Film review by: Witney Seibold
Louis I. Kahn died in a men’s room at Penn Station at age 73. He had crossed off the address on his passport. He was out of work, bankrupt. He had not built many buildings, but the ones he did are considered masterpieces by most colleagues; The Salk Institute out in La Jolla. The Parliament building in Bangladesh is not only beautiful, but is considered by some to be the foundation on which Bangladeshi democracy was built. He even designed, most entertainingly, a boat which sails from harbor to harbor in order to open up like a Transformer, and present a full orchestra that would play tunes for the residents. He was survived by a wife and a daughter. And a mistress and a daughter. And another mistress and a son.
That son, Nathanial Kahn, has now made a documentary about his father called “My Architect,” one of the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary. It’s a gentle search for the truth about his father. How he loves the man, despite his tendency to go missing for large periods. He interviews other architects, and all of them seem to be in awe of Kahn’s work. Frank Gehry sites him as a major influence. I.M. Pei, prolific like crazy, calmly and humbly points out that quality should be treasured over quantity. Archive footage is shown of Kahn, a short, quite frankly an ugly man, giving calm lectures. He was a workaholic; one of his daughters points out the irony that he was able to design homes, but not live in one.
The film is, however, with its swelling music and teary confessions, a little too sentimental. I realize that it’s a love poem from a son to a father, but no one ever stops to point out that Lou Kahn was something of a scoundrel. A brilliant one, but a scoundrel nonetheless. He mongered for fame, and never committed to any of his three families, mostly kept secret from the others.
Architecture is like opera, in that it’s a closed-off art form with a rabid following. This is an important film for those followers. For all others, well, it’s still an incredibly fascinating story.