A New Take on Wright’s Work, Part Two

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

A week ago I posted a review of Joseph Siry’s new book, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 1890-1970. The review was Wright-specific, for this website’s audience. It merits an addendum. I confess to having written it after finishing the Wright section, and before I finished the book, to meet a self-imposed deadline.

I now need to share a relevant part of the book’s final chapter, [Louis I.] Kahn’s Architecture and Air-Conditioning to the 1970s. The context is a discussion of Kahn’s Alfred Newman Richards Medical Research Building at the University of Pennsylvania, 1957-1960.

Part of Kahn’s inspiration for the laboratory tower came from Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower, which was extensively published upon its completion in 1950 and which Kahn visited in 1959. He said of it: “The Tower was done with love and I should say it is architecture…Architecture should start a new chain of reactions. It shouldn’t just exist for itself; it should throw out sparks to others. That is really the judgment of a piece of art, that power. If the Tower has this power to throw out sparks, to make you want to build one of the things, then I believe it functions.”

Indeed, that is quite a tribute to Wright’s landmark building in Racine, even though the company began to outgrow the facility by 1957, and moved out of it just 30 years after it opened.

Fall Sun.jpg

To view a photo of the Richards Medical Research Building:

https://www.facilities.upenn.edu/maps/locations/richards-medical-research-laboratories

The mechanical systems are in the towers you see in the photograph.