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Saturday, June 1 • 2:30pm - 4:00pm
(Architecture) Where the Water Flows: Louis Kahn's Bath House

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The Bath House and Day Camp Pavilions, designed by Louis I. Kahn circa 1954-1957 for the Trenton Jewish Community Center (JCC), are locally and nationally significant. They mark a turning point in Kahn's career, representing a new way of defining space, and reflect an important stylistic advancement in the way modernist principles were infused with the lessons of the past. The Bath House and Day Camp were listed on the New Jersey and National Registers in 1984, prior to reaching fifty years of age, reflecting their extreme significance.

In this interactive session, a diverse panel will review the preservation of this aging modernist facility and the recovery of its historic integrity, which required thoughtful attention to the buildings and landscape, including an abstract mural by Kahn at the entry to one of the pavilions. The mission of the project was threefold: to implement repair and restoration of the Bath House for ongoing use as a community center and pool; to reconstruct, based upon HABS-level documentation, the Day Camp Pavilions; and to interpret the site and improve site access with a new snack bar and new landscape features intended by Kahn but never completed. The preservation objectives included addressing significant architectural challenges with materials, detailing and original construction methods. The project included the restoration of several features designed but lost to time, in particular Kahn’s unique abstract entrance mural.

According to oral history, Louis I. Kahn and an assistant arrived at the site of the soon-to-be-completed Bath House and began painting a mural adjacent to the entrance that featured geometric forms reminiscent of waves and fish on the textured concrete block wall. Little information about the mural’s creation beyond an initial sketch and an early photograph survive.

Half of the mural is protected by the eaves of the pyramidal roof, while the other half is exposed. An early photograph shows visible deterioration of the mural where water runoff from the roof flowed down the surface of the mural, washing paint away. It is therefore likely that significant losses of paint due to water damage resulted in the mural being overpainted fairly early in its history.

Canning Studios and Jablonski Building Conservation were the team selected to focus on the mural. Prior to restoration of the bathhouses, a conditions assessment and finishes investigation was performed for the mural and its substrate, the concrete block. A treatment plan for the restoration of the mural considered several options. The degree of deterioration of the original paint and the extensive losses not just of paint but the concrete block determined the final option selected.

This significant work of the modern era used inexpensive materials in creative ways absent the constraints of time-tested traditional detailing, which resulted in inherent durability and maintenance issues. These challenges were inherited by the conservation team who, at the same time was seeking to preserve the ideas central to the architectural and artistic significance of Kahn’s work. This is a unique story about a common challenge often faced in conserving the contemporary.

avatar for John Canning

John Canning

John Canning & Co., Ltd.
avatar for Mary A. C. Jablonski

Mary A. C. Jablonski

Conservator, Jablonski Building Conservation, Inc.
Mary Jablonski is the president and founder of Jablonski Building Conservation, Inc. She has over 26 years' experience in many aspects of historic conservation. Mary is involved with almost all projects. This helps to insure that a consistent methodology is applied across projects... Read More →
avatar for Anne E. Weber

Anne E. Weber

Partner, Mills + Schnoering Architects

Saturday June 1, 2013 2:30pm - 4:00pm EDT
JW Marriott 103-104 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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