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My Architect (2003)

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Director Nathaniel Kahn searches to understand his father, noted architect Louis Kahn, who died bankrupt and alone in 1974.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 7 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Credited cast:
Edmund Bacon ...
Edwina Pattison Daniels ...
Aunt Eddie
Balkrishna Doshi ...
Himself (as B.V. Doshi)
Frank O. Gehry ...
Philip Johnson ...
Louis Kahn ...
Himself (archive footage)
Nathaniel Kahn ...
Sue Ann Kahn ...
Richard Katz
Teddy Kollek ...
Harriet Pattison ...
Priscilla Pattison ...
Aunt Posie
I.M. Pei ...
Moshe Safdie ...
Robert A.M. Stern ...


World-famous architect Louis Kahn (Exeter Library, Salk Institute, Bangladeshi Capitol Building) had two illegitimate children with two different women outside of his marriage. Son Nathaniel always hoped that someday his father would come and live with him and his mother, but Kahn never left his wife. Instead, Kahn was found dead in a men's room in Penn Station when Nathaniel was only 11. Nathaniel travels the world visitng his father's buildings and haunts in this film, meeting his father's contemporaries, colleagues, students, wives, and children. Written by Martin Lewison <>

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The secret life of architectural genius Louis Kahn See more »


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Release Date:

12 November 2003 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mimar babam - Bir ogulun yolculugu  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$37,929 (USA) (14 November 2003)


$2,748,981 (USA) (30 July 2004)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Louis Kahn: When you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And there is where design comes in. If you think of brick, for instance, 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."
[Students laugh]
Louis Kahn: And it's important, you see, that you honor the material that you use. You don't bandy it ...
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Featured in The 2004 IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards (2004) See more »

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User Reviews

Mesmerizing Portrait of an Artist By a Son
25 January 2004 | by (New York, N.Y.) – See all my reviews

Documentaries in which sons and daughters seek to understand a parent and, by the process, their own lives are not that uncommon. Also not uncommon are results that reflect lack of talent, a failure of introspection, an abundance of narcissism and, perhaps, an unsubtle quest for publicly-splashed revenge for countless past hurts, real and fantasized. What is unusual is a brilliant, fair and engrossing portrait of a fascinating parent and "My Architect: A Son's Journey" is that rare achievement.

Louis Kahn emigrated to this country as a child, his face irreparably and brutally scarred by an accident. He and his parents settled in Philadelphia where the talented youngster loved art and music. Soon he became enamored of buildings and decided only an architect's career would answer his creative abilities.

Kahn became an architect but as this film shows it took a long time before he attracted the attention of the leaders in his field. One architect suggests that he was a victim of the "yellow armband," that anti-Semitism that along with bias against women was long a disreputable aspect of the American profession of architecture.

When he did achieve notice, he was seen, clearly accurately, as a self-assured, workaholic prophet exclaiming unyielding demands that his vision and only his vision be realized. That inflexibility was the reason that while he drew wonderful plans for many buildings he built but a few. The interview with an aged gentleman who fired Kahn in Philadelphia because of his unacceptable dream of a transformed urban center where people left their cars on the perimeter and walked into the city is hilarious.

Kahn was a born teacher and some of the extensive archival footage here shows him with students, his voice steady but passionate, their gazes respectful and intense.

Many architects were interviewed by director, writer and project honcho Nathaniel Kahn, the architect's only son. Some are world famous - I. M. Pei, Robert A.M. Stone, Moshe Safdie, Frank Gehry and the still active nonagenarian, Philip Johnson. Their comments paint a vivid picture of this idealistic but in the end financially unsuccessful designer of buildings that blended the castles, fortresses and grand buildings of past centuries into designs for the present. Kahn's buildings are shown, among the most impressive being the Salk Research Laboratories in La Jolla, CA. To me his style has a neo-Romantic air deadened by too much blank space that repels rather than attracts human interaction.

But Kahn's son was after more than the story of his father, the architect. For many years Louis Kahn had three families: a wife with whom he had a daughter and two long-term relationships, one of which produced a daughter, the other the son. Kahn visited his son at the mother's home often but at the end of an evening mother and son would drive Kahn back to the marital home. Nathaniel clearly wanted to know about this unusual set of relationships but he doesn't appear to be scarred by what was certainly a strange affair for a little boy.

When Nathaniel was a young boy Louis Kahn died of a massive heart attack in the men's room of New York's Pennsylvania Station after returning from India where he had pitched one of his massive projects, another one that was never built. At that point his Philadelphia firm was at least $500,000 in debt and had he lived a trip to the federal bankruptcy court was probably in the offing.

Kahn left several monumental structures of which the government building in Bangladesh is clearly the biggest. A teary local architect hails Kahn for having created a building where democracy may (and hopefully will) flourish.

Fellow architect Moshe Safdie opines that there might have been something fitting in Kahn's suffering a mortal heart attack in a train station given his incessant globetrotting. I disagree: it's sadly ironic that Kahn should die in the faceless replacement for one of America's true architectural gems, the old Pennsylvania Station, wrecked to make way for a sterile replacement with no character and no continuation of civic memory.

There are a number of emotional moments filmed during the younger Kahn's journey, including with his half-sisters and his mother, but they're genuine and moving, not maudlin and staged. Historians of architecture will always study Kahn. His son found reasons to remember him as a flawed but very iconoclastic and ultimately private man.


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