Albert Kahn

Jewish Detroit’s Favorite Architect

Rouge Plant. Designed by Albert Kahn

Above: The Ford Rouge plant, designed by Albert Kahn & Assoc. 

Albert Kahn (1869-1942) is considered one of the foremost architects of the 20th Century, creating significant buildings throughout Michigan, Ontario, and in countries all over the world, including England, Scotland, France, Sweden, Japan, and Russia.

Born in Germany in 1869, young Albert came to Detroit in 1880 at age eleven. The oldest of eight, his father, Joseph, was an itinerant German Rabbi who encouraged his Albert’s artistic talents. By age 21, Albert had joined the architectural firm of Mason & Rice, without pay, and learned to draft. He won a scholarship to study in Europe, and then, in 1895, founded Kahn & Associates with his brother Julius, an engineer. The two invented the revolutionary industrial construction process of using reinforced concrete, in 1908 with Detroit’s Packard Plant. In 1910, they were retained to design the first factory to accommodate an assembly line and then, in 1913, Henry Ford hired the brothers to design the Highland Park plant, which went on to produce fifteen million Model T Fords.  Throughout his career, Kahn and his team designed more than 2,000 industrial plants in the United States and abroad, inspiring the description of Kahn as the "father of modern factory design."

Kahn is also revered for the many buildings he created in and around Detroit, from skyscrapers to homes and factories.  Some of his most notable buildings include: Fisher Building, Franklin Hills Country Club, the Detroit News Building, the Belle Isle Aquarium and the Ford Rotunda.  He also was the architect of several Jewish religious and institutional structures: two for Temple Beth El, to which his family belonged, Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s Chicago Boulevard synagogue, the Hannah Schloss Memorial building, and the North End Clinic. One of Kahn’s signature projects was the Detroit Athletic Club, designed in Renaissance Revival style. After its completion, the DAC invited the architect to join the club, which at the time excluded Jews. It is said that Kahn politely declined, citing an overload of work, but in truth he was truly bothered by the club’s policies. 

More information on Albert Kahn can be discovered in past issues of Michigan Jewish History. Click here for a link to a 1993 article, written by Norma Goldman on Kahn's career. 

Learn More: Fisher Building, Franklin Hills Country Club, Belle Isle Aquarium, Temple Beth El, Congregation Shaarey Zedek, North End Clinic, Hannah Schloss Memorial building, Detroit Athletic Club