Arts & Culture
4:41 pm
Tue January 29, 2013

Albert Kahn: The architect of Detroit

Last week we heard the news that The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News were leaving behind a nearly 100 year-old building designed by famed architect Albert Kahn.

Now, it would be easy to continue this story, having glossed over the part about “famed architect Albert Kahn," but you really should know who this guy is.

You might not have heard of Kahn, but you’ve definitely seen his work or the work of his firm.

The Fisher Building? Check. The Packard Automotive Plant? Of course. Ford’s River Rouge Plant? Yes.

In nearly 50 years of work, Kahn put up some pretty impressive numbers.

According to the Bentley Historical Library, he designed over 2,000 projects in his lifetime, including at least 50 buildings in Detroit that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

He has been described as America’s “most influential industrial architect,” and one of its most prolific.

In 1938, Kahn and his team were constructing "19% of all architect-designed industrial facilities in the United States."

And the work wasn't limited to the U.S.

Between 1929 and 1932, Kahn's firm designed 521 industrial plants for Joseph Stalin as he was implementing his first Five-Year Plan.

Sometimes called the “architect of Detroit,” Kahn also designed:

  • the Detroit Athletic Club
  • the General Motors Building (now Cadillac Place)
  • the Willow Run Bomber Plant
  • the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant
  • Belle Isle Aquarium, Conservatory, and Casino
  • Temple Beth-El
  • The National Theater
  • The First National Building

And he designed a number of buildings on the University of Michigan’s campus, including:

  • Hill Auditorium
  • Angell Hall
  • William L. Clements Library
  • West Hall
  • Burton Memorial Tower
  • Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library

In an award presented to him shortly before he died at the age of 73, Kahn was praised thus:

Master of concrete and steel, master of space and time, he stands today at the forefront of our profession in meeting the colossal demands of a Government in need.

For more on Kahn check out the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library.

It contains a collection of Kahn's papers including over 7,000 architectural drawings and 85 photograph portfolios.

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom