Louis Kahn wrote and lectured a lot. He had a very poetic, often confusing way of saying things. One of the things he discussed frequently is materials, and in that context specifically the brick. As such, any student of Kahn knows that it would be imprudent for me to ignore the brick in this project. I have begun to test the clays that I have by making some bricks. I carried back a log that I cut from a cedar tree at The Kimbell, then milled it into boards to make a brick mold. First I’ll put a long Kahn quote here, then some pictures of the bricks so far. The first brick, made of clays #2 and #3 at 50% each, and put in the mold when pretty thick, cracked while it was drying, outside of the mold. The second test was the same clay mix, but poured in the mold as a thick slip. That one cracked like crazy while drying, still in the mold. The third test was clays #2, #3 and #5, mixed equally and put into the mold in a thicker consistency, like test number one. This brick survived and fired to cone five, which turned out as a nice, solid, green brick.
Here is Louis Kahn:
“Realization is Realization in Form, which means a nature. You realize that something has a certain nature. A school has a certain nature, and in making a school the consultation and approval of nature are absolutely necessary. In such a consultation you can discover the Order of water, the Order of wind, the Order of light, the Order of certain materials. If you think of brick, and you’re consulting the Orders, you consider the nature of brick. You say to brick, “What do you want, brick?” Brick says to you, “I like an arch.” If you say to brick, “Arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over an opening. What do you think of that brick?” Brick says, “I like an arch.”
“It is important that you honor the material you use. You don’t bandy it about as though to say, “Well, we have a lot of material, we can do it one way, we can do it another way.” It’s not true. You must honor and glorify the brick instead of shortchanging it and giving it an inferior job to do in which is loses its character, as for example, when you use it as infill material, which I have done and you have done. Using brick so it makes it feel as though it is a servant, and brick is a beautiful material. It has done beautiful work in many places and still does. Brick is a completely live material in areas that occupy three quarters of the world, where it is the only logical material to use. Concrete is a highly sophisticated material, not so available as you think. “
“You can have the same conversation with concrete, with papier-mache, or with plastic or marble, or any other material. The beauty of what you create comes if you honor the material for what it really is. Never use it in a subsidiary way so as to make the material wait for the next person to come along and honor its character.”
Now if you were to reread that quote and every time he says brick, replace it with “clay”, you would see the challenge that I have as seen through the Kahn prism. What does the clay want to be? Does it want to be thrown on the wheel? Cast in a mold? Sculpted by hand? Into what form(s)? And maybe most importantly, why?