Corner - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Exterior View | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Completed in 1972, the Philips Exeter Academy Library is acknowledged to be among Louis Kahn’s most successful buildings. The structure stands 80 feet high and 111 feet wide on all four sides. Its façade is primarily built in brick with teak wood panels.

Exeter Library Technical Information

A book is tremendously important. Nobody ever paid the price of a book, they only paid for the printing. […] How precious a book is in light of the offering, in light of the one who has the privilege of the offering. The library tells you of this offering.

– Louis Kahn1

Exeter Library Photographs

Exterior - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Exterior View | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Stairs | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Ground Floor | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Voids - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Void | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Interior Void- Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Void | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Void | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Void - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Exeter Library Void | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Corner Detail | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry
Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Reading Desks | © Xavier de Jauréguiberry

History of Louis Kahns’ Exeter Library

When it became clear in the 1950s that the library had outgrown its existing building, the school initially hired an architect who proposed a traditional design for the new building. Deciding to construct a library with a contemporary design, the school gave the commission to Louis Kahn in 1965.

The Academy was very particular in knowing the kind of building they wanted: a brick exterior to match the school’s Georgian buildings and an interior with the ideal environment for study.

Kahn structured the library in three concentric square rings. The outer ring built of load-bearing brick includes all four exterior walls and the library carrel desks immediately inside them. The middle ring, which is built of reinforced concrete, holds the heavy book stacks. The inner ring is a dramatic atrium with enormous circular openings in its walls that reveal several floors of book stacks.

From the very beginning of the design process, Kahn conceived of the three types of spaces as if they were three buildings constructed of different materials and of different scales – buildings-within-buildings.

– Robert McCarter

The library is almost cubical: each of its four sides is 111 feet (33 m) wide and 80 feet (24 m) tall. It is constructed in three concentric areas (which Kahn called “doughnuts”). The outer area houses the reading carrels and is made of brick. The middle area, which contains the heavy book stacks, is made of reinforced concrete. The inner area is an atrium.

The library’s heating and cooling needs are supplied by the nearby dining hall, which Kahn built simultaneously as the library, but which is considered to be of less architectural significance.

The building committee’s document specified that the new library should be “unpretentious, though in a handsome, inviting contemporary style.” Kahn accordingly made the building’s exterior relatively undramatic, suitable for a small New England town. Its facade is primarily brick with teak wood panels at most windows marking the location of a pair of wooden carrels.

The bricks are load-bearing. Kahn calls this fact to the viewer’s attention by making the brick piers noticeably thicker at the bottom, where they have more weight to bear. 

Exeter Library Plans

Floor Plan - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
Phillips Exeter Academy Library Floor Plans | © Louis I. Kahn
Section - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn
© Louis I. Kahn

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. Primarily, his massive buildings do not hide their weight, materials, or how they are assembled. Among Louis Kahn’s more important works are the Phillips Exeter Academy Library, the Indian Institute of Management, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Salk Institute, and the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban.

Full Bio of Louis KahnWorks of Louis Kahn

  1. Kahn, Louis; Alessandra Latour (1991). Louis I. Kahn: Writings, lectures, interviews. New York: Rizzoli International Publications. ISBN 978-0-8478-1356-8.
  2. Louis I. Kahn: Completes Works (English and German Edition) by Klaus-Peter Gast 
Cite this article: "Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn" in ArchEyes, May 29, 2020, https://archeyes.com/phillips-exeter-academy-library-louis-kahn/.