What Was It?

With Kahn, Venturi, and others, a new exhibition explores the Philadelphia School

Architecture East
(Courtesy Philomathean Society)
(Courtesy Philomathean Society)

A new exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania highlights the work of the Philadelphia architects whose work resisted modernism.

The school is hosting a monthlong exhibition on the work of Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi, Romaldo Giurgola, and others who were affiliated with Penn’s architecture program. In considering its subjects, “What was the Philadelphia School?” uses a 1961 Progressive Architecture article that called Louis Kahn the “spiritual leader” of the Philadelphia School as its point of critical departure.

“There are some architectural historians who have the view that the term ‘Philadelphia School’ isn’t really a school—it’s just a bunch of people who were at Penn at one time. We’re pushing back against that,” exhibition co-organizer Izzy Kornblatt told Curbed.

The school claims that “What was the Philadelphia School?” is one of the first to consider the affiliated architects’ work “as a bona fide movement reflecting a distinctive culture and set of ideas, rather than just a collection of architects united by affiliation with the university and physical proximity.”

The exhibition features more than 50 models and drawings, including a rare Kahn drawing from his early years and Venturi model of a concert hall that could have been built on the lot the Kimmel Center now occupies.

What was the Philadelphia School? runs through April 17 at the University of Pennsylvania in College Hall.

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