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Ten Significant Buildings

  • The Work of Albert Kahn

“Nine tenths of my success has come because I listened
to what people said they wanted and gave it to them.”



Ten Significant Buildings from Albert Kahn, Architects & Engineers

Albert Kahn achieved success by building an organization that provided under one roof all the various competencies required for specialized industrial production facilities. The following Albert Kahn, Architects & Engineers projects illustrate the firm’s growth and innovations that set the standard for modern industrial structures.

Above: Standard Details book. 1930 (Michael G. Smith)

Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Company factory

Maconochie Road, Fraserburgh, Scotland, 1903

Where did it all begin? The first factory designed by Albert Kahn was actually in Scotland. The design was closely based on the design of the Detroit factory of Chicago Pneumatic Tool company (the parent company), authored by St. Louis architect Louis Mullgardt. The buildings remain in use to this day. (1939 photo copyright Historic Environment Scotland)

Packard Motor Car Company plant

E. Grand Blvd., Detroit, Michigan, 1903

The Packard Motor Car Company plant was a highly innovative one- and two-story factory complex designed by Albert and Julius Kahn to maximize production efficiency, minimize construction time and cost, and reduce insurance and maintenance expenses. The entire 70,000 square foot factory complex, including its own power plant, was constructed within ninety days. The speed of construction allowed Packard to begin production quickly and at a low cost. One building in the complex contained a basement reservoir and the floor above it was supported by concrete beams constructed with hand-built versions of Julius’s “Kahn System” bars—the first known use of the new technology. These original Packard buildings were replaced by concrete structures by 1917. (circa 1905, Detroit Public Library, National Automotive Collection)

Great Northern Cement Company warehouse

James Road, Marlboro, Michigan, 1904

Cement is to concrete as flour is to bread. How fitting then is this building for the Great Northern Cement Company? This warehouse was the first fully reinforced concrete building in Michigan and the first building constructed using the Kahn System of concrete reinforcement. It was designed by Albert, engineered by Julius, and constructed by Julius’s Trussed Concrete Steel Company (Truscon). Though derelict, the building remains standing. (Dalton Smith photo)

Burroughs/American Arithmometer factory and addition

Second Avenue, Detroit, Michigan, 1904 and 1905

The original factory and offices for the Burroughs Adding Machine Company were designed by Albert and Julius Kahn, using the newly patented Kahn System of reinforced concrete for the floors and roof of the one-and two-story building—iron columns and exterior brick walls supported the structure. A three-story wing added the following year was constructed entirely with reinforced concrete, the first building of its kind in Detroit. The saw tooth roofline of the building, a common feature of the era, featured tall windows that flooded the expansive machine shop with daylight and opened to exhaust hot air. (The buildings were demolished.) (Charles Babbage Institute Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis, MN—Burroughs Corporation Collection)

Mergenthaler-Linotype factory

Ryerson Street, Brooklyn, New York, 1908

How do you know you’ve made it big? When you design projects in New York City, of course. This nine-story, reinforced concrete factory built for one of Brooklyn’s largest manufacturers demonstrated that Albert Kahn had become a nationally known architect. Built by Truscon’s construction subsidiary, the building was added to in subsequent years and now houses a variety of businesses. 1908 (Albert Kahn Associates photo)

Ford Highland Park factory

Woodward Avenue, Highland Park, Michigan, 1909

Henry Ford’s Highland Park factory complex was designed to produce the Model-T; it became the largest manufacturing facility in the world at the time and the first factory to build cars using a moving assembly line. Highland Park became known as the “Crystal Palace” for its extensive windows and seemingly weightless modern design. Kahn’s firm employed a new type of window, replacing the cantankerous double-hung assemblies with a simple steel sash supporting glass panes. The entire space between the building’s support columns was filled with glass, allowing better illumination and ventilation. These large windows greatly improved the work environment for employees, were widely copied, and even inspired European architects. (Library of Congress photo)

Detroit News Building

Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, Michigan, 1914

Once completed, the Detroit News Building was believed to be the largest newspaper plant in the world. Described by Albert Kahn in 1937 as “the best industrial building we have designed to date,” it was the first building designed specifically for the production of a daily newspaper. The building married art and industrial function: on the exterior, sculptures and symbolic text adorn the surface of the building, while inside, space is efficiently laid out to write, edit, print, and ship the daily newspaper. The first floor housed the plant’s pressroom, featuring numerous printing presses that printed, cut, folded, and counted the newspapers, all of which was visible to the public through the large windows at street level. (Michael G. Smith photo)

Ford River Rouge Glass Plant

Ford Rouge Factory, Dearborn, Michigan, 1923

Henry Ford bought 2,000 acres along the Rouge River to develop the world’s largest industrial complex, changing forever the way automobiles were mass-produced and future factories were designed. Ford’s most radical change was the substitution of single-story manufacturing buildings in place of the multi-story structures at Ford’s Highland Park factory. The Glass Plant, with its lightweight steel and glass frame, was one of the most iconic and influential industrial buildings. The building’s four furnaces heated glass to over 2,000 degrees, yet the design of the building allowed the heat to flow up and out the windows at the top. The building was recently renovated into an employee training center. 1927 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company).

Glenn Martin aircraft factory

Eastern Blvd., Baltimore, Maryland, 1937

How do you design for the future? Glenn L. Martin would say, imagine what is yet to exist. For his aircraft assembly building he wanted enough floor space to one day manufacture planes with the largest wingspan on the market. The massive Plant Number 1 has an assembly area of 450 feet by 300 feet with no obstructing support columns—the roof was supported by the world’s longest flat span trusses. This design inspired Mies van der Rohe’s concept of “Universal Space”: a long-span, single-volume, structure that can be used for any number of functions. The building’s great flexibility inspired architects and industrialists, and permitted it to remain in use to this day. 1937 (Albert Kahn Associates)

Willow Run bomber plant

Willow Run Airport, Ypsilanti, Michigan, 1941

Designed and built in under a year, Willow Run became the symbol of the American “Arsenal of Democracy” in World War II. Even Rosie the Riveter was born there! The factory was the first to build aircraft on a moving assembly line and produced nearly half of the 18,000 B-24 Liberator bombers constructed during WWII. By war’s end, it was turning out one bomber per hour. With over seven million square feet of factory space, Willow Run was the largest industrial facility under one roof in the world at the time. Designed to operate 24 hours a day, the factory was a windowless building lit with artificial lights and climate controlled with heating and cooling systems. After the war, these electrical and mechanical systems became standard in American factories and large commercial spaces, and the plant was used to produce automobile parts. Only a small section of the original plant still stands. 1943