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Great Detail: Alan Dunlop on Louis Kahn’s Trenton Bath House

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The fourth in a new series looking at the building details that have impressed and inspired our readers. Today: Alan Dunlop of Alan Dunlop Architect

Architect Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng
Building Trenton Jewish Community Center Bath House, Ewing New Jersey, US (1955)

Trenton section and thumbnail 001

Section sketch by Alan Dunlop

From the mid 1950s until his death in 1974, Louis Kahn created six of the greatest buildings of the 20th century: the Salk Institute; Kimbell Museum of Art; Phillips Exeter Library; Yale Center for British Art; Institute of Management, Ahmedabad; and the National Assembly Building, Dhaka. Each is recognised as exceptional.

However, it is in the design of a small and relatively little known bath house, begun in 1952 for the Trenton Jewish Community, that Khan ‘discovered himself’ as an architect.

Kahn worked with Anne Tyng, one of three important collaborators who had a significant input into his work. The building is cruciform in plan, geometrically precise and set out on a 22 x 8ft tartan grid, following Kahn’s fascination with Andrea Palladio’s Villa Rotunda. Each room is conceived as an independent pavilion around a central atrium, which is open to the sky.

Trenton bath house plan and image 2

Trenton bath house plan and image 2

Above the male and female changing pavilions, entrance and porch are four pyramidal timber roofs, with an oculus at the apex. The roofs define every space and ‘float’, allowing natural light around the perimeter of the changing rooms and the interiors to ventilate naturally. The roofs are supported by steel posts at the centre of hollow ’columns’. The columns form a screened entrance to the doorless changing rooms and also storage areas, the pool control room, manager’s office and toilets.

This project set Kahn’s philosophy for all his future buildings, each of which has had a profound influence on my own work, particularly the clarity of plan and section; the appropriate use of materials combined with a knowledge of how to build and his passion for maximising natural light.

 ’From this came a generative force which is recognisable in every building I have done since’ Louis Kahn

 Alan Dunlop is honorary chair in contemporary architectural practice at the University of Liverpool

Trenton male change thumbnail jpg

Trenton male change thumbnail jpg

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