Trenton Bath House
The buildings that flanked the entrance to the swimming pool of the Trenton Jewish Community Center were pivotal works in the career of Louis I. Kahn, one of the towering figures of post World War II architecture. Kahn’s influence has been compared to that of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe. In these buildings it is possible to see the first hints of the modernist use of ancient forms that would become Kahn’s signature.
Often called Kahn’s Trenton Bath House, the buildings, which opened in 1955, are located in Ewing Township, four miles from downtown Trenton. They provided an entrance and changing areas to patrons of the outdoor pool. Kahn envisaged an entire campus for the Jewish Community Center, which was moving from city to the suburbs.
He drew many plans, but besides a 1957 day camp pavilion, this is the only Louis Kahn designed element the JCC built. The cross-shaped Bath House displays the key tools with which Kahn transformed modern architecture – the use of geometric shapes, the reliance on basic building materials, the focus on maximizing natural light, and a new way of relating the secondary spaces dedicated to services such as toilets and utilities to the primary spaces of a building. Reflecting on these four, square, concrete-block rooms with pyramidal roofs, the influential art historian Vincent Scully, Jr. wrote, “The impression becomes inescapable that…architecture began anew.”