My Architect

Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Nathaniel Kahn, Frank O Gehry, Philip Johnson, I M Pei, Vincent Scully

Director: Nathaniel Kahn

Many sons of absent fathers grow up with a yearning to find out more about the men who abandoned them in childhood. In the case of filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn, his search as an adult was made somewhat easier because his father was Louis I Kahn, regarded by many as being one of the most influential American architects of the 20th century. There is film footage of his father, plenty written about him and buildings which stand as his legacy. Nathaniel was 11 when his Kahn died in 1974 of a heart attack in Pennsylvania Station – but he had only spent a small amount of time with his father before then because of the peculiar arrangement Kahn senior had with Nathaniel’s mother. At Louis’ s funeral, three of the women he was involved with attended. Each had had a child with him.

MY ARCHITECT is truly a labour of love. An intensely moving documentary which took Nathaniel Kahn five years to complete. He speaks to Kahn’s former colleagues, his architectural rivals and friends, even meeting the two half-sisters he had never contacted before – an incredibly personal experience for all of them, which you’d hope might help them to come to terms with the negligent way their father treated them. Instead the meeting in one of Kahn’s stylish light-filled warm-wooden buildings, a privately commissioned house he designed, seems awkward and uncomfortable for the three half-siblings.

Along with Kahn junior’s search to find out more about his father’s private life, Nathaniel also visits the buildings he is remembered for. Some he finds disappointing – others ingenious. Even if you have only a small interest in architecture Kahn’s approach in presenting the buildings makes them intriguing. The climax comes at the end of the film when he makes the journey to Dhaka in Bangladesh where his father designed the Capital building. For someone who seemed to disregard the feelings of his nearest and dearest, Louis’ architectural masterpiece is a symbol of immense pride, joy and humanity to the people of one of the poorest countries in the world.

5 out of 6 stars

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