Films & Architecture: “My Architect”

This week we will propose the first documentary of the list within our section of Films & Architecture. There is not much to say about the figure of Kahn, since it has been worldwide recognized. Nevertheless this is a film that captures in a magnificent way the greatness of Kahn’s work through his son’s journey. I guess everyone related somehow with architecture will feel touched by this extraordinary recording. Let us know in the comments what is (or was) your experience watching the film.

Exeter Library


Original Title: My Architect
Year: 2003
Runtime: 110 min.
Country: United States
Writer: Nathaniel Kahn
Soundtrack: Joseph Vitarelli
Photography Director: Karl Freund & Günther Rittau
Cast: Louis Kahn, Nathaniel Kahn, I.M. Pei, , Frank O. Gehry

Nathaniel Kahn in conversation with Philip Johnson


My Architect is a tale of love and art, betrayal and forgiveness — in which the illegitimate son of a legendary artist undertakes a five year, worldwide exploration to understand his long-dead father.

Louis I. Kahn, who died in 1974, is considered by many architectural historians to have been the most important architect of the second half of the twentieth century. A Jewish immigrant who overcame poverty and the effects of a devastating childhood accident, Kahn created a handful of intensely powerful and spiritual buildings — geometric compositions of brick, concrete and light — which, in the words of one critic, “change your life.”

Kimbell Art Museum

While Kahn’s artistic legacy was an uncompromising search for truth and clarity, his personal life was filled with secrets and chaos: He died, bankrupt and unidentified, in the men’s room in Penn Station, New York, leaving behind three families — one with his wife of many years and two with women with whom he’d had long-term affairs. In My Architect, the child of one of these extra-marital relationships, Kahn’s only son Nathaniel, sets out on an epic journey to reconcile the life and work of this mysterious, contradictory man.

Nathaniel Kahn recording at the Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban

The riveting narrative leads us from the subterranean corridors of Penn Station to the roiling streets of Bangladesh (where Kahn built the astonishing Capital), and from the coast of New England to the inner sanctums of Jerusalem politics. Along the way, we encounter a series of characters that are by turns fascinating,hilarious, adoring and critical: from the cabbies who drove Kahn around his native Philadelphia, to former lovers and clients, to the rarified heights of the world’s most celebrated architects — Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei and Philip Johnson among them.

Salk Institute

In My Architect, the filmmaker reveals the haunting beauty of his father’s monumental creations and takes us deep within his own divided family, uncovering a world of prejudice, intrigue and the myths that haunt parents and children. In a documentary with the emotional impact of a dramatic feature film (including an original orchestral score), Nathaniel’s personal journey becomes a universal investigation of identity, a celebration of art and ultimately, of life itself.


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Previously posted on this section…


Cite: Portilla, Daniel. "Films & Architecture: “My Architect”" 04 Jun 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>

    The written portion of this article is the most poorly written and edited piece of tripe I have seen in a long while.

    There are hundreds of grammatical errors, run-on sentences, unneeded capitalization, and unnecessary use of adjectives that it gave me a headache.

    Was it run through google translator for fun?

  • Lina

    The movie was very sad. The son tries to find a connection to his long dead father thru the dad’s architecture and contacts. The son’s longing to have a decent relationship with his father is never relieved.

  • PA

    Beautiful? Sure his architect is, however this man put architecture before his family. What is beautiful about that? That is not a man, but a self absorbed individual you loved no one but himself.

  • Chris

    I think the point of this movie is that “great men” are far from perfect, and their eccentricities and personal demons can have both positive and negative manifestations. By the end of his journey Nathaniel realizes this and that instead of being angry at his father he might be better off cherishing the few moments he had with him.

  • Dori

    I loved this movie when I first saw it years ago; you don’t need to be interested in architecture to appreciate it – as the concluding lines indicate, it’s a very human story of a son trying to find the dad he never really knew. For me, the architecture aspect – the father’s profession as an architect – became almost incidental (although at the same time, as an architect, I really enjoyed that aspect).
    And yes, as others have pointed out, really a sad story.