Industrial Architect. He is remembered for designing a number of historical architectural buildings, and for pioneering the use of concrete construction, which opened up large tracks of interior building space unhampered by support beams. His basic industrial design style was based on simple construction, use of standard materials, and ease of construction, all of which held down construction costs, yet provided useful, functional, reliable buildings. He has been called the Architect of Detroit. Born in Rhaunen, Germany, he was the oldest son of a rabbi. When he was eleven years old, the family immigrated to the US in 1880, eventually settling in Detroit, Michigan. Kahn received training as an apprentice architect with the firm of Mason and Rice in Detroit, Michigan. In 1896, he married Ernestine Krolik, and formed a partnership with George W. Nettleton and Alexander B. Trowbridge. Trowbridge left the company the next year, and Nettleton died in 1900, leaving Kahn as head of the firm. Kahn soon developed his own style and looked to the international market in Europe, something his partners did not wish to do. Located in Detroit, Kahn's company closely followed the growth of the automobile industry. In 1902, Henry B. Joy, then project manager for an expansion of the University of Michigan, selected Kahn to design a number of projects there, including the Burton Tower, Hill Auditorium, and the Hatcher Library. When Joy became manager of the Packard Motor Car Company a year later, he selected Kahn as his principal architect for the company's planned expansion. Packard's factory, constructed by 1907, was the first use of Kahn's revolutionary designs to use reinforced concrete columns, roofs, and supports, in lieu of the usual lumber. This gave the concrete buildings longevity, improved fire protection and improved space unhindered by interior support columns, allowing more flexibility in interior space utilization over their lumber counterparts. Following his success with the Packard Plant, Kahn designed the new Ford Motor Company's Highland Park production plant. President Henry Ford liked the new design so much that he had Kahn design and build a dance hall, which became the world's second largest dance hall. In 1919, he constructed the General Motors Building, then the largest office building in the world. Ten years later, in 1929, the Soviet Union asked him to design a tractor factory in Stalingrad; this factory turned out so well that for the next 15 years, the Soviets gave him contracts to design over 500 factories in the USSR. Kahn's success in improving working space in factories became so well known and in demand that by 1938, Kahn's company would claim that they had designed 20 percent of the factories in the United States. During World War II, Kahn designed a number of Army Airfields and Naval Bases, including the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant (in continuous use from 1941 to 1997) and the Willow Run Bomber Plant, which made B-24 Liberator bombers. Today, Kahn has over 60 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Kahn's collaboration with architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci produced upwards of 50 buildings, ranging from banks, hospitals, office buildings and private houses, which are considered architecturally significant; most of these buildings are still in use and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their beautiful and innovative designs. Kahn would work up through the end of his life, with his company always being in constant demand, and died in Detroit at the age of 73.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson