The engineer and architect Albert Kahn who was known for many things such as “the man who built Detroit” has passed away at the age of 73 at his home in Detroit on December 8th, 1942. Kahn, with the help of his assistants, constructed over 2,000 structures in total which were mostly for General Motors and Ford. The New York Times posted his obituary saying that Kahn “revolutionized the concept of what a great factory should be: his designs made possible the marvels of modern mass production, and his buildings changed the faces of a thousand cities and towns from Detroit to Novosibirsk.”
Albert Kahn was born in 1869 in Germany and at the age of 11, his family decided to resettle to the United States in Detroit; the teenager made a wise decision by taking a job to become an apprentice to the architect. Kahn would eventually start his own practice in 1902 due to his experience from working at several well-known firms focusing on architecture.
The young architect discovered that trading reinforced concrete for masonry or wood increased the quickness for building of manufacturing plants considerably when he was constructing factories for Packard. There were other pluses to this as it also made buildings less combustible and sturdier. Floor space for huge industrial equipment was freed up because structures with reinforced-concrete need fewer walls that were load-bearing. In fact, Packard Shop No. 10 was Kahn’s original factory made with concrete and it presently still stands in Detroit on East Grand Boulevard.
Kahn enjoyed saying that “Architecture is 90 percent business and 10 percent art.” His structures are a perfect representation of his belief as they were above all functional, sleek and flexible. Besides all that concrete that was utilitarian, they incorporated large windows with metal-frames and garage doors as well as acres of undisturbed floor space for other machines and conveyor belts. The 1909 Highland Park plant was Kahn’s original Ford factory that used dumbwaiters and elevators to spread the Model T assembly line over many floors.
Yet, a large number of his later factories were large single-story spaces such as Ford’s River Rouge plant (1916), the huge Goodyear Airdock in Akron (1929) and the Glen Martin aeronautics factory in Maryland (1937) which was constructed around an assembly floor the length of a football field. Perhaps the most well-known was the half-mile-long Willow Run “Arsenal of Democracy” which was in Ypsilanti and the home of Ford’s B-29 bomber.
Although Kahn created many buildings that were non-factories that include the GM and Ford office towers located in downtown Detroit, Kahn is mostly known for constructing factories that mirrors the industrial age’s needs. Presently, his innovations are continued to be celebrated by society.