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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Many Faces of Albert Kahn

Several of the architects who created residential work in Grosse Pointe also worked in commercial, industrial and municipal architecture. Albert Kahn was not only capable of working in all these different disciplines, but he was indeed world renowned for some of his innovations.

There are numerous other architects who were as equally diverse, however what makes Kahn almost unique in the world is that he had a separate design language for each type of building – he created modern/ground breaking industrial designs, was open to following the latest trends for his commercial projects, and developed very traditional residences. In a limited group of architects who possessed these skills this makes him quite remarkable.

Kahn’s early career was dominated by residential projects. He then ventured into commercial buildings, added factories to his repertoire, whilst continuing to work on many grand homes throughout Metro Detroit, albeit in a more limited capacity.

In 1894, whilst working as a draftsman for Mason and Rice, Kahn was part of the team who were asked to create the new offices for Hiram Walker and Sons in Windsor, Ontario. One year later, in 1895, at the age of 26, he founded the architectural firm of Albert Kahn Associates. In 1901 he had completed his first industrial project – the Boyer Machine Company in Detroit is the first industrial building attributed to Kahn. Source: The Legacy of Albert Kahn by W. Hawkins Ferry.

In 1903 Kahn was hired to build a new automotive plant for the Packard Motor Company. A contemporary magazine at the time praised Kahn’s design as a new style of factory, bright, clean and cheerful.

The first nine buildings of the plant were of conventional mill construction. Kahn, realized the system could be a fire hazard, and so for the design of building number 10 (in 1905) he switched to the system of reinforced concrete that his brother had perfected – the first of its kind in Detroit. ‘The “Kahn” system soon became established and popular throughout the country’. Source: The Legacy of Albert Kahn by W. Hawkins Ferry.

Packard Plant’s building number 10 during expansion circa 1911 – courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over the next few years Kahn threw himself into industrial design, creating numerous factories for the ever-expanding automobile companies – including the Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant. This left him with a limited about of time for residential projects which he reserved for a few select clients.

By 1910, his work fell into several defined styles – his industrial work was innovative and groundbreaking, his commercial work was commanding attention for its ‘simplicity and excellence’, while his residential projects were grand traditional masterpieces.

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