I first heard the name of Louis I Khan, one of the great architects of the twentieth century, in late 2004. I was nineteen and another great architect, now my father-in-law, suggested me to watch a documentary. The documentary was titled 'My Architect', directed by Nathaniel Kahn, his illegitimate son. After few seconds, it was clear that I was watching a true masterpiece.
The film begins with the mysterious death of Louis I Kahn in 1974. He died in a lavatory at New York's Penn Station at the age of 73. For some unknown reason, the address in his passport had been erased, and his body went unclaimed for many days. He was in bankrupt, being $500,000 in debt.
His son, Nathaniel, was only 11 at the time.
The movie is a record of Nathaniel's quest to put together the pieces of his father life. He interviews people who knew Louis in various ways in order to build his father brick by brick. It's a deeply personal film made up of several journeys. Nathaniel's journey in search of his father and of himself. And Louis Khan's journey: a nomadic quest in search of a vision.
To me, discovering Louis Khan is still a journey. And I would be delighted if that would be the same for you. That's why I want to end this article with just one picture of his work and one poem written by him.
This is one of the most famous works by Louis I Khan: the National Assembly building in Dhaka, East Pakistan. Construction was held up in 1971 by war, as East Pakistan (Bangladesh) sought independence from West Pakistan. Many feared that the site would be bombed during the conflict, but enemy pilots bypassed the site, thinking it was an ancient ruin.
Memorize the building, and before watching 'My Architect' read the following poem he wrote in 1960. You do not need anything else to start one of the most beautiful journeys of your life.
Design is form-making in order
Form emerges out of a system of construction
Growth is a construction – In order is creative force
In design is the means – where with what when with how much
The nature of space reflects what it wants to be
Is the auditorium a Stradivarius
or an ear
Is the auditorium a creative instrument
keyed to Bach or Bartók
played by the conductor
or is it a conventional hall
In the nature of space is the spirit and the will to exist in a certain way
Design must follow closely that will Therefore a stripe-painted horse is not a zebra
Before a railroad station is a building
it wants to be a street
it grows out of the needs of the street
out of the order of movement
A meeting of contours englazed.
Through the nature – why
Through the order – what
Through the design – how
A form emerges from the structural elements inherent in the form.
A dome is not conceived when questions arise how to build it.
Nervi grows an arch
Fuller grows a dome
Mozart’s compositions are designs
They are exercises of order – intuitive
Design encourages more designs
Designs derive their imagery from order
Imagery is the memory – the form
Style is an adopted order
The same order created the elephant and created man
They are different designs
Begun from different aspirations
Shaped from different circumstances
Order does not imply Beauty The same order created the dwarf and Adonis
Design is not making beauty
Beauty emerges from selection
Art is a form-making life in order – psychic
Order is intangible
It is a level of creative consciousness
forever becoming higher in level
The higher the order the more diversity in design
Order supports integration
From what the space wants to be the unfamiliar way may be revealed to the architect.
From order he will derive creative force and power of self-criticism to give form to this unfamiliar.
Beauty will evolve.