Original Title: My Architect
Runtime: 110 min.
Country: United States
Director: Nathaniel Kahn
Writer: Nathaniel Kahn
Soundtrack: Joseph Vitarelli
Photography Director: Karl Freund & Günther Rittau
Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, Kimbel art museum in Texas, Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, Yale university art gallery in new Haven and the National Parliament House in Bangladesh are some of the globally famous buildings standing firmly as an inspiration for Architects. The movie “My Architect” digs up the life behind the creator of these exemplary structures- Louis I. khan. It is a documentary film written and directed by his son- Nathaniel Kahn, who goes on a journey in the quest to understand his long-lost father and find out what he was. This is a film that brilliantly portrays the majesty of Kahn’s work through the lens of his son.
Louis I. Kahn, a Philadelphia-based American architect, died of a heart attack at Penn station bathroom in 1974 while returning from a work trip to India when Nathaniel was only 11. Having an association with three different women, one with his wife and the other with long-term extramarital affairs who were unaware of each other’s existence, he led a very secretive life. Nathaniel, his child through one of his affairs, always longed to live with him. When he died, Nathaniel was left with a lot of questions about his father and his path to becoming a legendary Architect.
Louis Kahn was in high school when he realised that only architecture has to be his life and says “How accidental are our existences are really, and how full of influence by circumstance.” Scarface and a bullied child, he drowned himself in his studies and got into Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He had great ideas about architecture and firmly decided to be an architect during his high school years. A Jewish immigrant, he was considered one of the most influential architects who believed in designing Monumental and timeless buildings. His designs are imposing heavyweight, naked structures that follow a certain sense of symmetry, geometry and order along with proudly showcasing the material expression. His designs are a combination of modernism and his poetic philosophy. People often state that experiencing his buildings was like connecting with spiritual powers.
He worked in various firms and didn’t open his practice until he was 50 since he hadn’t found his style yet, but then after he visited Rome, Greece and Egypt, he realised that he wanted to create modern buildings having the presence and feel of ancient ruins. Apart from having his firm, he also taught at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania as a professor of architecture. Material, according to Kahn, was more than basic building materials. During one of his master classes, he explains that:
“If you think of Brick, you say to Brick, ‘What do you want, Brick?’ And Brick says to you, ‘I like an Arch.’ And if you say to Brick, ‘Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you. What do you think of that, Brick?’ Brick says, ‘I like an Arch.’ And it’s important, you see, that you honour the material that you use. … You can only do it if you honour the brick and glorify the brick instead of shortchanging it.”
The movie revolves around Nathaniel conducting interviews and engaging in conversation with famous architects and professors who were once Louis Kahn’s colleagues starting with Philip Johnson, Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Moshi Safdie, and BV Doshi with whom he worked closely on certain projects. They presented their views on the relationship they shared with Louis and gave an insight into his both professional and personal life. Philip Johnson describes him as an artist and how he was a man of principles which sometimes came in his way of signing clients. Apart from that, Nathaniel also interviews Louis’s relationships along with Nathaniel’s half-sisters to get to know more about his personal life.
Nathaniel visits all of his major works during the film starting from the Yale university’s art gallery which was his first significant work consisting of a heavy triangulated grid ceiling. Louis often described his work as “living” in its adaptability and “breathing” in its complex ventilation system. Nathaniel even visits Bangladesh and experiences the grandeur of the National parliament house design which apart from being a magnificent creation managed to generate a political difference in the country by exhibiting power through its architecture.
“My architect” perfectly captures the journey of a legendary architect through the eyes of someone so close to his life. It manages to unveil the secrets behind Louis Kahn’s personal and professional life while taking the viewer through his designs and in conversation with people who actually knew him. This film sums up that a person is remembered by his works and even if the architect dies, their legacy is left behind through the immortal structures and buildings that stand as a testimony to their vision and ideologies.
- IMDb. 2022. My Architect (2003) – IMDb. [online] Available at: <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0373175/> [Accessed 12 June 2022].