Wendy Lesser shines a new light on American architect Louis Kahn

A problematic and rich life exposed with ink on paper.

By MATT NESVISKY
October 20, 2017 14:21
Wendy Lesser shines a new light on American architect Louis Kahn

Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California (1959-65). (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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I WAS keen to read Wendy Lesser’s “You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn” for at least three reasons. First, I have a weakness for stories about Jews who rise from the most obscure beginnings to the heights of their chosen professions. Second, I’ve long been intrigued by the manner in which certain people can discuss architecture with the sort of mystical rapture more commonly applied to music or poetry or painting; what, I keep wondering, is this apparent artistic endeavor that so supremely eludes me? And third is Kahn himself, a man whose professional life was as complex, passionate and befuddling as his notorious private life.

It helps that Lesser is no architectural monomaniac. Yes, she can be as numinous as the worst of them (“You cannot help but feel that the building itself is changing you. The person who emerges from it will not be quite the same as the person who went in”). But Lesser, the founder and editor of the much-respected literary journal “The Threepenny Review,” has also written books on such disparate subjects as literature, music, theater and crime. The salient point being that she writes well – and just as obviously, thinks and feels deeply.

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