Tuesday 8th December 1942
At the age of 73, the architect and engineer Albert Kahn, known as “the man who built Detroit”, died at his home there. Kahn and his assistants built more than 2,000 buildings in all, mostly for Ford and General Motors. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Kahn “revolutionized the concept of what a great factory should be: his designs made possible the marvels of modern mass production, and his buildings changed the faces of a thousand cities and towns from Detroit to Novosibirsk.” While building factories for Packard, the young Kahn found that using reinforced concrete instead of wood or masonry sped up the construction of manufacturing plants, made them sturdier and less combustible, and that they needed fewer load-bearing walls. This freed up floor space for massive the industrial equipment. Kahn’s first concrete factory, Packard Shop No. 10, still stands today on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, although it has deteriorated drastically since Packard abandoned the complex, and may need to be razed. Kahn’s buildings were sleek, flexible, and extremely functional. Besides the concrete, they incorporated huge metal-framed windows and garage doors and acres of uninterrupted floor space for the assembly line equipment. Kahn’s first Ford factory, the 1909 Highland Park plant for the Model T, used elevators and dumbwaiters to spread the assembly line over several floors, but most of his subsequent factories were huge single-story spaces. These included Ford’s River Rouge plant (1916), the massive Goodyear Airdock in Akron (1929), the Glenn Martin aeronautics factory in Maryland, and the half mile long Willow Run “Arsenal of Democracy,” the home of Ford’s B-29 bomber in Ypsilanti. Although Kahn designed a number of non-factory buildings, including the Ford and GM office towers in downtown Detroit, he is best known for building factories that reflected the needs of the industrial age.