The architect of Detroit
Albert Kahn built Detroit into a mecca of automotive production and modern architecture. Born in Rhaunen, Germany in 1869, Kahn’s family moved to Detroit when he was 11. He began designing buildings in his teens while working at the architectural firm of Mason and Rice, where he earned a scholarship to study abroad in Europe.
In 1895, Kahn and his brother Julius founded the architectural firm Albert Kahn Associates. The brothers began developing a new construction technique which utilized reinforced concrete instead of wood for walls, roofs, and support beams. This practice made buildings less susceptible to fire and also allowed for large cavities of unobstructed space. Kahn and his company were hired by Packard President Henry Joy to design Packard’s new Detroit factory. When the Packard Automotive Plant was completed in 1905, it became the first reinforced concrete automobile factory in the world. The construction of the Packard Plant attracted the attention of Henry Ford, who hired Kahn to design Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park plant in 1908. Kahn was also hired by Ford in 1917 to design the colossal River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan. Upon its completion, the River Rouge Complex became the largest manufacturing facility in the U.S. In addition to domestic auto factories, Kahn also designed numerous buildings in and around the city of Detroit including much of Detroit’s Indian Village, the Cranbrook House, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, the Dearborn Inn, and the Fisher Building. Kahn also designed many of the buildings on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, such as Burton Memorial Tower, Hill Auditorium, Hatcher Library, and the William L. Clements Library.
By 1937, Albert Kahn Associates was responsible for nearly 20% of all the architect-designed factories in the U.S. In total, Kahn received over 1,000 commissions from Henry Ford and hundreds more from other automakers like Chrysler. Kahn even designed over 500 automotive plants in the Soviet Union. His last building was the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Ford Motor Company mass-produced the B-24 Liberator bombers. Today, over 60 Albert Kahn buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.