My Architect: A Son's Journey

Directed by Nathaniel Kahn
Showing at FACT from Sept 10th - Sept 16th

Reviewed by Kenn Taylor

My Architect: A Son's Journey is an epic documentary detailing the life and work of Louis I Khan, who is today considered by many in architectural circles to be one of the most important designers of the last century.

But his life was marred by chaos and tragedy after suffering a childhood accident that nearly cost him his life, to growing up in poverty as a jewish immigrant in Philadelphia.

After qualifying as an architect through a scholarship he struggled for years to find anyone who shared his vision. After finally winning acceptance for his building designs, he died alone and nearly bankrupt in the toilet of a New York railway toilet.

The film is directed and presented by Nathaniel Khan, his only son, and one of two children Khan fathered outside his marriage in which he already had one daughter. Nathaniel conducts this film as a worldwide odyssey to see all of his father's buildings and the people who knew and worked with him in an attempt to reconcile with the father he saw once a week at most, and who died when he was 11-years-old.

The film is composed in sections, which detailed periods of Khan's life, intercut with interviews with those who knew him, together with exploring his buildings, with some beautifully shot photography from veteran documentary maker Robert Richman. It moves from his first construction of a bath houise to the Capital building in Bangladesh, which was completed after his death, as well as pointing out his many failed projects.

This is obviously a very personal film for the director. The people interviewed range from other well known architects to Nathaniel's mother, which paint a portrait of a man who considered himself an artist, not a builder, and refused any compromise in his search for excellence in architecture, though it ultimately cost him work, money, and damaged his personal life.

But the film also depicts a man who, despite his faults, was deeply loved, even by the women he abandoned, with many people bursting into tears while being interviewed. It is also interesting to see his son slowly getting to know more about his father as a person rather than as an "architectural legend".

At two nearly two in length the film might be heavy going for someone not acqainted with architecture, but as someone who had never heard of Khan or his work, it was still fascinating as a bio-pic of an influential artist.