The Floating Kahn Saved

John Hill
8. December 2020
Photo: American Wind Symphony Orchestra

Point Counterpoint II, a floating concert hall designed by Louis I. Kahn for the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, has found a permanent home on the Delaware River in Kahn's hometown of Philadelphia.

The exceptional, very un-Kahn-like project first came to our — and many people's — attention in 2003, in Nathaniel Kahn's famous film about his father, My Architect. The following decade, cellist Yo-Yo Ma reminded people about the little-known project, writing a letter to The New York Review of Books in 2017, pleading readers to find a way to save the boat. At that time, Robert Boudreau, the conductor and friend of Kahn who commissioned him to design the vessel, was on the eve of retiring. Without someone taking over, the boat would be broken down in Louisiana and sold for scrap.

A few days ago Architectural Record reported that a developer in Philadelphia will give the boat a permanent location: a dock adjacent to the long-abandoned Delaware Power Station that is being turned into an arts and culture venue. The author of the article is Gina Pollara, who formerly served as executive director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which was designed by Kahn at the end of his life but not built until 2012, nearly 40 years after Kahn died. Likewise, Point Counterpoint II remained unfinished at the time of the architect's death, but it was completed just two years later, in 1976 in time for US Bicentennial celebrations.

In addition to providing a covered stage in the center for audiences gathered adjacent to the boat, Point Counterpoint II was designed to house a gallery. The 195-foot-long double-hulled steel vessel has a low profile that is punctuated by portholes of various sizes. Certainly nautical in theme, Pollara points out they also mimic the instruments played by the orchestra, which was limited to wind, brass, and percussion.

Last year, attempts to save Point Counterpoint II led the boat to Pahokee, Florida, but apparently those plans fizzled out. Now the boat is in South Carolina, being refurbished at a shipyard before it docks for the last time in Philadelphia in 2022.


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