Albert Kahn, sometimes called architect of Detroit, was born on March 21, 1869 in Rhaunen, Germany. He was the son of an itinerant rabbi. In his early age Kahn did not attend school but did various jobs instead and took art lessons from a sculptor named Julius Melchers. After some time his master gathered that Kahn was color blind so he suggested him to study architecture instead of arts.
Due to skillful performance and dedication Kahn proved to be quite a capable student of design and in 1890 got a scholarship. With the help of this scholarship Kahn traveled for a year in Europe and learned a lot that helped him later in his architecture career. On his return from Europe trip, Kahn was made the chief designer in the firm of Mason and Rice. In 1890s he turned down an offer to replace Frank Lloyd Wright in Louis Sullivan’s firm and kept working with Mason and Rice until 1896. In 1902 Kahn commenced his own practice, which ended up being a company of nearly four hundred people after a struggle of forty years.
Some of his prestigious contributions are:
- Detroit Racquet Club, 1902 (Kahn designed the building, and the Vinton Company, whose offices were just down Woodbridge Street from the club, was awarded the general contract for erecting the facilities)
- Palms Apartments, 1903
- Belle Isle Aquarium and Conservatory, 1904
- Engineering Building (now West Hall), 1904
- Addison Hotel, 1905
- Albert Kahn House, 1906 (his personal residence)
- Willistead Manor, 1906, Windsor, Ontario
- Belle Isle Casino, 1907
- Cranbrook House, 1907
- Mahoning National Bank, 1909, Youngstown, Ohio
- National Theatre, 1911
- Garden Court Apartments, 1915
- Vinton Building, 1916
- Helen Newberry Residence Hall, 1915
- Natural Science Building, 1915
- Psi Upsilon House (1924), 1000 Hill Street
- Thomas H. Simpson Memorial Institute, 1927
- Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, 1930, Richmond, California
- Dodge Truck Plant, 1938, Warren, Michigan
From 1929 to 1932 Kahn contributed to the Soviets’ First Five-Year Plan of industrialization by directing the construction of 521 factories and also trained more than four thousand engineers in the Soviet Union. By the year of 1937 around one-fifth of all the factory construction in the United States was undergoing with the name of Kahn’s firm associated with them. Later on Kahn’s firm also worked hard during World War II and he evolved Ford’s giant Willow Run bomber plant from 1941 to 1943, developed the Glenn Martin Assembly Building and its additions (1937-1941) to produce other military aircrafts and also got on well with the Chrysler Tank Arsenal, all models of modern design.
Throughout his influential career, Albert Kahn always grabbed every opportunity on his way, considering it as a responsibility, and thrived hard to transform the architecture of American industry. By the end of his struggles when he had reached an old age deceiving death by all possible means, he concluded his efforts as follows,
“When I began, the real architects would design only museums, cathedrals, capitols, monuments. The office boy was considered good enough to do factory buildings. I’m still that office boy designing factories. I have no dignity to be impaired.”
Albert Kahn died on December 8, 1942 in Detroit, MI, United States.