Born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky in what is now Estonia, his father took the family name Kahn after emigrating to the United States in 1906. Kahn was raised in Philadelphia where he received an excellent education, winning a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture. Kahn’s childhood, however, was not unproblematic. As a small boy he pulled a coal from the fire, setting his clothing on fire and causing lifelong facial scarring. Furthermore he developed scarlet fever, which only exacerbated the damage and meant that he began his education at home.