Lionised by the likes of Frank Gehry (he of the curvy Bilbao Guggenheim) and IM Pei (famed for the Louvre's glass pyramids), Louis I Kahn ranks among America’s greatest modern architects, yet his refusal to compromise resulted in many unfulfilled projects by the time of his sudden fatal heart attack in the gents at Penn station, New York in 1974. Not only did he leave debts of half a million dollars, but his body lay unclaimed for two days because he’d scratched out the contact details on his passport. It was one last act of evasion in a turbulent personal life, for unknown to his ‘official’ family he had also fathered illegitimate children by two other women. Among them is Nathaniel Kahn, director/narrator of this unique celluloid elision of therapy and celebration, which sets out to ask whether his father’s evident cultural stature could excuse or even explain such destructive behaviour.
Piecing together biographical details and visiting the buildings brings a certain perspective, but it’s the bittersweet family testimonies which make this far richer than the usual arts profile. Interviews with former lovers now in the serenity of old age reveal the lasting feelings this difficult, charismatic man clearly aroused, while the climactic footage of Louis’s masterpiece, the Capital building in Bangladesh, symbol of a nation’s budding democracy, inspires moving filial pride as it reconciles an errant father’s fractured emotional and architectural legacies. The film-making throughout is keenly responsive to the spatial impact of Louis’s clean geometric forms, but this is above all a fascinating, touching human story: when was the last time you cried at an architecture documentary?