Attempting to
fully understand all specific methods and practices within the realm of

has proven to be a
difficult, if not impossible task. For this reason, it is important that

and those
interested in architecture, take time to learn about and comprehend some of the

ideals in order to
intelligently and appropriately design, or admire, buildings.  In order to come to

an understanding
of one of these ideals, the relationship between form and function in

architecture, one
must critically examine the practices of these concepts in various design

processes. One
specific design process is that of creating a central feature which all other

revolve around.

For Louis Kahn, in his designs of the Indian Institute of Management and the

Salk Institute,
this central and defining feature is the courtyard. The courtyard is used
widely in

design as a critical planning element because of its typical size and scale and

endless variety of
potential uses. In attempt to better understand how this largely influential

space assists, or
challenges, Kahn in his methodology of planning, this paper will be analyzing

the reasoning
behind the designs of these two projects and how they succeed (or not) in their

attempts to cater
to the needs of the space and its users. I will be looking closely at the

similarities and
differences of both of these projects and hopefully come to an understanding of

how to
successfully utilize the courtyard as a central organizing feature.

Additionally, a study of

the relationship
of form and function and how these components influence the design process of

Kahn, will provide
supplement to the analyzation of the courtyard.

The Courtyard

The concept of the
courtyard was fundamental to Kahn’s institutional architecture, as his

doubled as places of community and contemplation.”

 Throughout the duration of


professional career, the presence of landscape in architecture was seen in
sporadic ways

through what he
designed, wrote and drew. It seems he was always considering it on some level,

in everything he

 Landscapes, contrary to popular belief, do not
mean strictly


elements, as they can be hardscapes or include water.

Courtyard spaces,
as landscape


pieces, are
encouraged in design due to the flexibility in their geometry and dimensions,
and how

they can help to
create a unified whole. Courtyards, also referred to as patios or atriums, can

either interior or
exterior and are typically an enclosed and protected space that promote

gathering and a
continuity of outside and in.

 A ‘successful’ courtyard considers natural




James, Kathleen.

“Louis Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management’s Courtyard: Form



Journal of
Architectural Education (1984),


 no. 1 (1995), 38.



Ashraf, Kazi
Khaleed. “Taking Place: Landscape in the Architecture of Louis Kahn.”


Journal of



 61, no. 2 (2007), 48.


 Ibid., 49.



Mohammed. “Significant Characteristics and Design Considerations of the
Courtyard House.”

Journal of
Architectural and Planning Research


 12, no. 2 (1995), 93.

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Relation of Louis
Kahn’s courtyard spaces to form and function

and ventilation
along with landscaping as a critical component to prevent the courtyard from

feeling hard and
dull or without life.

 For Kahn, there were two primary challenges in


around a
courtyard, and one is the matter of the kinds of spaces that would be
surrounding it. In

instances such as
the Salk Institute, the program was fairly simple. There was not a complexity

or variety of
spaces with which to consider for the designs of these courtyards. However, the

design for the
Indian Institute of Management consisted of very complex programming,

particularly in
regards to the school building on campus. The other major challenge Kahn faced

was how to
incorporate the proper balance of natural and constructed elements to reflect

feeling he wanted
the spaces to emulate. This was especially prevalent in his design of the Salk

Institute, as he
had to chose to incorporate additional landscaping or let the courtyard be in

existing nature.

The Salk Institute

“AD Classics: Salk
Institute / Louis Kahn.”




, 29 Aug. 2017,

Louis Kahn was
first approached by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1959 to design a research based

that would “invite
Picasso to the laboratory.”

 The institution’s intent, as designated by
Salk, was


to provide a
beautifully crafted and artistic space for the study of a variety of scientific

that not only
dealt with medical science, but the human condition, rather than simply
focusing on

one task.

 Kahn’s initial design for the institute
consisted of three main components: the research


laboratories, the
residences and a meeting house. He and Dr. Salk both greatly believed in

ability to “allow for personal withdrawal while encouraging participation in

collective hive.”

 It was for this reason that Kahn felt strongly
about the importance of these


three spaces, and
sought to ensure they would relate to one another by use of negative spaces in

the landscape.

Kahn went through three major design schemes, amongst countless other changes,

that would result
in the two linear laboratory buildings of today’s Salk Institute. His first






Treib, Marc.

“To End a Continent: The Courtyard of the Salk Institute.”


Journal of the
Society of Architectural



 65, no. 3 (2006), 403.






Ibid., 406.

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Relation of Louis
Kahn’s courtyard spaces to form and function

proposal was that
of three main building types mentioned previously. In this design, the labs

were situated as
clusters along the eastern edge of the site, while the residences were to the

and the meeting
house on the western limits. However, after presenting and discussing this

design with Dr.

Salk, Kahn came to the realization that this design did little to address the

dynamic components
of the land, nor the essence of community and engagement Salk wished


 From there, he altered the design of the
laboratory section, instead designating four separate


lab “blocks”, two
stories each, to be divided by linear, shaded garden areas that would create a

connection between the land and sea.

 Throughout the rest of his design process,


Kahn paid careful
attention to this idea of landscape as an established architectural element.


focus helped guide
him in what would be his final design of the Salk Institute, which consists of

two mirroring, six
story blocks. His main reasoning for reducing the number of lab blocks was

primarily because
of what he wanted the courtyard to mean in this design.

 Kahn wrote that:


“one garden is
greater than two because it becomes a place in relation to

the laboratories
and their studies. Two gardens were just a convenience.

But one is really
a place; you put meaning in it; you feel loyalty to it.”


Kahn wanted this
courtyard to blatantly and specifically exemplify what he and Dr. Salk had

discussed in regards to community and engagement. From this, we understand that

courtyard of the
Salk Institute was not just an incidental in the design process, but an

component that
would help drive the design to be what it is today.

Kahn’s final
design for the courtyard at Salk was influenced by Luis Barragán, a Mexican

architect, whom
Kahn so admired and sought out to assist in designing the space. However,

Barragán would
claim the only thing he offered to Kahn was advice. When Barragán first visited

the site in 1966,
the shells of the two laboratory blocks were already standing, and all that

of the courtyard
was an empty, undetermined landscape, and “he read the space as an almost

sacred void into
which nothing should intrude.”

 Kahn took this advice and retracted his ideas


for additive
landscaping, such as trees, that would intrude on the view of the sea.  The courtyard,

as seen in a
previous image, is long and wide, with limited noticeable features at first

However, upon
further examination, we can see that the courtyard is carefully designed and

through subtle elements and a specificity of materiality.





 Ibid., 407.


 Ibid., 408.


 Ibid., 409.



Ibid., 413.

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Kahn’s courtyard spaces to form and function

Although Kahn’s
design for this courtyard has been seemingly praised since its introduction,

there are some who
doubt the design due to the way it deals with the natural elements of the site,

most specifically,
the sun. One concern of the staff at the institute was that of the physical

discomfort of the
primary courtyard found in the early morning and later afternoon hours.

However, in the
smaller courts found in various areas of the design, Kahn dealt with this issue

“using layers of
loggias, stair towers, and office blocks to filter direct sunlight while
effecting a

mysterious play of

 Other than this complaint and few others, the
Salk Institute is


known to be an
incredible example of the connection of architecture and landscape, and its

presence is truly
remarkable. The continuity of land and sea and sky through the frame the two

lab buildings
create is something only a true master can accomplish. The sublimity of the

courtyard comes
from an intent to create community and a desire to develop a very specific

language of built
versus natural, both of which were carried out successfully.

The Indian
Institute of Management

“AD Classics:
Indian Institute of Management / Louis Kahn.”




, 24 Oct. 2010,

The Indian
Institute of Management is located in


Gujarat, India. Louis Kahn, being

responsible for
the design of the entire campus, was given the challenge of linking multiple

buildings together
through use of materials and spatial organization. His greatest challenge was

that of designing
the school building, a space which originally required the incorporation of

classrooms, a
library, faculty and administrative offices, a dining hall and a kitchen. Kahn

not previously
been tasked with designing a building with such complex programming.


restriction Kahn had to work with was building materials, as the clients
limited him to

building in
labor-intensive brick, allowing reinforced concrete only for the floor slabs.


Knowing this from
the beginning, he was very aware that designing welcoming, relaxing

courtyard spaces
for students and faculty would be a challenge. Throughout his design process,

Kahn had a
difficult time relieving the tension “between a humanistic understanding of


 Ibid., 415.






Louis Kahn’s
Indian Institute of Management’s Courtyard”, 39.



Ibid., 41.

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Kahn’s courtyard spaces to form and function

community and
visions of sublime spaces.”

After twenty-two
drawn versions of the school


building, Kahn
realized that in every “successive version of this scheme the abstract geometry

the whole was
further eroded by function until the underlying organization became almost


 It seems that Kahn was getting lost in his
initial grandeur scheme, and was


struggling to
relate it to the function of the spaces required. This is where we can begin to

understand that
form does not follow function, as Kahn had to work and rework his design over

and over to find
the balance between the two and to encourage them to build off of one another

to create a space
that serves and appeals.

In the summer of
1963, Kahn received a memo indicating that he was to remove the library from

the center space
of the building and turn it into an open courtyard.

 Kahn had just began to


finalize his
design of the Salk Institute courtyard where he was able to rely on existing
nature to

help establish the
courtyard. At the site for the Indian Institute of Management, no such nature

really existed as
it is located in a city. Thus became what would be his biggest challenge in the

design of the
courtyard at IIM. This introduction of the courtyard was influenced by Kahn’s

earlier designs
for the rest of the campus, where he laid out a “succession of three-sided

courtyards strung
along diagonal axes,” which was modeled, per the institute’s building

request, after the Harvard Business School. Here, four small courtyards and two

large ones flank a
central lawn feature.

 In Kahn’s beginning attempts to design the



 “his desire to give individual expression to
the varied functions surround-

ing the courtyard
often diverted his attention from the central space.

Throughout the
design process, he was particularly apt to experiment with

the light wells
and exterior features of the blocks of faculty offices, indepen-

dently of their
relationship to the courtyard.”


After various
iterations of the design, Kahn did eventually attempt turning his focus to the

core of the
building. He focused on adding asymmetrical stair towers and library, however

not consider the
elevational issues these additions would pose. Throughout the rest of the

process, Kahn
bounced back and forth between designing the courtyard and the spaces around

Unfortunately, it
seems that every time he focused on the surrounding spaces, the aesthetic and

spatial qualities
of the courtyard would be disregarded and lost. Because of this, when Kahn was

unable to resolve
his designs for the dining hall and kitchen facility, Anant Raje, another



Ibid., 38.


 Ibid., 42.








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involved with the project from the beginning, decided to build his own dining

facilities on a
completely separate site and left that side of the court open.

  Still to this day,


Kahn’s school
building remains unresolved. The focus of the courtyard is compromised because

of the randomness
seen throughout its facades, and its odd notion that patrons should walk

around rather than
through it. Also, because some of the intended buildings were not built there,

there is a feeling
of emptiness throughout the space as one will find random openings and

facades untouched
by design because of the intent for another building to occupy the in between


 Overall, the project seems very haphazard and
never truly gained the sense of flow first


intended. It is
unsuccessful in these ways and also in the sense that Kahn drastically
overbuilt the

project by
over-stressing the areas made for circulation, and under-developed the


After analyzing
these projects, it seems safe to say that courtyards can be and, more often

not, should be
carefully considered and well thought-out in architectural design. Being that

courtyards may be
interior or exterior, large or small, their presence can completely alter and

circulation and spatial qualities of a building. In general, Louis Kahn’s

of the courtyard
have been successful, as he always strived to create spaces that promoted

gathering and an
exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. His most successful projects are

those with which
he spent a great deal of time and effort to create these kinds of spaces based

the initial
program and intent of the project.  As
Kahn learned throughout his career, when

designing any
building, it is always important to consider landscape, and courtyards really

solidify the
connection of landscape to architecture, this continuity of exterior and
interior, and

the natural versus
man-made. Perhaps what has made his design for the Salk Institute so

successful is that
he rejected the addition of landscaping as plants, but rather, created an

landscape using the facades of the buildings, the sea, and the paved ground to

boundaries, while
allowing the surrounding landscape to be present and admired.


what made his design for the Indian Institute of Management less of a success

was perhaps this
very reason as well. Kahn used a similar strategy in designing the IIM, for he

used limited
additive landscaping and tried relying on the architecture to do the work.


based on the scale
of the site, the region and the simple fact that he did not have an existing

landscape of
beautiful natural elements, this method became the opposite of ideal. He had

lost a sense of
continuity in the facades of the courtyard’s surrounding spaces, for some had

windows, some
small, some no windows at all. This seemed to create a very unorganized and

irrational feeling
in the courtyard space. This comparison in his work lends itself to the idea

while form is not
an effect of function, it is important for architects to consider the function

to designing
spaces based off of existing precedents or the intended end result. Kahn



Ibid. 43.



Ibid., 44.



Treib, Marc.

“To End a Continent: The Courtyard of the Salk Institute.”, 420.

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Kahn’s courtyard spaces to form and function

deigning the
courtyard, and then the surrounding spaces, back to the courtyard, and around

interdependent relationship between form and function is a method difficult to

understand and
apply, but when used as Kahn did for the Salk Institute, pretty incredible

buildings and
spaces can result.


Both of these
projects are excellent examples of the relationship between form, function and

courtyard. Through
Kahn’s process of trial and error, we find that architectural design is not as

straightforward as
“form follows function.” Specifically in the design of a courtyard, there is a

neverending process of taking one step forward and two steps back, in order to

achieve the
idealized outcome. It is critical to realize and understand that the presence

landscape in
architecture is an important determinant in designing courtyard spaces, and

acknowledgement of
this helps others understand the decisions he made in finding the form and

function of his
courtyards.Throughout each of these projects, it becomes clear that designating

central organizing
feature will change the spatial qualities of that building, and furthermore,

selecting the
proper form for that space can either make or break a design. With so many
items to

take into
consideration, it seems reasonable that Kahn, or any architect for that matter,

struggle with
designing a courtyard space. Although courtyards appear simple in their nature,

typically as plain
open spaces interwoven through architectural pieces, they are much more than

that. Courtyards
have a complex history of being a useful, and sometimes necessary,

element that controls the circulation of a space and assists in clearly

aesthetic and
spatial qualities of spaces that encompass it. Courtyards become spaces with

possibilities of users and activities, which makes intentionally designing them
for one

thing or another, a near impossible task.

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