Louis I. Kahn. Traffic Study project , Philadelphia, PA (Plan of proposed traffic-movement pattern). 1952

Louis I. Kahn Traffic Study project , Philadelphia, PA (Plan of proposed traffic-movement pattern) 1952

  • Not on view

"What spaces, what activities, what buildings form the creative center of human communication?" This probing philosophical question, posed in 1955 by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, underlies the extraordinarily powerful buildings and projects for which he is known, as well as these two studies of Philadelphia's city center. In the 1950s Kahn had relatively little real work. Philadelphia, where he lived nearly all his life, was launching a decade of immense redevelopment, and Kahn was at the forefront. His numerous studies, many of them made independently without a commission, focused on the historic center city. These visionary drawings are significant not as blueprints for Philadelphia's redevelopment but because they reveal forms and ideas fulfilled in Kahn's later masterpieces.

The Traffic Study is a carefully ordered conceptual plan in which Kahn proposed a new traffic pattern. In an effort to untangle traffic congestion and to mitigate the haphazard proliferation of parking lots that plagued postwar American cities, Kahn reordered the streets according to a functional hierarchy. Like an idiosyncratic musical score, the drawing's abstract notational system corresponds to different tempos of traffic, such as the stop-and-go movement of trucks and buses (dotted lines), the fast flow of vehicles around the periphery (arrows), and the stasis of cars in parking garages (spirals). To explain his movement study, Kahn invoked a historical analogy: for him, the girdle of expressways and parking towers circling the city center metaphorically recalled the walls and towers that protected the medieval cities of Europe. Kahn's specific comparison was to the largely medieval town of Carcassonne, in the South of France: just as Carcassonne was a city built for defense, Kahn envisioned the modern city center having to defend itself against the automobile.

Publication excerpt from an essay by Peter Reed, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 112.
Medium
Ink, graphite, and cut-and-pasted papers on paper
Dimensions
24 1/2 x 42 3/4" (62.2 x 108.6 cm)
Credit
Gift of the architect
Object number
389.1964
Copyright
© 2019 Estate of Louis I. Kahn
Department
Architecture and Design

Installation views

MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos.

If you notice an error, please contact us at digital@moma.org.

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.