Page C1.1 . 01 November 2000                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department



The Factory Architecture of Albert Kahn

by Louis Bergeron and Maria Teresa Maiullari-Pontois

In the late nineteenth century, the industrial geography of the United States underwent a decisive shift linked to the emergence of the automobile and aeronautics industries. Already, from Pittsburgh to Buffalo to Chicago, and including Cleveland, Akron, and Toledo, a chain of regional metropolises formed that counter balanced the industrial centers of the original thirteen colonies.

In that chain, the primary link for the next half-century was Detroit, where the automobile industry originated. That industry gave rise to a true industrial revolution, which also translated into a new organization of work (Chicago had already provided a model in its meat-processing plants) and a new industrial architecture.

Detroit's glory years were 1910 to 1930. In 1929, 5.3 million automobiles were produced, and half the city's labor force worked in the industry. Spurred by a tremendous immigration movement, the population had swelled from under 300,000 in 1900 to more than 1.5 million in 1929. At that time, Detroit became the foremost industrial center in the United States.

Birth of an Industry

Contrary to a commonly held notion, it was not Henry Ford who created the automobile industry, but rather Ransom Olds. Olds, after selling his first automobile in New York in 1893, moved to Detroit in 1899. He was the inventor of the first inexpensive, mass-produced car.

At the time, automobile workers did no more than assemble the components provided by subcontractors such as Dodge, Timken, and Uniroyal. But it was Ford who adopted the idea of focusing primarily on one mass-produced product with his Model T (a code name assigned by the design department), launched in 1908 and nicknamed the "Tin Lizzie."

Nearly 15 million cars were produced in the twenty years of the Model T's existence (1908-27); following World War I, more than one new car in two produced in the United States was a Ford Model T. In addition, Ford decided to begin manufacturing all the auto parts on a single site.

This article is excerpted from Industry, Architecture, and Engineering: American Ingenuity 1750-1950, with permission of the publisher, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.



ArchWeek Photo

Kahn's Export Building of the Chrysler-Dodge Half-Ton Truck Plant in Warren, Michigan (1938). Its planar facade and sharply defined shapes, transparency, and original roof structure create a striking architectural presence.
Photo: Hedrich-Blessing for Albert Kahn Associates

ArchWeek Photo

The Assembly Building of the Chrysler-Dodge factory, in Warren, Michigan, is remarkable for its vast open interiors and for its metal frame supporting a sloped glass roof.
Photo: Hedrich-Blessing for Albert Kahn Associates


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