Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

My Architect: A Son’s Journey


Nathaniel Kahn is a bastard. Literally. He is the barely-acknowledged son of Louis Kahn, the famous architect, who had one real family and two illegitimate ones. Louis only visited sporadically, and died when Nathaniel was 12. So the kid has a unique perspective on the great man, and sets out to learn more about him. No one else could have made this movie, and that’s both good and bad. Nathaniel’s naked need to have a father is almost embarrassing at times.

I recently wrote the obituary for my own father, and I notice the contrast, and the difficulties. My father was a good man, but he didn’t leave much mark on the world. Nathaniel suffers from a syndrome we’ve all seen before, living his life in the shadow of a “great” man, knowing no matter what he accomplishes he’s not going to rival his father, and it’s made worse by the old man’s almost total neglect. He visits his father’s buildings (which look better from the inside and close up than from the outside, in my opinion, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since people have to work in these places). He interviews other well-known architects: I. M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Frank Gehry, all of whom say Kahn was a greater artist than they are, and I get the sense that Nathaniel almost hates this, because it makes him aware of what he missed.

He finally achieves something like peace in Bangladesh, where Kahn’s masterpiece, the Capital Building in Dhaka, was finished after the old man’s death. It is a breathtaking building, and a Bangladeshi architect, tears in his eyes, sees Nathaniel’s pain and tries to tell him that great artists like Kahn can’t belong to their families, that they belong to all mankind. I think Nathaniel finally accepts that.