Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility The Louis I. Kahn Building | Kimbell Art Museum | 50th Anniversary

The Louis I. Kahn Building

Scroll to explore this iconic space

“Form is what, design is how.”

-Louis I. Kahn

Tap to watch Louis I. Kahn describe his inspiration for the design of the Kimbell

The Architect Louis I.

In October 1966, Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974) received the commission to design the Kimbell Art Museum. From the moment it opened in October 1972, it was deemed not only the apotheosis of Kahn’s ever-evolving ideas about the architectural union of light and structure, but also one of the finest art museums ever built. It was the last work the architect would see to completion before his death.

a portrait of Louis I. Kahn

His vision captured in a letter to
Mrs. Kimbell

The Vision for the Kimbell

a sketch of the Louis I. Kahn building

Kahn envisioned a museum with “the luminosity of silver,” illuminated by “natural light, the only acceptable light for a work of art, [with] all the moods of an individual day.” He achieved this through a design with “narrow slits to the sky” to admit daylight and pierced metal reflectors hanging beneath them to diffuse and spread the light from its hidden source onto the underside of the cycloid-shaped vaults and down the walls. Courtyards, lunettes, and light slots introduce more light, varying its quality and intensity.

Architectural space and light are further unified by the choice of materials: deftly handled structural concrete is juxtaposed with Italian travertine, fine-grained white oak, dull-finished metal, and clear glass. Kahn characterized the museum building as being inspired by “Roman greatness.” The classical appearance of its porticos, arches, and vaults is often cited.

Swipe to explore Louis I. Kahn’s early
sketches and models for the Kimbell

What is a
cycloid vault?

What is a
cycloid vault?

The curve traced by a point on the circumference of a circle that rolls on a straight line without slipping.

 an animated gif showing the curvature of a cycloid vault

“The museum has as many moods as there are moments in time, and never… will there be a single day like the other.”

Louis I. Kahn

An Architectural Icon

A modern classic from the moment of its opening, the Kimbell was “what every museum has been looking for ever since museums came into existence” (Ric Brown, the Kimbell Art Museum’s first director).

“The Louis Kahn Building is the finest museum built in the world.”

- Richard L. Feigen

“Somehow the harsh Texas sunlight which prevails outdoors has been converted into a cool, silver-tinted beam that bathes the concrete and the paintings and the people who stand in front of them, making everything seem as if it exactly belongs here.”

- Wendy Lesser in You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn

“This design will still be new and fresh 50 years from now, we think…What we have is magnificent.”

– Board of Directors, Kimbell Art Foundation, 1972

“Kahn’s Kimbell exploded onto the Texas cultural scene like a supernova, revolutionizing our self-image and sending out shock waves that continue to shape the cities in which most of us now live.”

- Michael Ennis, Texas Monthly