The design of the Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Building, as shown in this model, was a reaction against the prevalent idea in modern architecture that a single “envelope” of space should encompass all parts of a building. The distinction between what Kahn called “served” and “servant” spaces underlies the highly articulated massing and overall structure of the Richards Medical Research Building. The working quarters of the complex comprise three towers of vertically stacked, glass-enclosed laboratory spaces. These are organized around a central service tower that includes common spaces and utilities, such as elevators and stairs. A number of taller, brick-faced towers, distributed along the periphery of the laboratories and the service tower, function as monumentally scaled air-intake and vertical exhaust stacks.
Kahn explained that he conceived this design “in recognition of the realizations that science laboratories are studios and that the air to breathe should be away from the air to throw away.” By placing the servant spaces (stairs, elevators, and air-handling towers) on the periphery, Kahn was also able to provide the served spaces (the laboratories and offices) maximum flexibility by means of uninterrupted floor space. While Kahn developed a practical response to the needs of those who would use the building, he also engaged with its immediate context: the towers of this design echo the lively silhouettes of the University of Pennsylvania’s neighboring turn-of-the-century dormitories.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)