The Fisher House, also referred to as the Norman Fisher House, is a renowned architectural masterpiece designed by the architect Louis Kahn. Built in 1967 for Dr. Norman Fisher and his wife, Doris, in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, the house is characterized by its striking dual cubic volumes, solid stone foundation, and intricate cypress cladding. The Fisher House is a quintessential example of Kahn’s unique style and how it diverged from that of his contemporaries. It remains a testament to his exceptional design and building skills.
Fisher House Technical Information
- Architects: Louis Kahn
- Location: 197 E Mill Rd, Hatboro, PA 19040, Pennsylvania, United States
- Clients: Norman and Doris Fisher
- Topics: American Houses, Wood Construction, Squares
- Project Year: 1960-1967
The room is the beginning of architecture. It is the place of the mind. You in the room with its dimensions, its structure, its light respond to its character, its spiritual aura, recognizing that whatever the human proposes and makes becomes a life. The structure of the room must be evident in the room itself. Structure, I believe, is the giver of light.
– Louis Kahn1
Fisher House Photographs
Text by the Architects
In the Fisher House, Kahn eschews the linearity of the modern plan and focuses on simple geometry, allowing the cubes to provide a separation of public and private space.
Known widely for monumental works like the Salk Institute and the Richards Medical Center, the Fisher House is a testament to Kahn’s ability to work with the details of small residential architecture. The Fisher House is the clearest example of Kahn’s unique architectural style at the time, his use of the two almost perfect cubes differing greatly from much of what was being done at the time and setting him apart in his own field of design. It is one of nine houses that Kahn designed and constructed.
Dr. and Mrs. Fisher lived in a colonial-style house in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, where Dr. Fisher ran his family health practice. The Fishers were looking to construct another house nearby. The Fishers met Louis I. Kahn in 1960 and set a budget of $45,000, forcing Kahn to eliminate three rooms from the first sketch plan he drew.
During this time, Kahn also worked on the Salk Institute and the Capital Complex in Bangladesh. Several different schemes were proposed before Kahn, and the Fishers were satisfied. If some small thing needed to be changed, Kahn would start over with the design, feeling that the total composition would be compromised if things were altered.
In the very first scheme, the two separate square volumes are apparent. The circulation is primarily vertical and separated within each volume. In this design, Kahn had a large stone fireplace separating the living and dining areas. While in Dacca, Bangladesh working on the Capitol Complex, Kahn discovered the idea of two cubes intersecting at an angle. His initial plan called for one volume to be masonry and the other to be wood. Kahn eventually eliminated this idea due to budget restrictions. The final project was a masonry foundation and plinth with two wooden cubes resting on top. The wood was crafted with deep window pockets and built-in cabinets, tables, and seating.
The Fisher House, though a small residential project, came during a time of intense work for Kahn and allowed him to explore some of the ideas that would appear in later large works.
In 2012, the Fisher family sold the house to a private owner under the guidance of The National Trust.
Form and use
The Fisher House uses form to separate the home’s different public and private uses. The public and private are divided into two distinct two-story nearly cubic volumes. The private volume is aligned along the north-south axis, and the public, which is rotated precisely 45 degrees, is aligned along a northeast-southwest line that runs parallel to the driveway.
The public volume intersects the north face of the private with its southeast corner. The public space, which is perfectly square in plan, holds the entrance corridor, the master bedroom at ground level, and two other bedrooms above. The second volume is slightly off square, having a rectangular plan, and holds the living, dining, and kitchen space in a double-height room. Throughout the house, there are deeply recessed windows. These allow light in during winter and keep out direct sunlight in summer.
Kahn often used the window indentations in the home to create occupiable spaces, such as benches or storage spaces. These uses were seen as very innovative at the time. The best example of these changes can be found in the main living area near the large hearth. Kahn created details out of the window ledge and created not only a seating area but also a set of shelves for out-of-sight storage. The deep recession also allows them to open during storms without rain coming into the house. A large stone hearth just off center in the living cube creates a slight separation between the living room and the kitchen area, but the kitchen still opens more to the public realm than was traditionally the case at this time. The decision to create two distinct volumes was driven by the original dual design requirement of home and physician’s office.
The Fisher House lies amid a prolific period of design for Kahn. It is bookended by the Margaret Esherick house and the Phillips Exeter Academy Library and was built during the same period as the Salk Institute. Like many architects, Kahn used his housing commissions to test his ideas about architecture.
Kahn sought a sense of monumentality and longevity in his work but also strove to bring the ideas of modernism to a place of familiarity. In the Fisher house, Kahn uses the stone plinth to create a sense of timelessness. On this plinth, he has built a piece of archeology. The woodwork in the Fisher house establishes the feeling of warmth and tradition in an otherwise starkly modern design.
Fisher House Plans
Fisher House Image Gallery
About Louis Kahn
Louis Isadore Kahn (1901 – 1974) was an American architect based in Philadelphia whose proposals and teaching made him one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century. Kahn created a monumental and monolithic style. For the most part, his massive buildings do not hide their weight, materials, or how they are assembled.
- Kahn, “The Room, the Street, and Human Agreement” (AIA Gold Medal acceptance speech, Detroit,
June 24, 1971), AIA Journal 56 (September 1971): 33. From Brownlee and De Long. Louis I. Kahn, 203.
Louis I. Kahn: Completes Works (English and German Edition) by Klaus-Peter Gast