Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture review: monuments were his thing

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Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture review: monuments were his thing
Mythic force: the National Assembly building of Bangladesh in Dhaka, designed in 1962 by Louis Kahn/©Raymond Meier/Design Museum

In one of the more toe-curling moments in cinema, in Indecent Proposal, the architect played by Woody Harrelson stands in front of his rapt, cute students and, as a back-to-front slide of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel flicks by, purports to quote Louis Kahn. “Even a brick,” breathes Harrelson, “wants to be something. It aspires. Even a common, ordinary brick wants to be something more than it is… better than it is. That is what we must be.” This is not precisely what Kahn said in his address to bricks, but never mind. The clip establishes the Estonian-born American as a true visionary, as someone for whom the art of building is worth sacrificing everything, for which (as the plot of the movie suggests) it might be worth selling your wife’s body.

A more insightful, nuanced and beautiful portrayal of the architect was offered in another film, My Architect (2003), by his son, Nathaniel. Here, the younger Kahn tries to understand both the works and the complexities of a man who was born in poverty in 1901 and died in 1974 with large debts. Most strikingly, he had three children, unknown to each other, with his wife and two long-term lovers.