Albert Kahn


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German-born American architect. He founded (1902) the most prolific architectural practice of its time in the USA with his brothers Julius (1874–1942) and Moritz (1881–c. 1939). Their Packard Motor Car Company Plant, Detroit, MI (1903–10), was an early example of an overt reinforced-concrete structure. From 1905 the firm pioneered systems of standardization and modularization for factory design, and for the George N. Pierce Company of Buffalo, NY, makers of the Pierce-Arrow motor car, designed (1906) a remarkable top-lit factory, thus avoiding wall-windows, and allowing the plan to expand to suit the manufacturing sequence.

In 1909 Moritz Kahn established a division of the Trussed Concrete Steel Company in Britain in order to market the Kahns' ‘Truscon’ system of reinforced concrete, and Wallis, Gilbert, & Partners was established in 1914, specializing in industrial architecture, and working with the American firm.

In 1908 Kahn was employed by Henry Ford (1863–1947) to design a factory at Highland Park, Detroit (demolished), to manufacture the famous Model T, and evolved systems of as-sembly line methods there in 1913 which were developed for the vast single-storey Ford Rouge Plant, Dearborn, MI (1917–39), designed by Kahn. It had a steel frame, a plan devised to accommodate huge assembly lines, top-lighting, curtain-walling, was made of standardized prefabricated components, and was erected with great speed. The Kahns continued to develop their designs for factories to make mass-produced goods in an efficient way: the Dodge Half-Ton Truck Plant, Warren, MI (1937–8), was the logical conclusion of their methods, with its wide column-spacings, use of steel cantilevers, and sloping glazed roofs. Kahn also worked for General Motors, the Chrysler Corporation, Glenn Martin Aircraft, and other concerns, and during his long and remarkable career he designed over 2,000 factories. He also set up an office run by Moritz Kahn in the Soviet Union in 1932, training many young Soviet architects and designing over 500 factories.

Not all the Kahns' buildings were industrial, however. Their Clements Library, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (1922), was in the Neo-Classical style, and other non-industrial works were often not undistinguished: they include the Engineering Building (1903), the Hill Auditorium (1913), and Angell Hall (1922), all at Ann Arbor. As an adaptable pragmatist, with a mind uncluttered by cant, Albert Khan had no time for International Modernism, which he found unintelligent, doubting if it qualified as architecture at all.

Bucci (1993);Ferry (ed.) (1987);G. Hildebrand (1974);A. Kahn (1948);L. Roth (1980)

Subjects: Architecture.

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