Corner - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© 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.1

– Louis Kahn

Exeter Library Photographs
Exterior - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Voids - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Interior Void- Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Void - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Text by the Architects

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 instead 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 Georgian buildings of the school and an interior with the ideal environment for study.

Kahn structured the library in three concentric square rings. The outer ring, which is 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 has an almost cubical shape: 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, which houses the reading carrels, 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 at the same time 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

© Louis I. Kahn

Section - Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn

© Louis I. Kahn

Exeter Library Image Gallery
About Louis Kahn

Louis Isadore Kahn was an American architect, based in Philadelphia. After working in various capacities for several firms in Philadelphia, he founded his own atelier in 1935. While continuing his private practice, he served as a design critic and professor of architecture at Yale School of Architecture from 1947 to 1957.
Other works from 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.
Cite this article: "Phillips Exeter Academy Library / Louis Kahn" in ArchEyes, May 29, 2020, https://archeyes.com/phillips-exeter-academy-library-louis-kahn/.