Albert Kahn Associates

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Albert Kahn Building front entrance
Albert Kahn Associates interior office
Packard plant #10 in construction, c. 1905, design by Albert Kahn Associates
Packard plant #10 blue print 1905, showing Kahn Trussed reinforcing bar and Hy-Rib steel reinforcements for concrete

Albert Kahn Associates is an architectural design firm in Detroit, Michigan with a second office located in Miami, Florida. It was established in 1895 and is still active today. Recent work includes being awarded third place in the Virtual Modeling Stage of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Competition (as of July 2018) for their work on martian habitats, and also creating the world's largest penguin conservation center, Polk Penguin Conservation Center. In earlier years, It introduced a new technology in industrial building involving a unique reinforced concrete method referred to as the Kahn System of construction using proprietary patented reinforcement steel manufactured by Trussed Concrete Steel Company. The building of automobile factories and other types of factories were revolutionized from wooden timber framing construction. Besides being an advanced technology in strength that led to wider open interior spaces, it featured a high degree of fire resistance and larger window space for light. The firm started by Albert Kahn built factories for Chrysler for over a decade, Ford Automobile for 30 years and Packard Automobile for 35 years. Other important clients of the firm were Republic Steel and General Motors. The firm was awarded a $40 million contract to build a tractor factory in Russia in 1928. The firm's output was over a million dollars worth of work per week by 1929. By 1939, the firm designed 19 percent of all industrial buildings in the United States and had designed some $800 million of buildings worldwide.[1]


Albert Kahn established the Detroit firm in 1895 and was its first and only employee then.[2] In 1896, Kahn took on two partners: George Nettleton and Alexander Trowbridge.[3] All three were architects at the time with the architectural firm Mason & Rice in Detroit. The firm they opened in January 1896 was initially called "Nettleton, Kahn, and Trowbridge".[3] At the time there was an abundance of design jobs available. Mason & Rice even referred some of their work to Kahn's new firm when they had more than they could handle.[4]

The firm's first large design job in Detroit was to design Children's Hospital of Michigan.[4] Its next major project came in 1898 from James E. Scripps to design an elaborate library with an art gallery. The Scripps Library and Museum was located adjacent to Scripps' mansion home on Trumbull Avenue at Grand River Avenue.[5] The dynamics of the firm changed when Trowbridge took a position at Cornell University in 1897 and Nettleton died in 1900. The firm then hired designers with good reputations and an ability to work as a team with other designers. Ernest Wilby, a young Englishman from Canada, was their key designer working for the firm at the time.[6] This new team then collaborated with the Mason & Rice architectural firm to design the Palms Apartments, a building with English architecture on Jefferson Avenue at Rivard Street in Detroit. It was one of the first buildings to use reinforced concrete as a major construction material.[7]

The firm changed its name in 1901 to "Albert Kahn, architect; Ernest Wilby, associate",[8] and had its first industrial design the same year. Joseph Boyer had hired the firm to design a factory that made pneumatic tools.[9] Boyer then asked the firm to design a building to house the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, where modern mechanical calculators were made.[9] Boyer in 1902 introduced Kahn to Henry Joy, head of the Packard Motor Car company.[10] Kahn's firm received several non-industrial jobs from Joy, including remodeling Joy's home.[10][11] Joy additionally had the firm design automobile factory buildings.[10][11]

Between 1903–05, the firm designed the first nine Packard Automotive Plant buildings using traditional wooden designs that had spans no longer than 14 feet (4.3 m).[12] Packard produced over 700 automobiles a year by 1905, so an expansion to the factory facility was in order. The team decided to use reinforced concrete to build the new factory space.[13] With Albert's younger brother Julius as the key architect and engineer, Building Number 10 was constructed with the Kahn bar and other reinforced concrete products. These were manufactured at the Trussed Concrete Steel Company (aka "Truscon"), which provided 32-foot (9.8 m) spans.[11][14] This new technology for concrete changed the way American automobile factories were built.[10][11] This building was built with uniquely designed steel beam reinforced concrete for reinforcement that used the Kahn bar with winged tabs on the steel bar edges that were bent back at 45 degrees to resist and counter tension stresses.[11][14][15] This was the first time reinforced concrete was used for automobile factory construction in the United States.[11][16][17] The new state of the art design concept featured larger open interior spaces than the old mill-framed wooden factory buildings.[18] The building was 322 feet long by 60 feet wide (about 98 meters by 18 meters).[11] This new factory concept of building with reinforced concrete lead to Albert Kahn Associates doing all the aviation factories for the government during World War I.[19]

In 1906, the firm designed factory buildings for the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company in Buffalo, New York.[20] In 1908 the Highland Park Ford Plant was designed by the firm.[21] It was similar to the Packard factory just a few miles away, however different from the Pierce-Arrow factory buildings that were of one-story only and had saw-tooth roofs with skylights. The Ford factory building had four stories. It was however, of reinforced concrete design using the patented Kahn System of his brother Julius, just like the Packard and Pierce-Arrow factory buildings. The Ford plant was 860 feet long and 75 feet wide.[10] The steel reinforced concrete building designs were fireproof.[10] The "Model factory" featured what was referred to as Truscon's "Daylight System" because of the many large windows.[22]

Henry Ford had the firm design his River Rouge automobile factory that started construction in 1917.[23] At the time Ford decided to make a ship factory for the United States Navy and had the firm design B Building.[23] This was called the Eagle Plant because it built Eagle Boats that were antisubmarine chasers that destroyed German submarines.[24] It was 100 feet (30 meters) high by 300 feet (91 meters) wide by 1700 feet (518 meters) long.[23] When World War I ended this factory plant was converted to make Ford automobiles.[24]

The firm designed over 50 factories between 1921 and 1929 and had a substantial quantity of work not related to industrial buildings. It had over 400 on the staff by 1930 and was producing a million dollars worth of construction a week.[25] The firm never hired an architectural college graduate until 1935.[10][25] Going into the twenty-first century the firm name is Albert Kahn Associates and has branches in Birmingham, Alabama, and São Paulo, Brasil.[26] The firm designed about two thousand structures between 1895 and 1945 of which twenty-six were buildings for the University of Michigan.[27]

Organizational layout[edit]

The firm had a staff of 300–400 people in the 1930s, including about 40 secretaries, stenographers, typists, and file clerks. There were around 175 architectural designers and draftsmen, 80–90 mechanical and electrical engineers, 40–50 field superintendents, and about 30 specification writers.[28] The chief administrator was Albert Kahn and his assistants were his brothers Julius, Moritz and Louis.[29] The staff was increased to 600 people at the time of World War II. The firm ramped up for war plants to make tanks and other war related equipment.[30]

Albert Kahn Associates firm layout in 1939

The Technical Division had departments that designed the projects which included electrical, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning. This division was responsible for the functional design of the building. Key important design elements for factories included "straight-line" production capability, flexibility in interior floor designs to accommodate various changing production methods, generous column spacing to give maximum open floor space, high ceilings, strong floors to carry heavy loads, and with good lighting and ventilation.[31]

The Executive Division was responsible for the management of the projects. Business-like management was required for concerns of economics, speed, obtaining reliable sub-contractors, adequate supervision, and complete accurate drawings.[32]

Buildings designed[edit]

Below are some of the buildings designed by Albert Kahn Associates:

Palms Apartments[edit]

Burroughs Adding Machine Company[edit]

University of Michigan School of Engineering[edit]

Packard Building #10[edit]

Detroit Free Press Building[edit]

Ford River Rouge automobile factory buildings[edit]

National Bank of Detroit Building[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nelson 1939, pp. 15-18.
  2. ^ Bucci 2002, p. 24.
  3. ^ a b Bucci 2002, p. 30.
  4. ^ a b Matuz 2002, p. 40.
  5. ^ Matuz 2002, p. 41.
  6. ^ Bucci 2002, p. 151.
  7. ^ Matuz 2002, p. 42.
  8. ^ Matuz 2002, p. 43.
  9. ^ a b Matuz 2002, p. 45.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park, Ford Assembly Plant No. CA-326-H" (PDF). Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online. Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. 1968. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-10. Retrieved 2014-07-30.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Bucci 2002, p. 33.
  12. ^ Hildebrand 1974, pp. 28-29.
  13. ^ Atlas 1907, p. 131.
  14. ^ a b Sedlar, Frank (April 23, 2013). "Engineering Industrial Architecture / The Trussed Concrete Steel Company and Albert Kahn" (PDF). U of M Library. University of Michigan. Retrieved 2014-07-30. "The Packard #10 building was the first to utilize reinforced concrete with Julius Kahn's Kahn Bar but also as previously discussed, the full range of steel building products from the Trussed Concrete Steel Company."
  15. ^ Hildebrand 1974, p. 29.
  16. ^ Hildebrand 1974, p. 31 "Thus Plant Number Ten represented a clear advance in factory construction for Packard and for the automobile industry in general, as it was the first automobile plant to be built of reinforced concrete".
  17. ^ Nelson 1939, p. 17 "The Packard job was the first reinforced concrete factory in America, and for the first time an industrialist got a plant in which fenestration was reasonably adequate and production departments were coordinated with an eye to efficiency'".
  18. ^ Matuz 2002, p. 51.
  19. ^ Nelson 1939, p. 17 By the time America entered the war the office was large enough to take over all of the government's aviation work.
  20. ^ Bucci 2002, p. 37-49.
  21. ^ Bucci 2002, p. 37.
  22. ^ Skinner 1997, p. 15.
  23. ^ a b c Bucci 2002, p. 50.
  24. ^ a b Matuz 2002, p. 59.
  25. ^ a b Hildebrand 1974, p. 126.
  26. ^ "About Kahn:Where". Albert Kahn, family of companies. Albert Kahn Associates. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-20.
  27. ^ Bucci 2002, p. 24, 151.
  28. ^ Nelson 1939, p. 19.
  29. ^ Nelson 1939, p. 21.
  30. ^ a b Ferry 1970, p. 25.
  31. ^ Nelson 1939, pp. 19, 20, 24.
  32. ^ Nelson 1939, pp. 20, 21, 24.


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