Albert Kahn Biography – Albert Kahn (1869-1942) was born in Rhaunen, Germany, the oldest son of a rabbi. The Kahns and their six children emigrated to the United States in 1880. Albert Kahn received his professional training as an apprentice to an architect with the firm of Mason and Rice in Detroit. In 1891, Albert Kahn was awarded a scholarship for a year’s travel in Europe. During his travels Albert Kahn met the young architect Henry Bacon, and the two of them traveled together in Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium. In 1896, Albert Kahn married Ernestine Krolik and formed a partnership with George W. Nettleton and Alexander B. Trowbridge. Trowbridge left to become dean of the Cornell University School of Architecture in 1897, Nettleton died in 1900, and by 1902, Albert Kahn was in practice alone. Albert Kahn ‘s practice is intenation-ally known for industrial work; his more traditional designs are less well known.
Because Albert Kahn practiced in Detroit, Albert Kahn ‘s career closely followed the growth of the automotive industry. Albert Kahn was introduced to Henry B. Joy in 1902. Joy was instrumental in Albert Kahn ‘s selection for projects at the University of Michigan, and when Joy became manager of the Packard Motor Car Co. in 1903, Albert Kahn was named architeet for tbe company. That same year, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Co.
Albert Kahn ‘s early industriai work was conservative in nature. Nine factories were designed between 1903 and 1905 for the Packard Motor Car Co. The first concreteframed building dated from 1905. This advanced structural system depended on the manufacture of appropriate reinforcing rods. Although Albert Kahn ‘s brother was an engineer and manufacturer of reinforcing, the Albert Kahn bar did not succeed in the market. However, the experience with the concrete structure put Albert Kahn ‘s office in the forefront of industrial design.
Many industrial commissions followed. Rather than relegating the design to junior staff, Albert Kahn carefully designed the factories, using such designers as his associate Ernest Wilby to assist him. Albert Kahn ‘s factories were the first to use steel sash in conereteframed structures. Albert Kahn helped develop buildings for continuously moving assembly lines. His factories were known for the maximum use of natural lighting and ventilation, using continuous strip windows, roof monitors, or skylights. Albert Kahn pioneered the use o¾ longspan steel trusses, resuiting in large floor arens free of columns.
There were a number of fumous factories. Among the early ones was the Ford Motor Co. in Highland Park, Michigan (1909), which was under one roof. Among later buildings for Ford was u 1918 building with cantilevered balconies insde the factory, allowing easier handling of materials and parts Plants for the Burroughs Adding Machine Co. in Detroit (l919) and for the Fisher Body Co. in Cleveland, Ohio (1921), were other early works.
In 1917, Albert Kahn began the design of the Ford River Rouge Plant in Detroit. The first of the buildings (Building B) was 0.5 mi long, housing the entire assembly hne for automobiles. In 1936, Albert Kahn designed the Chrysler Corp. plant in Detroit using large trusses and glass curtain walls In 1938, Albert Kahn designed another Chrysler Corp. plant at Warren Michigan, for the HalfTon Truck Plant of the Dodge Divil sion. It featured longspan trusses and roof monitors as well as glass curtain walls. This series of buildings was elegant in design, using advanced construction technology.
Albert Kahn ‘s office designed many other buildings in addition to the industrial work. These included several buildings for the University of Michigan, office buildings such as the General Motors Building in Detroit, and luxury residential projects, particularly for the homes of automotive executives.
Albert Kahn ‘s World War II buildings included the Glen Martin bomber plant at Baltimore and the Willow Run Bomber plant for Ford, later used for automobile manufacture and assembly. Because of wartime blackout regulations. the latter building was windowless and electrically lit.
Albert Kahn worked continuously up to 1942. completing 57 years o¾ practice as an architeet. and the firm continues under the name of Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. A high point of Albert Kahn ‘s fame was his influence on European work. In 1929, a Soviet commission touring Delroit asked him to design a tractor plant in Stalingrad This turned out so well that the firm built over 500 factories in the USSR in two years and trained many Soviet engineers and technicians to assist in the building program.
The comparison of Albert Kahn ‘s work with Peter Behrens’s monumental work in Germany for the A.E.G. or Walter Gropius’s and Adolph Meyers’s 1911 Fagus Shoelast Factory at Alfeld an der Liene clarifies Ihe differences between European and American approaches. The European examples were more designed. with the use of brick, neoclassic forms, and delight in the technology that allowed such details as wrapping glass around corners. The spirit of that work differs from Knhn. who evolved industrial buildings without prototypes or use of traditional design concepts. The industrial building was of contiunued aesthetic interest as reflected in Gropius’s design of the Bauhaus at Dessau. Germany. in 1926 The best of Albert Kahn ‘s work implies a different aesthetic based on simple construction. standard materials, and ease of construction. In this sense it was more like the manufactured product than a symbolic interpretation.
Hiram Walker offices, in Windsor, Ontario, 1892
Temple Beth El, now the Bonstelle Theater of Wayne State University, 1903
The Palms Apartments, on Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, 1903
Belle Isle Aquarium and Conservatory, on Belle Isle, Detroit, 1904
Casino, on Belle Isle, Detroit, 1907
George N. Pierce Plant, in Buffalo, New York, 1906
Willistead Manor, home of the son of Hiram Walker, 1906
Battle Creek Post Office, 1907
Packard Plant, 1907
Cranbrook House, at Cranbrook Educational Community, 1907
Highland Park Ford Plant, Highland Park, Michigan, 1908
Mahoning National Bank, Youngstown, Ohio, 1909
Detroit News building, 1917
General Motors Building, now State of Michigan offices, 1919
Detroit Police Headquarters, 1923
Temple Beth El, 1923
Walker Power Plant, in Windsor, 1923
Detroit Free Press building, 1925
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, Michigan, 1927
River Rouge Glass Plant, 1930
Dearborn Inn, 1931
Ford Rotunda, 1934
Dodge Truck Plant, Warren, Michigan, 1938
Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, 1941
Willow Run Bomber Plant, 1941
Ford Richmond Plant, California
Buildings at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1904
Hill Auditorium, 1913
Natural Science Building, 1913
Hatcher Graduate Library, 1920
Clements Library, 1923
Angell Hall, 1924
Couzens Hall, 1925
University Hospital (now destroyed), 1925
Simpson Institute for Medical Research, 1927
Burton Tower, 1936
Bibliography: 1. C, Hilebrand. The Architecture of Albert Kahn, M.I.T. Press. Cambridge. Mass., 1974.
2. “The Legacy of Albert Kahn,” exhibition catalog, The Detroit Institute of Arrs. Detroit. Mich., 1970.