His name sits among the best-known artists of Detroit with his architectural achievements serving as the city’s most revered factories, research facilities, university buildings, healthcare spaces and landmarks. These are the places that make Detroit what it is and what it will always be: A place born of beauty and elegance.
Recently, Albert Kahn Associates kicked off its 125th anniversary, honoring its founding in 1895 and the man who created iconic buildings such as the Belle Isle aquarium, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the Fisher Building – known as the city’s “largest art object” – the Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit Police headquarters, and the Detroit Free Press building.
To celebrate, the firm launched a free, interactive map that highlights where people can find some of Kahn’s original designs as well as its latest projects around Detroit, the metropolitan area as well as the rest of the world. In all, Albert Kahn Associates has created 45,000-plus projects since its founding as one of the nation’s first integrated architecture and engineering firms.
This huge milestone gave the firm time to think about its past, its present and how it wanted to go into the future, said Alan Cobb, FAIA, current President and CEO of Kahn. Its tour map allows people to see Kahn’s buildings in a new way – through an understanding of who the man was, what he stood for and what the firm continues to advocate.
“Our overarching goal for the future is to provide the highest quality service, guided by the Kahn Values – Integrity, Professionalism, Respect, Pride and Passion,” Cobb said.
Albert Kahn was born in 1869 in Germany. The family came to the United States in 1881 and settled soon after in Detroit. Kahn got a small gig at Mason & Rice, a Detroit architecture firm, and soon grew to open his own business. By the beginning of the 1920s, Albert Kahn Associates had more than 400 employees.
Kahn, who died in 1942, is widely considered among architects, architecture fans and citizens alike to be a genius and visionary. He has been called “The Man Who Built Detroit,” and his legacy is significant throughout Michigan and beyond. When tours are open to the public again, seeing his works in person with a well-informed guide can be transformational, giving you new respect for Kahn and his genius with construction.
It just wasn’t Kahn at the helm over the past 125 years, making every drawing or selecting every detail, Cobb said. The longtime employees of the firm and its current staff are the ones upholding the firm’s culture and commitment to Detroit, where it is based.
“Our tremendous people bring innovation to every project,” Cobb said. “The Kahn Brand sets the standard for the A/E marketplace. Our legacy is about quality, focusing on speed to market because our design teams understand that time is money for our clients.”
Among the firm’s current projects are places any Detroiter would recognize: the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, the Detroit Riverfront and renovations on the Detroit Opera House. Another project gaining traction is the upcoming renovation of the historic Detroit Creamery Building for Olympia Development, which also happens to be an original Albert Kahn building.