Louis Kahn’s Building

Posted on April 4, 2007. Filed under: Art, Film, Humor, Jokes |

After seeing the film “My Architect,” a documentary about the life of architect Louis Kahn, I became enraptured by his work. I scoured the web for photos of his buildings. And they were magnificent. The Salk Institute, with its open courtyard, was revelatory. The Kimbell Art Museum, with its arches and its use of natural light, is a masterpiece. While all these structures are important, the documentary leaves no doubt as to what Kahn viewed as his magnum opus: the government buildings of Bangladesh in Dhaka.

The film, of course, could not do complete justice to this complex of buildings. In the course of my research, I came upon some extremely rare audio recordings of Kahn speaking with his patrons at the building site. The conversations describe a small structure that was aparently bothering the Master. He hadn’t designed it. It wasn’t in his plans. But it was there. Let’s listen in:

MAN: “This is the ‘education hut’ or ‘the questioning house,’ Mr. Kahn. It is where we take the people who are not desirable. We play smacky-face with them a little bit there. Think of it as a Rousseauean place where people are ‘forced to be free.’ If you like, it’s a torture chamber.”

KAHN: “Vat for we need this eyesore here? I build you this magnificent temple to democracy and you build an outhouse on it?”

MAN #2: “Lou, don’t worry about a thing. We got it all taken care of. You just concentrate on the big stuff. You’re the big picture guy. The visionary. The genius. It’s not a problem.”

KAHN: “Vat dis vas not in my original plans. Where is zis from? Who makes zis?”

MAN #2: “Lou, it’s gonna be great. We’re gonna sell ’em a load of clams on this one.”

The tense, creative discussions show the Great Man questioning and searching for meaning. Notice how he never retreats, never budges from his vision. No detail is too small. Kahn is relentless.

KAHN: “So ve need dis building here? Are you sure?”

MAN #2: “Lou, I gotta say there is no room for negotiation. The building stays.”

KAHN: “Alright already with this building. Genug.”

A small boy approaches the Master. He is described as being Bangladeshi, of short stature with black glasses and freckles.

KAHN: “Vait a minute. I have a visitor here.”

BOY: “Poppa, will you play with me?”

KAHN: “I can’t play here. Can’t you see I’m working here. It’s too hot to play ball here. Go play with your mother over there. And I’m not your father.”


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