Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

10/1/2015 - 7/31/2016

Funding Totals

$42,000.00 (approved)
$42,000.00 (awarded)

American Architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974): A Portrait in Light and Shadow

FAIN: FZ-230902-15

Wendy Lesser
Unaffiliated Independent Scholar (Berkeley, CA 94709-1533)

The writing of a biography of a 20th-century American architect known for his public buildings: government centers, museums, religious centers, educational research complexes, and memorial parks.

My project will be the first full-length biography of the architect Louis Kahn, and the only book about him to be aimed at a wide general audience. Architecture is a pertinent subject for all of us --we live amidst it, whether we wish to or not-- and if the twentieth century produced a "public" American architect, Louis Kahn was it. He did not design shopping centers or fancy hotels or expensive condominium towers or corporate skyscrapers. Instead, he focused on medical and educational research complexes, government centers, art museums, libraries, memorial parks, religious buildings,and other structures that would serve the public good. At the same time, the private side of his life was so complex, so obscure, and sometimes so unconventional that it has been largely unexplored in any of the works written about him. Yet even with these personal complications, Kahn remains an exemplary figure in architecture.

Media Coverage

Academic nonfiction for the masses (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Michael Schaub
Publication: Los Angeles Times
Date: 7/28/2015
Abstract: Article about the NEH Public Scholar Grant, with mention of the fact that I, Wendy Lesser, am the only Californian in the first-round group. See full text at Files.

Review of You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Unsigned
Publication: Publishers Weekly
Date: 9/16/2016
Abstract: See full text at Files.

Brick By Brick, Architect Louis Kahn Gets The Biography He Deserves (Review)
Author(s): Julia Klein
Publication: Forward
Date: 3/11/2017
Abstract: xx

Louis Kahn: Extraordinary architect, complex family man (Review)
Author(s): Philip Kennicott
Publication: Washington Post
Date: 3/9/2017
Abstract: xx

The Dramas and Intrigues of Louis Kahn, Monumental Architect (Review)
Author(s): Dwight Garner
Publication: New York Times
Date: 3/7/2017
Abstract: xx

A Mystic Monumentality (Review)
Author(s): Martin Filler
Publication: The New York Review of Books
Date: 6/22/2017

Wendy Lesser on Louis Kahn: Immigrant, architect, lover of light (Media Coverage)
Publication: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: 5/4/2017

Wendy Lesser (Media Coverage)
Publication: Tonight on Charlie Rose
Date: 4/24/2017

Restoring Light to the Work of Louis Kahn (Review)
Author(s): Inga Saffron
Publication: New York Times
Date: 4/21/2017

You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn (Review)
Publication: Jewish Book Council
Date: 8/9/2017

Review: 'You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn,' by Wendy Lesser (Review)
Publication: Star Tribune
Date: 3/10/2017

The Mystic (Review)
Publication: The Nation
Date: 5/18/2017

5 Insights Into Louis Kahn, Kimbell Architect (Media Coverage)
Publication: Art and Seek
Date: 3/31/2017

Associated Products

You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn (Book)
Title: You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn
Author: Wendy Lesser
Abstract: This is a biography of the American architect Louis Kahn, covering everything from his early life, marriage, other relationships, children, and death to the way he designed his buildings, worked with his collaborators, built in foreign countries and America, and wrote about his work.
Year: 2017
Access Model: can be purchased for $27.00 (or less, in digital format)
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Type: Other
ISBN: 978-0374279974
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes


Marfield Prize for Arts Writing
Date: 3/1/2018
Organization: Arts Club of Washington
Abstract: The Marfield Prize, also known as the National Award for Arts Writing, recognizes the author of an outstanding nonfiction book about the visual, literary, media, or performing arts. This $10,000 prize is designed to recognize excellence in arts writing for a broad audience.