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Phillips Exeter Academy Library

Exeter, United States of America
1 of 13

In 1965, Louis Kahn was called on to design a library and dining area for the high school community at Phillips Exeter Academy.

This library is one of the most important and visually austere buildings Kahn built for an American university.The architect was chosen based on the results achieved in the projects of new buildings at the existing campuses of Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College, as well as his proposals that were not built for Rice University and schools of fine arts of Maryland and Philadelphia. Kahn became one of the most requested architects for such orders.

The building is located in an environment in which neo-Georgian buildings dominated and in which the then new rector Richard W. Day wanted a modern project that outweighed the historic character of other buildings on campus, thus achieving a significant contribution to the architectural landscape.

The projected cost for the construction of Kahn's design exceeded the initial budget of $2.5 million, so it was necessary to substantially alter the design, and eliminate the top floor. After numerous meetings with the committee and letters in which the architect persuaded its members that a change of this magnitude would alter significantly the global scale of the design, the committee agreed to raise more funds, and in the last round of changes to the working drawings, the top floor was restored.


The plan required that the library accommodate 250,000 volumes of the general collection, magazines, rare books, classrooms for seminars and work places for 400 students. It was also requested that it be "far from being a mere repository of books and periodicals, the library was to becomes a modern laboratory for research and experimentation, a serene haven for study, reading and reflection, the intellectual center of the community."


The Library, according to Boullee, is more rigidly classic than the earlier work of Kahn. A square divided into nine smaller squares, with a free square in the center, or a large bucket of 34 x 34 x 24 , With a bucket central vacuum, or returning to Boulee, a spherical vacuum.

From the outside it looks like a cube made of bricks, upon entering, between the plates that make up the cube, it was discovered recently that at almost any time of day the building is under shadow, evoking a cave-like feeling. Such access leads to a central area of the height of the building defined by a series of Euclidean shapes (circles, triangles and squares) and the expressiveness of their material, coated by an apparent indirect light, which evokes the emotion of what is elementary. The seriousness of this mystery whose interior is accentuated by the transition from dark to light, gives life to the building and the pursuit of knowledge as a spiritual project.

Although the facades have an almost elemental nature, the interior volumes, the massive geometries reveal the influence of the overall design of Kahn for the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, commissioned in 1962 and completed after his death.

In the second, third and fourth floor are cubicles for private reading, arranged around the perimeter of the building, which are located in the spaces between the pillars of brick are the reference lines of the horizontal windows of each cubicle, which are then articulated in the facade.


The library of the Phillips Exeter Academy has a large empty volume, a definitive feature that created by Kahn.

While the plan and the section of this empty space offers a cavernous point, The interior space is in fact incredibly complex. The circular openings extend from the four areas of wall to the ceiling, ending with large concrete cross beams arranged in a diagonal manner. It recalls previous library designs with a large central space, like the draft Etienne-Louis Boullee for a real library in 1785, or the public library Eric Gunnar Asplund Stockholm in 1927.


The exterior walls of brick act as a bulkhead, which visually demarcate this seemingly simple construction, consisting of brick pillars. On the facade, a horizontal line of intermediate-sized wood panels demarcate the cubicles of reading which in turn are also manufactured in wood. There are also beams of concrete within its structure.