But it is the ones that never came to be, and the sheer number of them, that tease the imagination in this look back mounted by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
The exhibition's hefty eight-pound catalogue ($34.95 in paperback, $55 clothbound) lists more than 100 of these: private homes, synagogues, nunneries, playgrounds, swim clubs, public housing projects, academic buildings, an office tower, a Holocaust memorial, a U.S. consulate in Angola. They exist only on paper, or in model form.
What would Philadelphia's Civic Center look like if Kahn had designed it? Or Market Street East? Or Baltimore's Inner Harbor? Kahn prepared studies for all three sites, which were subsequently developed by others.
Models and sketches in the exhibition give shape to what could have been. One model shows a synagogue planned for 5th and Commerce streets, where the Museum of American Jewish History now stands. Another, in which a hulking row of buildings dwarf a Doric temple, is a rejected proposal for expanding the University of the Arts on South Broad Street.
The most striking model of all is a stark grouping of glass cubes that would have been sited in New York City's Battery Park as a memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. The project went through several redesigns to appease its sponsors, then expired when they failed to raise the money.
Form and essence were the soul of Kahn's work, expressed in strong geometric lines, proletarian building materials and ample entry points for natural light. He himself was a charismatic figure despite his slight stature, high-pitched voice (a remnant of scarlet fever) and scarred face (from crawling too close to a coal fire as an infant).
Born in Estonia, Kahn emigrated to Philadelphia with his family in 1906 and attended public schools. As a youth, he took classes at the Graphic Sketch Club and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, winning two city-wide student art contests.
An architectural history class that Kahn took his senior year at Central High School abruptly altered his career plans. Instead of studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy, he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania's architecture school.
The Depression stalled Kahn's career not long after he received his degree. During four years of little or no work, he brainstormed with like-minded peers, discussing social issues raised by the hard economic times and translating them into building plans.
Kahn eagerly embraced the concept of federally subsidized housing. At the same time, he was capable of working up private-sector projects that never saw daylight because their scope exceeded the client's budget. Artistic disputes with clients doomed many more projects.
Recognition came to Kahn late in life. He designed his most memorable buildings after age 50, some in such far-flung places as India and Bangladesh. In 1974 he was returning from a construction site in India when, at 73, he suffered a fatal heart attack in New York's Pennsylvania Station. He is buried in Montefiore Cemetery in Fox Chase.
LOUIS I. KAHN: In the Realm of Architecture. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Oct. 20-Jan. 5. Admission: $3-$6. Info: 763-8100.
Examples of Louis I. Kahn's work in the Philadelphia area include institutional, residential and religious buildings. Here's a guide to some of them.
Ahavath Israel Synagogue (now Grace Temple), 6735 N. 16th St. Built 1935-37.
Private home, 628 Stetson Road, Elkins Park. Built 1940-42.
Pennypack Woods, a cluster of rowhouses, apartments, stores and a community building, Northeast Philadephia. Built 1941-43.
Private home, 201 Indian Creek Road, Wynnewood. Built 1948-51.
Mill Creek Project, public housing, 46th and Aspen. Built 1951-63.
Private home, 417 Hidden River Road, Narberth. Built 1956-62.
Private home, 417 Sherry Way, Cherry Hill. Built 1957-62.
Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Building and Biology Building (now David Goddard Laboratories), University of Pennsylvania, 3700 Hamilton Walk. Built 1957-65.
Private home, 204 Sunrise Lane, Chestnut Hill. 1959-61.
Eleanor Donnelly Erdman Hall, Bryn Mawr College, Morris and Gulph roads, Bryn Mawr. Built 1960-65.