Albert Kahn (architect)

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Albert Kahn
Albert Kahn (architect).jpg
Born(1869-03-21)March 21, 1869
DiedDecember 8, 1942(1942-12-08) (aged 73)
Detroit, Michigan, US
RelativesJulius Kahn, brother
Albert E. Kahn, nephew

Albert Kahn (March 21, 1869 – December 8, 1942) was the foremost American industrial architect of his day. He is sometimes called the "architect of Detroit", designing such major industrial works as the Ford River Rouge Complex, the largest in the world when built; as well as skyscrapers and office buildings in the city, and mansions in the suburbs. He built a practice with hundreds of architects; in 1937 his firm designed 19 percent of all architect-designed factories in the U.S.

In addition, under a unique contract in 1929, Kahn established a design and training office in Moscow, sending twenty-five staff there to train Soviet architects and engineers, and to design hundreds of industrial buildings under their first five-year plan. He was the only consulting architect on Soviet industrial construction. In 1943, the Franklin Institute posthumously awarded Kahn the Frank P. Brown Medal.[1]

Many of Albert Kahn's personal working papers and construction photographs are housed at the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library.[2] His personal working library, the Albert Kahn Library Collection, is housed at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan.[3] The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian house most of the family's correspondence and other materials.[4]


Kahn was born on March 21, 1869, to a Jewish family[5] in Rhaunen, in the Kingdom of Prussia. Kahn immigrated as a child with his family to Detroit, Michigan, in 1880, when he was 11.[6] His father Joseph was trained as a rabbi; his mother Rosalie had a talent for the visual arts and music.[6] Kahn had four brothers, including Moritz, who became an engineer; and Julius Kahn, an engineer and inventor, who later collaborated with him in his architectural firm. They also had two sisters.

Kahn quickly learned English and went to public school. As a teenager, he got a job at the architectural firm of Mason and Rice.[6] In 1891 at age 22, he won a Rotch Traveling Fellowship, to study abroad in Europe, where he toured Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium with Henry Bacon, another young architecture student. Bacon later designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.[6][7]

In 1895, Kahn founded the architectural firm Albert Kahn Associates.[8] Together with his younger brother Julius, he developed a new style of construction whereby reinforced concrete replaced wood in factory walls, roofs, and supports. Julius also developed numerous improvements to reinforced concrete. This material gave better fire protection and allowed large volumes of unobstructed interior. Packard Motor Car Company's factory, which Kahn designed in 1903, was the first to be built according to this principle.[9]

Packard Automotive Plant building no. 10 in construction, c. 1905

The success of the Packard plant attracted the interest of automobile industrialist Henry Ford in Kahn's designs. Kahn designed Ford Motor Company's Highland Park plant, begun in 1909, where Ford consolidated production of the Ford Model T and perfected the assembly line.[10][11]

In 1917 Kahn designed the massive, half-mile-long Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan. The Rouge was developed as the largest manufacturing complex in the United States and, in its time, in the world. Its workforce peaked at 120,000 workers.

Kahn was also responsible for designing many of the buildings and houses built under direction of the Hiram Walker family in Walkerville, Ontario, including Willistead Manor. Kahn's interest in historically styled buildings is also seen in his houses in Detroit's Indian Village, the Cranbrook House, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, and The Dearborn Inn, the world's first airport hotel.

Kahn designed the 28-story Art Deco Fisher Building in Detroit, now a designated landmark and considered one of the most beautiful elements of the Detroit skyline. In 1928, the Fisher building was honored by the Architectural League of New York as the year's most beautiful commercial structure. Between 1917 and 1929, Kahn designed the headquarters for all three major daily newspapers in Detroit. His work was also part of the architecture event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics.[12]

On May 8, 1929, through an agreement signed with Kahn by Saul G. Bron, President of Amtorg, the Soviet government contracted Albert Kahn Associates to design the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, the first tractor plant in the USSR. On January 9, 1930, a second contract with Kahn was signed for his firm to become consulting architects for all industrial construction in the Soviet Union.[13]

Under these contracts, during 1929–1932 and the Great Depression, Kahn's firm established a design and training bureau in Moscow to train and supervise Soviet architects and engineers. This bureau, under the government's Gosproektstroi, was headed by one of Albert Kahn's brothers, Moritz Kahn, and 25 other Kahn Associates staff, who worked in Moscow during this project. They trained more than 4,000 Soviet architects and engineers; and designed 521 plants and factories[6] under the nation's first five-year plan.[13][14]

Kahn also designed many of what are considered the classic buildings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. These include the Burton Memorial Tower, Hill Auditorium, Hatcher Graduate Library, and William L. Clements Library. Kahn said later in life that of all the buildings he designed, he wanted most to be remembered for his work on the William L. Clements Library.

Kahn frequently collaborated with architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci. In all, Parducci worked on about 50 Kahn commissions, including banks, office buildings, newspaper buildings, mausoleums, hospitals, and private residences.

Kahn's firm was able to adapt to the changing needs of World War I and designed numerous army airfield and naval bases for the United States government during the war. By World War II, Kahn's 600-person office was involved in making Detroit industry part of America's Arsenal of Democracy. Among others, the office designed the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, and the Willow Run Bomber Plant, Kahn's last building, located in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Ford Motor Company mass-produced Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers here.[15][16]

In 1937, Albert Kahn Associates was responsible for 19 percent of all architect-designed factories in the U.S.[6] In 1941, Kahn received the eighth-highest salary and compensation package in the U.S., $486,936, of which he paid 72% in tax.[17]

Albert Kahn worked on more than 1,000 commissions from Henry Ford[6] and hundreds for other automakers. Kahn designed showrooms for Ford Motor Company in several cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston. He died in Detroit on December 8, 1942.

As of 2006, approximately 60 Kahn buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not all of Kahn's works have been preserved. Cass Technical High School in Detroit, designed by Malcomson and Higginbotham and built by Albert Kahn's firm in 1922, was demolished in 2011 after vandals had stripped it of most of its fixtures.[18] The Donovan Building, later occupied by Motown Records, was abandoned for decades and deteriorated. The city demolished it as part of its beautification plan before the 2006 Super Bowl XL. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Kahn designed Checker Cab Manufacturing plant was shuttered post the bankruptcy of Checker Motors Corp, in 2009. It was leveled in 2015.

Fifteen Albert Kahn buildings are recognized by official Michigan historical markers:[19]

He is not related to American architect Louis Kahn of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Kahn-designed buildings[edit]

Temple Beth-El (now Bonstelle Theatre), 1903
Albert Kahn's house, 1906
Ford Assembly Plant, 1914, Cleveland, Ohio (now Cleveland Institute of Art)
General Motors Building (now Cadillac Place), 1919

All buildings are located in Detroit, unless otherwise indicated.

  • Cold Spring Granite Company Main Plant, 1929, Cold Spring, Minnesota (demolished 2008)
  • King Edward Public School, 1905, Walkerville Neighbourhood, Windsor, ON. (demolished 1993, original front stone facade saved)
  • General Motors Stamping Plant, 1930, Indianapolis, Indiana (demolished 2014)
  • Bedrock Woodward Building 1449 Woodward
  • Garden Court Apartments 2900 E. Jefferson

Buildings at the University of Michigan[edit]

Campus structures built during his career (source of this list: Schreiber, Penny. "Albert Kahn's Campus." The Ann Arbor Observer, January, 2002, pp. 27–33):

Hill Auditorium, with Burton Memorial Tower in the background
White-colored stone building with columns in the center of the facade c. 1924
University of Michigan Central Campus: Angell Hall, one of the major buildings of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Greek Organization Buildings:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Albert Kahn papers "he also received the Frank P. Brown medal posthumously"
  2. ^ "Bentley Historical Library Albert Kahn Associates Records 1825-2014".
  3. ^ "Albert Kahn Research Symposium".
  4. ^ "Archives of American Art, Albert Kahn Papers".
  5. ^ "A Golden Age of Jewish Architects" by Abbott Gorin, Jewish Currents, Spring 2015
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Johnson, Donald L. and Donald Langmead (1997). Makers of 20th Century Modern Architecture: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. ISBN 1136640568. Pp. 161-164.
  7. ^ Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1945, pp. 97-100.
  8. ^ "About Kahn-What". Archived from the original on May 27, 2011. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  9. ^ Ferry 1970, p. 11.
  10. ^ Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, pp. 107-8, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1945.
  11. ^ Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 22, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  12. ^ "Albert Kahn". Olympedia. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  13. ^ a b Melnikova-Raich, Sonia (2010). "The Soviet Problem with Two 'Unknowns': How an American Architect and a Soviet Negotiator Jump-Started the Industrialization of Russia, Part I: Albert Kahn". IA, The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology. 36 (2): 59–73. ISSN 0160-1040. JSTOR 41933723.
  14. ^ "Industry's Architect". Time. June 29, 1942. Retrieved 2008-04-04. In 1928 the Soviet Government, after combing the U.S. for a man who could furnish the building brains for Russia's industrialization, offered the job to Kahn. Twenty-five Kahn engineers and architects went to Moscow. They had to start from scratch.
  15. ^ Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, pp. 109-10, 120-28, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1945.
  16. ^ Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 51-2, 96-8, 148, 200, 227-9, 242, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  17. ^ "Compensation and the I.R.S.: It's not the 'Good' Old Days". The New York Times. 2010-12-01. (Business Day section). Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  18. ^ Cass Tech High School (old). Historic Detroit. Retrieved on November 20, 2014.
  19. ^ "Michigan Historical Markers". Retrieved 2020-06-17.
  20. ^ Benjamin L. Gravel Jr. Frederick H. Holt House (250 East Boston Boulevard). Historic Detroit. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  21. ^ "Plans at old Shaw Walker site". MLive. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  22. ^ "Brad Flory column: Good-bye to a landmark once 'the essence of Jackson'". MLive.
  23. ^ "Chronicle Building now owned by Muskegon Community College". MLive. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  24. ^ "Detroit Times Building". Buildings of Detroit. Archived from the original on 26 October 2010. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  25. ^ "New Heating Plant Under Constructio" (PDF). Notre Dame Scholastic Magazine: 14. 23 October 1931.
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-04-16. Retrieved 2019-01-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ "Alpha Epsilon Phi - ΑΕΦ | Greek Life". Retrieved 2018-05-25.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]