cypress boards, but larger panels provide accents underneath the windows.

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Breakfast room and garage

A small door (visible here through the breakfast room windows), leads out to the meadow beyond the house.

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Window accent detail

Photo: Jon Rohrer

South/southwest

The sleeping block containing children's rooms

Photo: Matt Wargo

Light study: sleeping block series

January 2013

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Light study: sleeping block series

June 2013

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Light study: June 2015

Photo: Matt Wargo

South/southeast

Photo: Jon Rohrer

Photo: Matt Wargo

From southeast

The living room, anchored by two slightly different chimneys, leads to a brick patio. The second-floor master bedroom also provides a way outside: a small terrace offers a view of grass and sky.

Photo: Matt Wargo

Northeast facade, 2014

Photo: Matt Wargo

Northeast facade, early 2000s

Living room with reflecting pool

Photo: Barry Halkin

2015

Photo: Matt Wargo

Light study: sunrise series

1 of 5, January 2014

Photo: Matt Wargo

Light study: sunrise series

2 of 5, January 2014

Photo: Matt Wargo

Light study: sunrise series

3 of 5, January 2014

Photo: Matt Wargo

Light study: sunrise series

4 of 5, January 2014

Photo: Matt Wargo

Light study: sunrise series

5 of 5, January 2014

Photo: Matt Wargo

Northeast facade, 1974

Photo: Jaime Ardiles-Arce. Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Housed in the Harvey and Irwin Kroiz Gallery, the resources of the Louis I. Kahn Collection are used by permission of the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania (hereafter cited as Kahn Collection)

Entrance, 1974

Photo: Jamie Ardiles-Arce. Courtesy of the Kahn Collection.

A neighbor: The Wasserman Residence, "Square Shadows" (1932)

This house, designed by George Howe and William Lescaze, likely influenced Kahn's thinking about the Korman project.

Photo: From the Mellor, Meigs & Howe Collection, Courtesy of the Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania