ALL ARTS Documentary Selects


Louis Kahn's Tiger City

Art historian and filmmaker Sundaram Tagore travels in the footsteps of Louis Kahn to explore how the famed American architect built a daringly modern and monumental parliamentary complex in war-torn Bangladesh. This personal odyssey delves into Bangladesh's quest for democracy, how Khan creatively wove together Eastern and Western forms, and the power of architecture to embody our highest ideals.

AIRED: September 07, 2020 | 1:47:16

[ Train rumbling ]

Louis: There is no such thing...



There is the spirit of architecture,

but it has no presence whatsoever.

What does have presence is a work of architecture,

and at best, it must be considered

as an offering to architecture itself,

merely because of the wonder of its beginning.



Nathaniel: It was certainly one man's faith

and one man's vision,

but a lot of people helped him in his office, in his life.

And over there, throngs of people helped him.

This is a man who really loves humanity.

Doshi: The last year he was here, he had dinner here.

I saw him at the airport.

When he died, he was $450,000 in debt.

He was on his way home from the trip to India,

and then he never showed up.

He apparently collapsed in the men's room.



[ Tires screeching ]






[ Indistinct talking ]




[ Thud ]






[ Birds chirping ]




[ Singing in native language ]



Tagore: In 1985, I was given a scholarship

to travel to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to study a building

designed by the celebrated architect Louis I. Kahn.


From the time it was designed and built,

Kahn's famous parliamentary complex,

Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Tiger City,

was the beating heart of this newly formed democratic nation.

When I saw the complex for the first time,

I was unprepared for the raw emotional power

and poetic beauty of these buildings.

As a romantic 24-year-old graduate student,

I was intoxicated by the wondrous form Kahn had conjured

for the beleaguered people of Bangladesh.



As I made my way up the red-brick plaza,

the buildings seemed to vibrate.

I remember breathlessly staring at the Mogul-style cutouts

under the intense tropical light.

The buildings were just as the critics had described,

giant toys dropped from the sky.

I had never seen anything like it.

I was pretty sure nothing like it existed.

The buildings looked futuristic and ancient at the same time.

The complex seemed to hover, a mysterious universe

that looked like it had erupted only moments before

from the barren rice field.

Yet it also looked firmly rooted,

as if it had been there from the beginning of time.


At the time, Bangladesh was governed by a dictator

who had suspended the constitution.

The corridors, parliament chambers,

and assembly halls were empty,

a constant reminder that democracy was frozen.

I walked through these desolate passageways,

awed by the forms that Kahn had created.

It was a Piranesian dream with connecting bridges

and brick walls that soared like ancient ruins.

Light slashed through the clerestory,

softening the great expanses of concrete.

From that singular moment,

Kahn's Tiger City became my new obsession.

Architecture, according to Kahn,

should have great weight, gravity, mass,

and monumentality.

Kahn loved to call it

architecture of silence and light.

Louis: And the movement of silence to light,

light to silence.


Tagore: The full story of Kahn's Tiger City had never been told.

But on that day in 1985, I knew that's what I was going to do.

I wanted to travel in Kahn's footsteps,

to see what he saw, experience what he experienced,

learn what he had learned

in order to understand how this American architect

came to South Asia to build his masterpiece.

What experiences had given him the ability

to understand a culture so different from his own?

[ Indistinct conversations, horns honking ]


[ Bell ringing ]

You can never separate a great work of art or architecture

from its context,

and Louis Kahn's parliamentary complex is no exception.

In order to begin to unravel its story,

I needed to understand more about the Bangladesh

into which the project had been born.


I start my journey in Kolkata,

where my own family roots originate.

[ Bell dinging ]

Kolkata and Bangladesh

are geographical and cultural neighbors

and share many things in common.

[ Horn honks ]


[ Horns honking ]

This part of the world was formerly known as Bengal,

and it has a turbulent and storied history.

Dhaka was the entry point of the spice trade

and famed for weaving and textile manufacturing

in the pre-colonial days.

The Dutch, the Danes, the French, and the British

were all here for the lucrative market.

Modern Bangladesh has a complicated history, too.

It is closely tied to the tumultuous history

of the subcontinent.

By the mid-20th century,

Dhaka's name was synonymous with floods, poverty,

and overpopulation.

How did this once-prosperous region decline so precipitously?

How did it go from bread basket to basket case?


[ Indistinct conversations ]

Living here in Dhaka is Enayet Khan,

a historian and former freedom fighter.

He witnessed firsthand how those tumultuous times

shaped the Bangladesh that we know today.

[ Knock on door ]

Khan: Hey, Sundaram!

You can see, in fact, the skyline of downtown Dhaka.

This is one of the nerve centers, as you call, you know.

[ Horns honking ]

Look at this. [ Laughs ]

It's total chaos but not a single accident.

What can you tell me about the city life in historical Dhaka?

We have a history, a recorded history of 3,000 years.

All these archaeological sites and the museums.

All along the banks of the rivers,

this was a center for education, center for knowledge.

After you.

Tagore: At one point, Bangladesh was

one of the biggest trading hub in the world,

and during Shaista Khan, the Mogul ruler,

they had ships flying from all over the world,

bringing -- taking muslin.

A 30-feet-long muslin could squeeze into a matchbox,

it was so fine and refined.

European observers noted that the local traders

were so busy exporting goods,

they didn't have time to count their gold coins,

but weighed them instead.

Khan: It is in the history that even our muslins were used

by the Pharaohs to cover the mummies.

Egyptian Pharaohs were using? Egyptian Pharaohs, yes.

Yeah, to cover the wrapping for wrapping the mummies.

Dhaka might be the oldest, you know, occupation.

So this was one of the oldest textile centers in the world?

And now, again, it's becoming a major textile hub.

Apparel capital of the world. This is, yeah.

[ Marching ]

In 1947, after an exhaustive and expensive world war,

England was ready to divest itself of its colonies.

The Muslims of South Asia

wanted a safeguard of their own country to the Hindu majority.

Before granting India its freedom,

Britain partitioned the country,

carving out two regions with majority Muslim populations.

The result was the new state of Pakistan.

In '47, the rulers left

and decided to divide the Indian subcontinent

on the basis of religion.

So all the Muslim majority races were part of Pakistan,

so we ended up East Pakistan and West Pakistan

with a distance of 1,000 kilometer

with two different cultures, two different languages,

and the rest was India.

And with this division,

a massive and violent upheaval took place

as Hindus and Muslims fled their millennia-old homes.

Partitioning led to the largest migration in history,

and the deep psychological and political scars

are still evident today.

When Pakistan was created,

they wanted to impose on us their language, Urdu,

and they said that that would be the state language,

and that created --

that sowed the seed of the Liberation War because --

Why Urdu?

Why not two languages?

In Switzerland, you have how many languages?

Here, I think the Pakistani rulers

were very, I would say, shortsighted,

and they thought that they can impose that language on us.

The divide over the official language was only the beginning.

Islamabad became West Pakistan's new capital.

It was politically, economically,

and linguistically dominant.

In East Pakistan, Dhaka became known as the second capital

and was far less influential.

East Pakistanis weren't enthralled.

In 1962, as political trouble brewed in the east,

the country's second president, Ayub Khan,

initiated a second official capital within Dhaka,

calling it Ayub Nagar, or the City of Ayub.

The seeds of divisions were sown,

and the East Pakistanis began to clamor for independence

from West Pakistan.

And, in fact, that language movement

laid the foundation of the Liberation War.

In March '71, Pakistan started a military operation here

to suppress the people,

and then 10 million people just fled away

to the other part of Bengal -- 10 million.

And that created huge instability within this region,

and it caught the eyes of the international world.

It was a long struggle, but then we were able to get

our own independent, sovereign country.

When did you get your independence?

16 December 1971.

That feeling of 16 December I can't explain.

This is beyond my -- you know, my description,

because we were so much overwhelmed

with this joy of freedom,

and we were flying our new flag.

That was a very different feeling.

But then from this massive destruction,

to build this country was a huge challenge,

but we faced that challenge.

Bangladesh's challenges were truly daunting.

They faced deadly genocidal war, coped with millions of refugees,

experienced flooding on an epic scale,

and suffered massive food shortages.

But today, in stark contrast,

despite all its apparent problems

and under the decade-long leadership

of a woman, Sheikh Hasina,

Bangladesh has performed well.

Its economy is humming.

The Nobel Prize-winning invention of microfinance

has spurred serious development in women's education,

and the country has been able to tackle natural disasters

and make serious strides in healthcare.

These are heroic achievements,

and Bangladesh is attempting to move its population

from low- to middle-income status

to continue its upward economic growth trend.

And we have been maintaining a growth rate of nearly 7%,

which is also endorsed by World Bank.

Bangladesh can be a happy and stable country.

And how many million people?

More than 10 million people here.

Khan: A very vibrant, lively city.

And Bangla language is the seventh

or eighth most widely spoken language,

and we have got many Nobel Laureates

for literature, for peace, for economics.

So this Bengal --

You know, what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.

I think the world will think tomorrow.

Dhaka is anchored by the Buriganga River,

which crisscrosses the plains of Bangladesh

with its many tributaries.

There are more than 700 rivers coursing through the country.

They are its greatest asset,

providing ample marine life and creating fertile soil.


And those same rivers

are also the country's greatest liabilities,

flooding its plains and wiping out homes and villages.

Louis Kahn's staff encountered the devastating flood of 1971

that killed half a million people firsthand.

What do you think of the complex Louis Kahn designed?

It's a architectural marvel.

We are very proud of that building.

That's our parliament,

and Bangladesh being a democratic country,

we think our parliament is housed in the right building.

[ Thunder rumbling ]

-Yes. -We should go inside.

You have come at a time

when Bangladesh has a different beauty.

Yeah, I know. Beautiful.

And this is another beauty.

I love rainy season.

I never get fed up of rain.

Now a plan, as against the room,

is a society of rooms.

The rooms must talk to each other.

How much the plan, the society of rooms talking to rooms,

can become alive

if you make that which is a good place to live in

a good place to sleep in, a good place to study in.

A house is only great when it's great for the next man,

not only the client.

Tagore: As I'm wrapping up my visit to Dhaka,

I bump into an old friend.


Debra Winger and I know each other

from our days at Oxford University.

What are you doing in Dhaka?

I'm making a documentary on Louis Kahn.

Louis Kahn?

You're going over to the parliament building?

Debra had never seen Tiger City,

so I offered to take her out to the complex.

[ Cows moo ]







Man: Welcome to Bangladesh Parliament.

Winger: Thank you.

Thank you, thank you.

Today Parliament is closed,

so you can take shots today, and again you can come.

Okay. We'd love to.

I'd love to come back here many times.

[ Thunder rumbling ] Maybe after monsoon season.

I mean, I just keep saying this, but it's dark outside today,

so that's sort of magic, I think.

It seems lighter in here than it did outside.

It's like spiritual light, divine light.

That's what it's supposed to represent from the Pantheon,

light from outside.

So I have a question, I guess, that brings me here.

It's always the same question for me.

How does a person use their light,

their own light, the light that's given to them?

And sometimes you can find the light in the nature of a place,

and sometimes you have to make a path.

Very interesting. You can see the joints.

As a modern architect,

you couldn't create decoration with it.

But these joints, these corner joints,

they became the decoration.


And so that's why he had these rips placed in the marble,

so contrast between concrete and marble.

If you're dealing with concrete,

you must know the order of concrete.

You must know its nature,

what concrete really strives to be.

Concrete wants to be really granite but can't quite manage.

And the reinforcing rods in it

are a play of marble's secret worker

that makes this so-called molten stone

appear as marvelously capable.

You got to put it into absolute glory,

and that is the only position that it deserves.

Human beings have created art for 60,000 years,

before any colony, before any history.

And out of that need for creating art

came about the idea of shelter.

You're working with visual artists all the time,

and then you made this leap to this obsession that you have.

And so it's the kind of place that is --

like, exemplifies the need to create.


So it was this building that created this obsession.

It's not with architecture in general,

but specific to this building and this man?

You are drawn to something

that then somewhat acts like a catalyst.

Something happens to you in your life and moves you.

This building has moved me.

So many things come together for me

walking here for the first time.

I mean, it, I think, may be part of what history was,

because look at its function,

so if you think about the idea of need.

So man needed to make noise to scare wild animals away,

and then he made music.

What is that? That's desire.

So there's so much in this building that is hopeful.

When you're standing in that room,

you just hope that the people that come here

will be inspired by this light

and the silence of this building.

I think this may be your church, Sundaram.


The parliamentary complex

and its distinct architectural planning

includes the arcades, colonnades, terraces, gardens,

and lakes where geometry reigns supreme.

Surrounded by the lingering presence of Louis Kahn,

I walk everywhere,

soaking in the architectural forms that he created.



But this architectural wonder

also serves an important function

in the day-to-day business of governing this nation.

As part of his official duties,

Squadron Leader Asad walks the plazas

and the hallways of Tiger City every day.

This is like the Congress of United States.

In this building, we have the office of our president,

prime minister.

The key parliament actors,

they have their offices here.

Tagore: When you walk through the passageway,

the labyrinthine process,

and you're walking through the parliamentary complex,

what does it feel?

It's such a building, it make you emotional.

In the morning when the light come,

the inside of the house gives you a spiritual feeling,

and in the evening, light is strong.

The lights are reflected in the floors.

It gives really amazing beauty.







How did Louis Kahn build

such a daringly modern and monumental building

in this culturally rich but economically shattered country?

How had an Estonian-born American

who was known as an architect's architect

managed to win such a high-profile commission

nearly 10,000 miles from his home in Philadelphia?

What force of will enabled him to build a capital city

on the tabula rasa of the rice fields of Bangladesh?


The next step in my journey is a stop in Washington, D.C.

I'm here to meet Sajeeb Wazed.

For him, the governing of Bangladesh is a family affair,

and Sajeeb offers a unique perspective.

His grandfather, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,

played a key role in the Bangladeshi freedom movement,

and his mother, Sheikh Hasina, is currently the prime minister.

Tagore: Where were you born, Sajeeb?

Wazed: I was born in Dhaka

right in the middle of our War of Independence.

So my grandfather, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,

had been arrested,

He'd been taken away to Pakistan.

We declared independence,

and the Pakistanis attacked the midnight of 26th March 1971,

and my grandfather would have become prime minister

of entire Pakistan,

but the Pakistani government,

Ayub Khan at the time would not let parliament assemble.

The story of how Louis Kahn came to Bangladesh

is a convoluted one.

To start, the commission was first offered to Le Corbusier,

but he declined, saying he was too busy

finishing Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab.

Next, they reached out to the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto,

who agreed to attend a meeting.

The circulating story

is that Aalto missed his plane to Pakistan

due to excessive drinking the night before,

allowing the opportunity to slip away.

Finally, they called Louis Kahn's office

on Walnut Street.

Kahn, in his characteristic way, asked, "When can I start?"

Ironically, it was the Pakistani military ruler Ayub Khan

who initially reached out to Louis Kahn

to design the second capital.

The parliament building was actually started

by the Pakistani government.

They wanted to build an actual legislative assembly building

for the legislature of their East Pakistan province.

But subsequently, of course, we declared independence,

won our independence,

and so it was necessary

for us to have, obviously, our own parliament building.

We didn't have one.

It's essentially a beacon of our freedom.

Tagore: Did your grandfather interact with Louis Kahn?

Wazed: Yes, my grandfather met with Louis Kahn several times.

He had some input on his own vision

and ideas of what the parliament should be.

It was very important to have a parliament building

that was unique,

not just another grand traditional building,

and that it was designed by someone like Louis Kahn,

someone who would be renowned and recognized world around.

That Bangladesh has arrived.


As I walk around Washington, D.C.,

I realize that I'm surrounded

by the symbolic grandeur of American democracy.

The architecture of this city

reflects the high ideas of this nation.

The U.S. Capitol Building,

the White House, the Mall and monuments,

these building embody and communicate

the aspirations of the American people.

Maybe this was Louis Kahn's inspiration

as he drafted the plans for Tiger City.


Lear Levin is a documentary filmmaker

who was on the ground

at the time of Bangladeshi War of Independence.

He used his camera to capture the conflicts

and human drama that unfolded during the revolution.

We tried to make a film that reflected how the people lived,

how the farmers worked and their daily life

and the poetry of the land.

How exciting it was just to look into the eyes

of the Bengali people,

the wisdom they seemed to project,

the way they moved...

their gentleness...

and the horrors that were inflicted on them.

When I was there during the actual conflict

that was their war for independence,

there were still bodies floating in the water

that hadn't totally decayed.

It was horrible.

The roads were packed with people

who escaped with only their lives.

They were living in cow sheds. They were living in the fields.

They were dying in the fields.

The International Rescue Committee,

institutions from around the world

were trying to supply them with goods.

One time we were in a refugee camp,

and I was with my assistant, and I was confronted by two men.

One had a cover that completely shrouded his face.

The other was a wild-eyed young man

who was holding on to him and guiding him,

because he couldn't see with the cover over his face.

And they ran up to me when they saw me with the camera,

and then he pulled the cover off the other man's face,

and there was no face.

It was gone.

It was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life.

It was tough.

And the fact that they were so gentle,

and the world did this to them.

I found them an extraordinary people.

I still do today. I can't wait to go back.

I was to be a painter.

There was no question about it,

until my last year in high school,

when a course given on architecture

just hit me so strongly

as something that I wanted to be associated with.

The course was given on the earliest architecture,

Greek, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance.

I found a great happiness

that I had no question as to what my career would be.



[ Birds squawking ]


Tagore: Louis Kahn was a man driven by his passion to create.


Throughout the course of his life,

Louis Kahn spoke about fairy tales,

and his love for them was spurred

by his origins in a romantic land

populated with castles, turrets, and citadels.

Every fairy tale requires a castle,

and Kahn designed one for the people of Bangladesh.


At the turn of the century,

Estonia was still part of czarist Russia,

and Kahn was born there in 1901 into a poor Jewish family.

Enchanted by burning embers at the age of 3,

he picked up a brick of hot coal,

which then set fire to his apron,

and he was badly burned on his hands and face.

Kahn would carry these scars for the remainder of his life.

It was a humble beginning for someone

who would later become a defining force

in the course of modern architecture.

In 1907, the family emigrated to America

and settled in Philadelphia.

Not only did Kahn grow

and discover his love of architecture there,

but it served as his professional

and personal home base for the rest of his life.

Despite the family's financial struggles,

Louis Kahn went on to train in architecture

at the University of Pennsylvania,

graduating in 1924.

In 1930, he married his wife, Esther.

Sue Ann Kahn is the oldest of Kahn's three children.

She was his only child to grow up with her father

as present in day-to-day life.

We lived in a house that belonged to my mother's mother,

because they were married and the Depression hit

and they couldn't afford to live anywhere else.

Normal Philadelphia row house, three stories.

My mother was really the main breadwinner.

He played for silent movies.

He worked his way through school that way.

He loved to improvise.

At family events, he would sit down at the piano and play,

and he was very fond of playing the St. Louis blues.

[ Up-tempo music plays ]

He would be all over the keyboard.

Up and down, you know, just having a lot of fun.

He was going to be an artist until he discovered architecture

when he was 16 in high school.

He didn't know that you could be an architect, and he found out,

and from that point on, there was a love affair,

the great love affair of his life,

which was with architecture.

At family dinners, he would talk about his work,

and we'd all be quiet and listen.

It wasn't like, "And how are you?"

or, "What do you do?"

If he had something to present, he would be working all night.

An architect friend of mine told me that,

you know, 2:00 in the morning, he called up and said,

"This model is crap! You have to come back."

You know, and this guy's asleep already.

"You have to come back and fix it."

Tagore: How was it that he never built a home for himself?

He said, "I have a very romantic idea of home."

I'm not exactly sure when the Indian trips started.

[ Elephant trumpets ]

He would come back with tales.

He said, "I went to a dinner," and he said,

"There was a servant behind each person,

and it was just like a fairy land."

And he would talk about life over there.

These influences show up in his work, especially in Tiger City.

It's the first time where my father was able

to realize his sort of overall plan.

So many projects, such as the Salk Institute,

he imagined a whole campus or a whole plan,

but he was never able to carry that out beyond one building.

Here, he was able to really express a larger plan

and he was able to create a whole campus.

And this is something he dreamed about from the beginning.

He dreamed very big.

And it's an aspect of his work

that people don't see in the United States

and that I haven't seen, except on the drawing board.



Built during the same period as the Dhaka complex,

the Korman House is one of only nine private homes

designed and built by Louis Kahn,

and it is where I am meeting Harriet Pattison.

She was romantically linked with Kahn during his later years,

and he wrote to her about his experience

of seeing the Tiger City site for the first time

and the inspiration he was gathering on the visit.

This was January 30, 1963.

This is his first trip.

"The site is a no-man's-land, completely without distinction.

Not a contour, not a distant landmark.

I was driven around in a Jeep,

all the time thinking of what could make it worthy

of the thoughts I had before I saw it.

Then it dawned on me to include in the assembly a mosque.

Religion is the basis of separation from India.

When I presented that afternoon the idea of an axial relation

of the assembly complex and a mosque,

it was as though heaven descended on the authorities.

They said, 'You have put religion in this capital.

Just what it needed to give the meaning it lacked.'"


Very few architects --

I mean, it's not just Louis Kahn,

but very few architects in the world

have had this kind of commission.

-I know. -Right?

How many people get to design a kind of a mini city?


Corbusier at the tail end of his life.

So if you look at Le Corbusier's city planning

that he did in Chandigarh,

absolutely stunning architecturally,

but it feels it doesn't really belong there.

When he traveled on the subcontinent,

went to India and Bangladesh and Pakistan,

and saw the cultural plans, the vernacular,

the landscape, how different it was,

and he responded to it.

Oh, the great plaza that he created in Bangladesh

is inspired by what he saw in the subcontinent.

I think that's one of the things that Corbusier,

for example, missed.

He came up with something that was iconic.

But it's indigenous.

So to me it feels like a citadel surrounded by water.

A solution that has affinity with the culture out there.


He sent me a postcard which showed a monastery in Bangladesh

which was surrounded by water, with a built mound exactly,

and it was a prototype, and it certainly influenced him.

And the use of water is a very important element.

And to come up with forms that are iconic

but had not been used before.

I mean, there are 50 different forms of openings.

50 different forms of openings?

In the assembly building.


Nathaniel Kahn, Louis Kahn's youngest child,

was with Harriet Pattison and born in 1962.

My memories of my father are very --

they're very distinct because I don't have the continuity

because he didn't live in our house.

He visited our house often.

And the things that I did with him

and that we did together were very intense.

They're -- As the poet William Wordsworth used to say,

they're spots of time.

Like a dappled sunlight, you know,

there's a lot of murky stuff around it,

but the spot is really bright.

I remember my father coming to the house

and telling me stories about Dhaka.

And he just seemed filled with ideas,

mystery of this incredible place.

I remember how much he was taken with the Bengal tigers,

and Lou liked that power very much of the jungle,

of the tigers, of the rain, the monsoon,

and, of course, Dhaka.



So it begins, and, you know, eight years in, civil war --

1970, '71.

They had to close the field office,

pull people out of there.

Only now are we beginning to find out

that there was a genocide over there.

However, he was working for both of these places,

both East and West Pakistan and in India.

And India. And India.

After construction had begun on Tiger City,

it became ensnared in global politics due to the civil war.

Despite an influx of money from American aid groups,

10 million Bangladeshi refugees

crossed over into the Indian state of Bengal.

Richard Nixon, who was the American president at the time,

turned a blind eye to the Pakistani military crackdown

that led to the mass exodus.

The Nixon-Kissinger administration

gave unconditional support for the Pakistani junta leader,

who was covertly helping the administration

open relations with China.

This led Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi

to reach out to the Russians,

and Louis Kahn's half-finished complex

became an Indian military hideout

where a war plane crashed on the presidential plaza.

Louis Kahn continued to work on the project,

even though the client had changed.

But during that time, there was no communication, no money.

The building had come out of the ground a little bit,

quite a bit, but my father kept working on the project.

And he kept paying his people to work on it.

He kept doing the drawings, and people would say,

"Lou, what are doing? They're having a war over there.

Why are you still working on this project?"

And, I mean, what a marvelous comment he says.

He says, "There will be a time when the war is over,

and then they will really need this building."


there is this sense, once again, of, you know...

...of an architect who's been asked to do something.

Just because there's a problem, you don't stop,

because the ideas you've been asked to work with

is needed even more now.

And there was that sense in him that, "I've been asked to do it.

I'm going to do it."

And he was right.

They needed the building then more than ever.

It was a new country.

So you've been to Dhaka. What were you feeling?

I wanted it to be a pilgrimage.

I also didn't want to just kind of see the building

from the side of the angle or something.

I wanted to get a full frontal vision of this building.

So I asked the guy who was taking us around

to blindfold me.

So he drove me through the streets...

[ Indistinct talking, horns honking ]

...and took me to the edge of the access road...

led me out by the arm to midway in the big field.

And he said, "Can you feel it?"

There's no question, you can feel that building,

even with your blindfold on.

You walk away from the traffic, and things start to get quiet,

and then you feel this presence.


And he said, "Are you ready?" And I said, "Yeah."

So he took off the blindfold.



And I wept.

It is enormously powerful.

One can't do something like that

unless one has truly responded

to the specific place, people, needs.

And I think he did that, and that was --

You know, boy, it almost makes you wish you were an architect.

The unmeasurable was the one thing that captivated the mind,

and the measurable made very little difference.

It is just born into us.

The will to learn,

the desire to learn is just one of the most...

...the greatest of inspirations.


Tagore: Louis Kahn achieved an almost mythic status,

partly through his work

and partly through his wildly popular lectures at Yale

and later at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

He personally molded a generation of architects

and profoundly influenced a host of others

that never studied or worked with him directly.



Today the University of Pennsylvania

houses the Louis I. Kahn Archive

in the same building where Kahn taught his students.

I was curious to find out if anything in the collection

could shed light on Kahn's Tiger City design

and construction.

The archive was co-created by Henry Wilcots,

an associate of Louis Kahn's

who worked closely with him on the Dhaka project

and was responsible for its completion.

What was exactly your role?

I served the office as the project manager.

Once we got things under way there,

it was a very, very exciting period.

I was going out to Dhaka two, three, four times a year.

When we first got out there, they had stockpiled.

And they showed Lou this brick, you know?

And it didn't work.

But Lou was the kind of a person who said,

"But we will find a way to use it."

What did he do with those bricks?

They crushed it for aggregate for the concrete.

They also only gave him 200 acres to begin with,

which he promptly said wasn't large enough.

You have to understand, this was the so-called second capital.

So therefore, it had to be smaller

than what was happening in Islamabad.

You know, at the end of the war,

when Lou was invited out, I accompanied out there.

We met Sheikh Mujibur.

You know, he, at that time, had become the prime minister.

And we were ushered in, and we sat and talked with him,

and Lou talked about the building.

Very wonderful man.

I liked him.

He would just grab hold of you and hang on to you, you know?

[ Both laugh ]

He told us that he didn't need air-conditioning.

He said because -- He said, "We can't afford it."

Lou told him -- He says, "But that's alright.

Maybe we'll just open some windows."

Well, the sheikh liked that.

[ Both laugh ]

Back over in there, you know, is the medical building.

Tagore: Ah. We'll go and have a look.

Let's go have a look, then. Yeah, yeah.

Okay, now, Richard --

There, medical laboratories.



500, right?


That was his most important building at the time.

It was new.

It was his theory of servant spaces.

The development of Kahn's theory of served and servant spaces

was a pivotal one.

He believed there should be a separate space

for mechanical and utilitarian functions,

such as heating and cooling equipment,

freeing living spaces to achieve their full glory.

The Richards Medical Research Laboratories

marked a turning point in Kahn's career.

It was in this complex

that Kahn's theory of served and servant spaces

reached their first full expression.

It was here that Kahn shocked the architectural world

by fusing the modernist aesthetic

with the ancient forms he had observed

in his travels through Europe.

Before the Richards building, Kahn was a beloved,

if relatively obscure, academic architect.

After the Richards building, he would become

the internationally acclaimed star architect

he would remain until his death.

Years later, I was out there one holiday on the site,

and finally one fellow said,

"Pardon me, sir, where else is this building?"

And I says, "No place else."

And he says, "Is it in the U.K.?"

And I would say, "No."

And he'd say, "Is it in the U.S.?"

I said, "No."

He says, "Are you telling me only in Bangladesh?"

I said, "Yes."

And he turned to his people and he says,

"Bangladesh very lucky."

No other place.

So let me ask you something.

You know, he worked in so many places.

Working in America is very different

from working in India or Bangladesh

or in Iran or in other --

And working meaning culturally is very different.

Sometimes those cultural differences

could block other people, but Lou seemed to have thrived.

Why? What was in him that enabled him

to drop all of those superficial boundaries

and get to the heart of the matter?

Because he was a fluid person.

He could do that.

Lou could tell you a story, and you'd say,

"Where did he learn this stuff," you know?

But he could pick it up.

It was part of him.

He could make it his own.

Where do you think it came from?

There was a well.

Yeah. Yeah.

I don't know.



I think the key to Kahn's open-minded nature

lies right here in the bustling avenues

of his native Philadelphia.

The vibrant street life and mix of cultures

he witnessed as a child

left an indelible impression on the grown man.

And we can find echoes of these streets

in all his works up to and including Dhaka.

It was here in these nondescript offices of 1501 Walnut Street

that Kahn devised the blueprints

for many of the late-20th century architecture's

greatest masterpieces.

Visitors were struck by how pedestrian

and unassuming the offices were,

with peeling paint and overflowing ashtrays.

But to Kahn, this was merely a staging ground,

a place to push himself to the brink

in the pursuit of greatness.

Louis: The importance of a drawing is immense

because it just simply --

Well, it's the architect's language.

Even the drawing which -- This looks like a flower.

This looks like a canoe. It doesn't make any difference.

The mind makes it what it wants to make it

for the purposes of discussion.

So therefore, the drawing is very valuable.

Tagore: Fred Langford and Gus Langford worked for Kahn

in the Walnut Street office and also on site in Dhaka.

Lou asked me if I wanted to go to Dhaka.

I said, "Yeah, sure."

There were times when there must have been 500 men on the site.

They all lived on the site. Yeah.

They had little lean-tos and tents,

and they would sleep, do their own cooking there,

and go home maybe once a month for a day or two,

and they carried everything on their heads.

It's amazing -- They had little shovels, unusual type of shovel.

Then they put it in a basket

and then walked their way out with the basket on their head.

And one of the greatest things was, when carrying these things,

they couldn't move their heads, naturally.

So they felt with their toes

when they came to the end of the board

or the scaffolding to dump.

The first drawing I made for him was for Pakistan.

And Kahn was there, and David Wisdom

took the pencil out of his pocket,

and he scribbled on my drawing.

And Lou slapped his hand away.

Said, "Don't touch that drawing!

Don't touch the drawing!"

-And he revered it. -Yeah.

And he really had utter respect for the drawn line.

What was he like in person?

I can remember once in Pakistan, his back hurt him,

and he had some liniment, and he wanted me to rub him down.

I don't know if you want stories like this.

But I put some liniment in my hands.

He took his T-shirt off,

and I could see he was bolstering up his upper torso

so I could see it, you know?

So he was quite proud of his physique.

-Yeah. -There's no doubt about it.


Here I'm working for this great architect,

and he's just like the guy around the corner, you know?

Say, "Hey, feel this muscle," you know?

I think that he approached the job, once he got it,

in a very possessive way.

He wanted to leave his stamp.

I heard that he worked all the time.

He was always on the go. There's no doubt about that.

Even when he was relaxing, he was thinking and moving.


He never ate meals on time, never slept properly.

And so he didn't really take good care of himself.

He was so interested in the project

and consumed by the projects.

He manipulated other people, 'cause he was a manipulator.

He was an artist at it.

He had to get something done.

And I don't mean that as a criticism.

He spoke in poetic terms constantly.

Absolutely. Yes.

The walls separated, and the columns became.

Things like -- Or what?

A rose knows it's going to be a rose,

so a rose wants to be a rose, you know?

And a brick wants to be a brick.

So treat it like a brick.

He's above and beyond the normal architect.

He's poetic.



Louis: Design is to put into being

what realization form tells us.

You can say form is also what is detected

as the nature of something.

And design strives to, at that moment,

employ the laws of nature in putting it into being.


To allow light to come into play...

this resource of material,

to make, to put into presence,

this, the maker of presences, at that moment only

do you put the measurable into what you are doing.

Previous to that, everything is fundamentally

or totally unmeasurable.



Tagore: Kahn was exploring the theme of light and shadow

in his other designs.

Commissioned by Paul Mellon, the Yale Center for British Art

brings a monumental presence to downtown New Haven.

Kahn designed the interiors

to allow in as much daylight as possible,

thus bathing the art collection in soft, diffused natural light.

Carter Wiseman is a Louis Kahn biographer

and a professor of architectural history at Yale.

Wiseman: The design for the building

was very highly developed,

but Kahn had not told anybody

what the outside was going to be finished in.

And Jules said to Kahn,

"Lou, Mr. Mellon would like to know

what the building is going to be finished in."

And Kahn said, "Steel."

And Prown was horrified.

He said, "Lou, have you ever seen a building

clad in steel that you liked?"

And Kahn apparently said no.

[ Both laugh ]

But now as we see the building 40 years later, you see why,

because the metal has responded to the weather

in a way that discolors it,

but since we're talking about late modern architecture,

in which you can't use conventional ornament,

then the discoloration becomes the ornament.

One of the great structures of our time

is Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Designed in steel or, for that matter, titanium,

and 40-plus years later,

I realized that the steel-faced building's genealogy

could be traced back to Kahn's museum at Yale.

The Yale Center for British Art

marks another important point in Kahn's career.

Beginning with the Yale art gallery,

everything he did was for an institution of higher purpose.

The Salk Institute, we were supposed to cure cancer.

The Exeter Library was all about the idea of learning.

The assembly building in Dhaka, this was a birth of democracy.

And I can imagine he felt the mission of that

was something he could enhance with his art.

And that's what he did.

What he did.

I promise not to embrace the column.

This is one of the most remarkable

and unlikely spaces I've ever been in.

So I wanted to ask you a little bit

about Bangladesh and Dhaka.

What do you think Lou Kahn was thinking

when he went to the site?

He saw the blank canvas, tabula rasa.

Kahn's buildings never --

were particularly responsive to a landscape.

Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright.

If you think of Fallingwater, it's entirely about the site.

Kahn's buildings really wanted to be on a tabula rasa.

So there was one.

He was so good at absorbing other cultures

and other ideas

that through osmosis,

I think he probably sensed what was the right thing to do.


How does this man

come to intuit cultures as foreign to him

and then have the work accepted as if it was part of the fabric?

[ Indistinct talking ]


More than the light, it was the movement of people

in that building that animated it.

And as you know, Kahn grew up in Philadelphia

in the Northern Liberties,

which was a slum, a ghetto.

He spent a lot of time on the street.

I wonder if at some level he was connecting

to life on the street in Philadelphia.

The assembly building has those concentric rings

and unexpected cutouts and openings

so that you see people.

Just as we're seeing here, part of the story visually here

is being able to see across at this fellow on his horse.

My sense is that he was a deeply sentimental man

but also that he was a great idealist,

and that I think at some level

he thought maybe humanity could be perfect.

What do you think that Dhaka project meant to him?

Well, he spent so much time on it,

and I think in the end, it killed him.

What is it about this architect

that arouses such passionate reactions?

As I'm walking the streets back in New York,

I bump into architect Chris McVoy in Chelsea.

His designs embody the spirit of Kahn's theories of architecture.


Chris suggests that I sit down with his partner,

the renowned architect Steven Holl.

Just before Kahn died, Holl was set to begin work with him

at his studio in Philadelphia.

His work is greatly inspired by Kahn.

Holl: For me, Lou Kahn represents

that kind of deeper thinking

and deeper dimension of architecture

which I really think is more important than anything today,

because everything is so quick

and Twitter-feed short and lack of deep thinking.

We're in a strange moment in our society,

and so I think it's reassuring to go to a place like Ahmedabad

and see how strong those spaces are.

These affinities drew me to want to go and work for Kahn.

He's producing this architecture of monumentality,

of gravity and masses

at a time when there's this architectural glass and steel

and corporate efficiency.

How do you think he was able to break that ground?

You need an idea to drive a design,

to bring all the manifold pieces of architecture together,

the site, the program, everything.

In the Exeter Library, he said "The essence of a library

is to take a book from the darkness to the light."

And that's why the reading carousels

are all around the perimeter of the building,

where you could go into the light.

He gets to Bangladesh. He's never been there before.

It's 10,000 miles away. Right.

And he's given this tour.

What do you think he was feeling

at that particular moment as an architect?

He rewrote the program,

and he brought the mosque into the complex.

So he brought that spiritual space as a central figure

in the making of the whole geometry and the architecture.

I mean, he was hesitant to present it that way,

but then they loved it.

You're walking in, and you feel,

"Oh, my, it's sublime."

Kahn was influenced by Carlos Scarpa.

He loved Scarpa's work,

but you could feel, you know, the influence of one architect

to the next to the next to the next.

There's a famous text that Kahn wrote

sort of three years before he died

called "How am I doing, Le Corbusier?"

I said, "He cared so much about Le Corbusier.

He really cared."

And so that's the kind of handing down

of this kind of transcendent thoughts about architecture.

Balkrishna Doshi was a young architect

that worked with Le Corbusier and later went to work for Kahn.

He was the one to break the news of Corbusier's death to Kahn.

Doshi told me the story.

He came to see Kahn to pay his respects,

and then he arrived in Philadelphia on a Sunday night.

Kahn was sitting there, and he said, "Have you heard?"

And Doshi said, "Yeah, of course.

I was just there."

And Kahn said, "Now for whom shall I work?"

You know, I think that's part of architecture.

So I always thought if I could invite Kahn to my building,

what would he say?

You must ask brick what it wants

or what it can do.

And if you ask brick what it wants,

it'll say, "Well, I like an arch."

And then you say, "But arches are difficult to make.

They cost more money.

I think you can use concrete across your opening

equally as well."

But the brick says, "Oh, I know. I know you're right.

But, you know, if you ask me what I like, I like an arch."

[ Laughter ]




Tagore: To experience a new aspect of Kahn's legacy,

I pay a visit to Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island.

This is a unique opportunity,

because although Kahn designed the memorial in 1973,

it is being constructed posthumously.

Gina Pollara is the architect in charge of the project,

and she walks me through the site

to explain the impact of Kahn's design.

He was really thinking about the beginnings of architecture.

This work is Egyptian --

in the battered walls, in the large dimensional stone,

in the way that we even had to barge the stone to the site.

Also the idea of memorial,

that is Egyptian idea, in many ways. Yes. Yes.

Kahn talked about the memorial, and he said,

"I had this thought

that a memorial should be a room and a garden."

That the room represented the beginning of architecture,

and the garden was sort of a personal control of nature.

This idea of the room resonated with Roosevelt

because Roosevelt felt that all the problems of the world

could be solved if people sat together in a room,

as around a dining room table, and discussed the problems.

He linked this back to Roosevelt,

who he considered to be someone

who had saved him as an architect,

because the Roosevelt policies that set up

the resettlement housing act, for instance,

allowed him to practice as an architect

and to support his family as a young architect.

So this meant more to him?

So for him to do -- build a memorial to FDR

had deep, deep meaning for him.

But he was also very idealistic.

Everything that he did had a higher purpose,

whether it's this memorial or the Salk Institute

or the Dhaka for the purpose of government and democracy.

Kahn was idealistic.

He did believe that architecture

fundamentally changes how you occupy a space.

I mean, it's the idea of, you know,

the thoughts that you have in Rome

aren't the thoughts that you have in Paris.

I had a lot of arguments with people

when we started this project.

They said, "Well, it's so expensive,"

'cause it's $50 million now.

"Why don't you just make the block out of concrete

and put a veneer on it?"

And I said, "Absolutely not.

Kahn would have never done that."

The walls parted, and the columns became.

That's also the genius of Kahn, you know?

You can look at the photographs,

but you don't really, really get it

on a cellular level until you're there.

I understand why people travel all over the world

to visit Kahn, like a pilgrimage.

Tagore: This one has a direct relationship with Bangladesh,

purely because of the liquid geography.

Also, you're talking about heads of states

and you're talking about memorial in that respect.

And then becomes a memorial to their freedom struggle.

Pollara: That's right, and you look out to the United Nations,

which is the built embodiment of the Four Freedoms.

So there's a very deep connection

between this site and that organization, which --

He is having a dialogue with Corbusier every day.

[ Laughs ]


The quotation that will be on the back of the niche says,

"We look forward to a world

founded upon four essential human freedoms."

Architecture affects how we live

and interact with each other as human beings.

If you have bad architecture, it affects you,

and Kahn gave that gift,

because he understood that what he was making

was a sacred space that made people --

that evoked that kind of response in people

to make them want to lift themselves up.

You know, you just mentioned that the cost of this

is $50 million? Yes.

What if I said the whole cost of Bangladesh is less than that?

Would you be surprised? Yes.

[ Both laugh ]





Tagore: There can be no doubt that Lou Kahn

was essentially an American architect,

but it is impossible to understand his architecture

without acknowledging one of his primary influences,

the ancient forms of Europe.


In 1928, Kahn toured Europe for the first time

on what was then known as the Grand Tour.

He roamed the canals and cobbled streets of Venice,

viewing the palazzos and churches

and letting the grand architecture

of this ancient city wash over him.

Venice was also the location of Kahn's only project in Italy,

the Palazzo dei Congressi,

one of his greatest unrealized works.

Kahn died before the design was completed.


[ Singing in foreign language ]




Arriving in Rome, I pay a visit

to the prestigious American Academy,

where Louis Kahn spent a fellowship year in 1951.

Cristina Puglisi of the American Academy in Rome

gave me a tour of the complex.


Puglisi: It's a place for work.

And you can see it, I think, reflected in the architecture.

It's very simple, white walls, white ceiling, very Spartan.

You have a small bedroom

and very comfortable studies here in the library.

The quiet everyday studio life.

What's amazing about this place

is the interdisciplinary nature of it.

You may sit next to an archaeologist

or a painter or a classicist, a poet.

Tagore: As we were walking around the academy,

we knocked on the door of the room

that Kahn supposedly occupied while living here.


We met the architect Hansjoerg Goeritz,

who is staying in the same room.


Goeritz: Coming from the United States,

even though he was trained in the Beaux arts tradition,

he has never seen masses like the Pantheon.

I think very few buildings like that exist in the United States.

So he came here and he was surrounded by all these masses.

Wherever he traveled,

I think he noticed that topologies that are timeless

are very simple and grand.

And I think a great thing about Kahn's work in Bangladesh

is also related to a fact that is almost never mentioned,

and I think that is the composition

between architecture and landscape --

the composition with water features,

alleys, terraces, colonnades, arcades.

When you go to the Peloton, you find this

in a very strong and powerful composition.

Architecture is more than just buildings.

The world in 1950s, '60s

moving towards the glass and steel.

Why is Kahn diverting back to these architecture masses?

I think simply because he was here in Rome.

And having this great moment of awe.



As Kahn explored the winding streets of this eternal city,

he must have felt like he was walking through history itself.


The Pantheon was completed by the emperor Hadrian

in the year 126 A.D.


When it was built, all the lands from Scotland to Palestine

were united under the banner of Rome.


For almost 2,000 years, the Pantheon has stood,

and every day of those 2,000 years,

light from the oculus at the dome's apex

has slowly traced the interior...

...bathing the countless generations below

in soft gleam as they traverse the rotunda.



Adnan Morshed is an architectural historian

and helps me understand

the importance of Kahn's visits to Rome.

Morshed: Kahn was the deeply committed architect

who wanted to create architecture,

buildings that would be timeless.

In the same way the Pantheon would appeal

to people of all cultures,

there is a sense of universal beauty.

When you look at the oculus,

the light beam filtering in from heavens,

it overwhelms everybody who enters that building.

I think that left an indelible impression

on his aesthetic consciousness,

that beauty was not necessarily --

has a very specific locale.

It can have some kinds of universal resonance.

I think his challenge was to combine these two,

east and west.

Kahn had a very revered stature

among the architectural community in Bangladesh.

These massive cutouts

are actually windows at an urban scale.

They are not meant to be a little window for a house.

They are windows for the city.

They are semantic tools to communicate with the city.

I think if you look at all these projects collectively,

there is an overarching theme.

That overarching theme is light.

How do you create a luminous environment inside a building?

If you go inside the parliament building,

you'll walk around the ambulatory,

you will see that natural light.

It creates an ambiance.

I think it was this sense of timelessness

and kind of a mystical element

that would appeal to people of all cultures.

I think Kahn's work combines

kind of a peculiar phenomenology of the site.

If you go to parliament,

you will also feel that mystical power.

But you will also have an element in some ways Bengali.

It's a kind of a microcosm of the Bengal Delta.

A place has a spirit.

And the architect's role

is to condense that spirit into the building.

So I think Louis Kahn was working on multiple fronts.


During both his visits,

Kahn found inspiration in other European cities.

In Greece, Kahn visited the Parthenon.

Built in 447 B.C.,

it is considered to be one of the pinnacles

of classical Greek architecture...

...and has an impact on generation after generation

of architects.

Louis Kahn was inspired by the structure of the building,

studying the refined excellence of the workmanship that he saw.

He observed that Greek architecture is absolute

in its sense of alternating light and dark, solid and void,

created by the rhythmic drama of the towering columns.

When Louis Kahn said, "I could make the materials sing,"

he was speaking of lessons learned

from his visit in Greece.

This influence translates to his later form

as seen in the Kimbell Art Museum, for example.


Kahn was drawn to the archaic forms

and ancient architecture, such as the Temple of Aphaea,

so I paid a visit to the island of Aigina.


After taking the ferry and driving

and then hiking up the hill, I finally arrived.

But I got there too late. The temple was all closed up.

But I wanted to see what Louis Kahn saw

and wasn't going to return empty-handed.

So I jumped over the barbed-wire fence

and explored the great Doric temple.


During my travels, I learned that Kahn

had a special reverence for archaic forms

rather than classical architecture.

This prompted him to visit and study the ancient Greek temples

of Paestum, Italy.

When he asked, "What does a building want to be?"

he was envisioning a powerful archaic building,

much like he created for Dhaka.


During his tours of Europe, Kahn didn't limit himself

to architecture of the ancients.

He traveled all over the continent,

soaking up a wide variety of architectural traditions.


In Paris, I went to see Le Corbusier's home,

Maison La Roche.

Louis Kahn revered Le Corbusier

in a way that he regarded no other living architect,

and I can imagine him here

moving through the space in a trance.



While traveling in France,

I hear about the internationally renowned

Vitra Design Museum in Rhein, Germany.

There they were featuring a major exhibition of Louis Kahn.

I jumped at the chance to see it for myself.

Once I arrived, I met with the museum director,

Jochen Eisenbrand,

who gave me a curatorial tour of the exhibition.

Eisenbrand: It's really a career that's split in two halves.

Until, say, around 1960, he was not that well-known,

and he was almost 60 years old when his breakthrough came,

and the first part of his career,

he was mainly preoccupied with housing, workers' housing.

And I think that is one of the reasons for his interest

in the social role of architecture.

He had, of course, the Trenton Bath House

that was personally very important for him

and was already recognized by a small crowd of architects.

But then really the big breakthrough, no doubt,

were the Richards Medical towers.

You can really tell that after that,

he also sees himself in another way

and starts to see what he does or his drawings and models,

that they actually have a value.

I mean, what he did was so different

from what everybody else did.

It was the height of the international style,

of international modernism, of building with glass and steel,

and he brought back weight and mass,

creating distinct spaces.

He was speaking about eternal values of architecture

that may have been pushed aside a bit at the time.

There's a great appreciation of his work

among the fellow architects.


India -- ancient and modern in the same breath.

Is it any wonder

that some of the most famous modern architects

were intrigued and attracted by the chance to work here?

As I make my way through these familiar lands,

crossing India from west into east,

all around me I see the color and culture

that inspired Louis Kahn,

and I hear the echoes of Tiger City

in the fall of my footsteps.

Eventually, I'll cross over into Bangladesh and back to Dhaka.

But before I travel that way again,

I decided to visit the Taj Mahal.

Louis Kahn visited the monument in 1965,

and it seems fitting that I make an attempt

to see this wonder through his eyes.

In the year 1631,

the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan's beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal,

died during childbirth.

Overcome with grief,

the emperor ordered the construction of a great tomb,

a mausoleum, the crown of palaces...

otherwise known as the Taj Mahal.

It is regarded by many

as the world's finest example of Mogul architecture,

a style that combines elements of Islamic, Persian, Ottoman,

Turkish, and Indian architectural traditions.

It took 23 years to build...

just as long as the Tiger City.


Chandigarh was the first planned city in post-independent India.

The master plan of the city was designed

by the legendary Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.

It was a period in the subcontinental history

where feverish city-building activities were taking shape.

And Louis Kahn looked up to Le Corbusier

and visited Chandigarh to see the new city being built.



Kahn's most important collaborator in India

was Balkrishna Doshi.

Doshi spent many years supervising projects

in India for Corbusier

and then later for Louis Kahn for his project in Ahmedabad.

When Corbusier passed away, Kahn mentioned that,

"Every time I did some work,

I thought Corbusier would look at it somewhere,

this work, and he might think about me."

So that was his reverence for Corbusier.

And I said, "This is the city

where Corbusier has done four buildings,

and I would love you to do a campus."

And then so Kahn came.

He said he wrote somewhere that,

"I live in a beautiful city called Le Corbusier."

[ Both laugh ]

He was always very philosophical, you know,

very enigmatic very often.

So then I took him to the client.

I told Lou -- I said, "There are some problems.

We have foreign-exchange problem.

We have financial problem.

But we want you to do this work.

So shall we write an agreement?"

He says, "Why should we write an agreement?

"No," he says, "I trust you."

So there is no agreement.

It has never happened in the history

that it could be like this.

Kahn was all the time trying to break his own rules

and find another rule and yet be himself.

He deeply connected --

He was a great storyteller, great teacher.

He says, "You know, today is Friday or Saturday,

and I have a class on Monday."

He says, "I have to leave tonight."

Can you believe somebody coming from USA

just to come for a day to see a building?

In fact, he never liked to see the buildings.

He would come here,

and he would avoid visiting the site immediately.

Scared, in love, you know, whatever you call it.

So he was actually a very different person

in terms of how --

His relationships were fragile, you know,

sacrosanct, very delicate.

It's like a offering.

Many times linkages come from far away, unknown sources.

And I think those are the sources

which link time and space.

And that is where the real creativity happens.

But he was here and he was reading about Buddha.

And he says, "What a life this man had, Gautama Buddha."

Then after four days, you know,

I found that he had not reached home.

Well, you talk about premonitions.

You talk about values.

You talk about how certain things occur.

What do you mean by that?

Well, that is what meditation is about,

that we go inside, and the world will be there.

Kahn always talked about being a fool.

If you remain a child,

you have all the possibilities to do what you want to do.

So when I talk about Kahn as a yogi,

it's almost like saying that, you know,

you are all the time in front of something which is ephemeral.

We as architects talk about buildings, buildings,

but for him, building was not a building.

It was a very sacred act.


Doshi takes me on a tour of the buildings

for the Ahmedabad Institute of Management,

which Kahn designed in 1963.

This is where his subcontinental journey begins.


It looks immense and grand,

like the classical Indian building.


The silence that he talks about...

you can feel it.



It's got real gravity.

I mean, the weight is there.

And you feel -- I mean, when he said,

"I love the Pantheon," it has that kind of resonance.

Doshi: Yes. Also, if you look at it,

the openings are very few on the walls.

Yeah, why is that?

Well, because you don't want to see everything here.

This plaza is important.

So they accentuate only certain entries.

You can cross there.

You can come into this entrance here.

It's very much like the medieval place.

This is Kahn's great public building.

Doshi: Of a scale which --

Kahn talked about the treasury of spaces and places.

And here you'll find that treasure.

It is Indian, it is Mogul, it's classical.


It was in '62 we started.

And the last day was in 1974.

12 years he's coming here, looking at India,

looking at people, looking at the culture,

looking at the warmth of the people,

and learning about how things can happen.

I don't think he ever worked on any project for 12 years

on another continent,

with very simple materials,

particularly one, two materials only,

basically brick.

And then the technology was very, very simple.

So he was actually challenging himself

about his search for death, almost absolute nothing.

Tagore: He was really touched by Buddha.

Yes. He says, "What does the brick want to say?

So what would the life want to say?"

Kahn used the word "offering."

And this was his offering.

To architecture, to humanity,

and to the citizens of the future world.



As I travel back to Dhaka,

I'm struck by the many complexities

and contradictions of modern Bengal.

Rapid economic growth alongside endemic poverty.

A young democracy barely on its feet,

rooted in one of the world's most ancient civilizations.



And I have to consider, where does Sher-e-Bangla Nagar,

the Tiger City, and Louis Kahn himself fit into all of this?


An architect can build a house

and build a city in the same breath

if he only thinks about it as being a marvelous,

inspired, expressive realm.



[ Thud ]




Tagore: I would really like to know what he felt

when he found out that he died at Penn Station.

Sue Ann: I came home, and it hit me.

I said, "Why am I here? My father's not here."

It's the only time -- only reason I ever come home

was to see my father, and it was like,

you know, a stab through the heart.

I finally allowed it to hit me

that I would walk in there and he wouldn't be there.

His writing was so spiritual.

And I think anybody who knew him...

loved him.

Holl: The art of architecture,

that's the deepest contribution you can give.

I mean, I really believe that's something that transcends --

the inspiration and the possibility

and the hope of art.

You know, Osip Mandelstam, the poet,

said, "People need poetry like they need bread."

I think Kahn would agree with that.

Morshed: To evoke a sense of spirituality.

But it is a primal sense of spirituality.

Weeping inside Louis Kahn's building is not too uncommon.

It has a visceral presence that is overwhelming.

Yeah, I shed a tear.

For him, for it...

for the idea that human beings would have the audacity

to make something like that.


Here in Dhaka, Louis Kahn designed a capital complex

that is beloved in the country

and is imbued with a compelling narrative

tied to the history of South Asia.

His design elicits an intense emotional feeling.

That's a far cry from the glass-and-steel building

that surround us everywhere.

Straddling design and philosophy,

he has left an indelible imprint on the world

as one of the great visionary architects of his time.

Kahn gave his creative impulses and fantasies free rein.

He dared to dream in a way

that few would ever find the courage to match.

Architecture is more than just a building,

more than just a roof over our heads.


Great architecture can impart a sense of hope, of possibility.

It can move the human spirit.


I realize in the end that I'm responding

to the grandeur of the architecture,

the silence, the light.


I'm enthralled that he was helping

a new democracy define itself.

I'm responding to all of this,

but after walking in Kahn's footsteps

and talking to those who knew him best,

I realize that my obsession is tied to something more basic.

Kahn's generosity as an artist

allowed me to participate in the creative act.


For me, that is what makes Sher-e-Bangla Nagar,

the Tiger City, Louis Kahn's greatest offering.













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