Voices of Detroit: The Buildings of Albert Kahn

Albert Kahn, world-renowned architect from Detroit.

Albert Kahn, world-renowned architect from Detroit.

Being a native Detroiter, I found that doing the research for this post was one of the most fun for me, because I’ve grown up with personal experiences with almost all of the Albert Kahn buildings in Detroit. The El Moore is located in Midtown Detroit, about half-way between downtown and West Grand Boulevard (or just “The Boulevard” as we Detroit natives call it). As we know by now, the El Moore was built by 19th century real estate developer Charles W. Moore (hence the name “El Moore”) and designed by local architect A.C. Varney, who also designed many other opulent homes in our neighborhood.

But no Detroit architect was responsible for more buildings in Detroit and also in Europe than our own Albert Kahn.

The Taubman Center for Design extension of the College for Creative Studies is located in an Albert Kahn building. You can see the Fisher Building in the background, another Albert Kahn building.

The Taubman Center for Design extension of the College for Creative Studies is located in an Albert Kahn building called the “Argonaut Building.” You can see the Fisher Building, another Albert Kahn building, in the background of this picture.

Mr. Kahn was born in Germany, and his family immigrated to Detroit around 1880. He was considered a child prodigy who studied piano, but had to give up his music studies in order to work odd jobs to help to support his family. Later, he wanted to be an artist, but alas, he was colorblind, so at age 15, he went to work for the architectural firm of Mason & Rice where he learned drafting. Albert Kahn struck out on his own in 1895, founding Albert Kahn Associates, which is still in operation to this day, designing buildings in many historic and modern styles.

Close to the hearts of those of us involved with the Green Garage and the El Moore is the design and use of urban sustainable working and living structures, and the Kahn Companies have “green design” and “sustainability” as innate parts of their corporate philosophy. Read more about that here.

The Bonstelle Theater at Wayne State University

The Bonstelle Theater at Wayne State University.

However, the Kahn style that began his legacy was the introduction of reinforced-concrete that Kahn used to design the Packard Plant that included plenty of windows to bring light into the plant.

The Packard Plant in 1911.

The Packard Plant in 1911.

That style quickly became the standard for factories around the world. In addition to his industrial commissions, Mr. Kahn and his firm also designed clubs, hotels, and many of the buildings of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Maccabees Building in the Detroit Cultural Center.

The Maccabees Building in the Detroit Cultural Center.

Click on the links to see photographs of many of the historic Albert Kahn buildings that are in close proximity to the El Moore neighborhood:

The Historic Detroit website has a great deal of additional information on Mr. Albert Kahn and Kahn and Associates.

El Moore