Albert Kahn papers: 1896-2014
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The Albert Kahn Papers offer researchers the opportunity to study the correspondence, transcripts of speeches, photographs and architectural drawings of the preeminent, American, industrial architect. On March 21, 2003 (the 134th anniversary of Kahn's birthday), Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. (AKA) donated this collection to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan to ensure the conservation and accessibility of these papers. Through this gift, AKA has shown its commitment to preserving the legacy of Kahn, whose factories on five continents influenced the development of industrial architecture and whose commercial, residential and institutional buildings define the character of Detroit and the University of Michigan today. The collection encompasses thirteen linear feet of correspondence, transcripts of speeches, newspaper and journal articles and construction photographs, as well as 7,417 architectural drawings in 32 flat-file drawers and 69 oversized tubes.

The Albert Kahn Papers are comprised of eight series: Personal Papers, Professional Papers, Photographs, Photographs of Completed Buildings, Books Owned by Albert Kahn, Albums Containing Furniture, Fabric, Ironwork and Terra Cotta Samples, Audio-Visual Material, and Project Records. The narrative and visual materials in these series illuminate the breadth of Kahn's career from Job Number 1, A. Dupont Residence (1896), designed shortly after the founding of his first firm, Nettleton, Kahn and Trowbridge, to his last great project before his death, the Ford Motor Company Willow Run Bomber Plant (1941). In pairing the textual materials with the construction photographs and architectural drawings associated with 145 of Kahn's projects, this collection offers a rich perspective on the master architect himself, illuminating his personal views on his own architecture and its place in a changing and often tumultuous world. It is anticipated that the collection will grow over time, as AKA donates more historic materials to the Bentley Library. When the additional papers are processed, a description of these documents will be added to this finding aid.

The Personal Papers series contains correspondence to and from Kahn from 1917 to 1942 and to a few principals of his firm through 1970. These documents were probably saved in a special file by Kahn because they are letters of appreciation, commendation and reference from admiring clients and government officials, including such historic figures as Henry Ford, George G. Booth, James C. Couzens, Henry B. Joy, William L. Clements, C. S. Mott, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. and The Honorable Ferry K. Heath, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. The letters have been described at the item-level in this finding aid because of the importance of the authors and their own contributions to American industrial and political history.

The Professional Papers series includes five sub-series, Transcripts of Speeches, 1918-1942, Albert Kahn's Personal Cost Ledger, Publications, the AIA 2003 Gold Medal Submission and Newspaper and Journal Articles, 1905-2014. The four linear feet of narrative materials in this series offer researchers a view of Kahn's own writings on a number of subjects and detailed accounts of the news of the day related to his speeches, awards and the construction and dedication of his buildings.

The four folders of Transcripts of Speeches contain his typed presentations with annotations and corrections by Kahn's own hand. The reader can imagine him reading over his transcripts before a lecture with a discerning eye to punctuation and content. The topics of Kahn's talks in the early years range from "Reinforced Concrete," the innovative structural material which he used in his early automobile factories for Henry Joy and Henry Ford, to tributes to George D. Mason and George G. Booth. During the 1930s, his speeches run the gamut from the challenges of industrial architecture to his love of architectural and art history. His collection of Impressionist art was the focus of his Torch Club talk at his own home on 5/14/1935. Kahn's well-publicized speech entitled "Building Program for National Defense" to the Adcraft Club on 11/28/1941 enriches our understanding of his major contribution to America's "Arsenal of Democracy." Taken as a whole, the transcripts capture his immense genius, sense of humor, humility and intellect.

A sub-series of Professional Papers, Albert Kahn's Personal Cost Ledger, 1907-1913, is perhaps the most valuable piece in this collection. The leather-covered, 4x6-inch binder includes cost summaries, dimensions, descriptions of construction materials and structural sketches for Kahn's projects during this period, written and drawn in his own hand. The inscription, "Valuable," inside the front cover signifies that Kahn considered this an important notebook of building data. The meticulously written records give the researcher a sense of the master's hands-on involvement in all of his projects, as well as his strong interest in structural design and his adherence to financial budgets. The original notebook has been restored by Bentley Conservator James Craven and is being held in the Bentley Library vault. A photocopy of the ledger is available for research.

The Publications sub-series of the Professional Papers series includes, among others, three volumes which offer perspective on Kahn's career as well as photographs of the master's most important projects. Albert Kahn, Architect, Architectural Catalog published in October 1921, is a 90-page book containing full-page photographs of the General Motors Building, Detroit Athletic Club, Hill Auditorium and many other buildings, as well as trade advertisements which document the construction technologies and materials used by Kahn at that time. The editors of Architectural Forum chose to dedicate the entire issue of August 1938 to Albert Kahn's accomplishments, the organization of his firm and photographs of numerous manufacturing plants which had advanced his reputation as America's greatest industrial architect. The Michigan Society of Architects' Weekly Bulletin, Albert Kahn Memorial Issue of March 30, 1943 is an important journal in bringing together many contemporary tributes to Kahn, written by friends and colleagues. The high regard in which he was held at the time of his death, even before historians could offer perspective on his contributions, may be of particular interest to researchers.

The AIA 2003 Gold Medal Submission sub-series of the Professional Papers series includes printed and CD copies of the presentation, which was made to the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects. It was prepared by Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. in its unsuccessful attempt to have Kahn receive this award posthumously in 2003. With photographs and text, the nomination materials effectively summarize the significance of Kahn's industrial, commercial, institutional and residential architecture in American history.

The Newspaper and Journal Articles, 1903-2014 sub-series of the Professional Papers series encompasses three linear feet of documents, which have been electrostatically copied on acid-free paper. The originals were collected and preserved in large binders by Albert Kahn Associates, Inc., and have been returned to the firm. These materials offer an in-depth perspective on issues surrounding the design, construction technologies, budgets, politics and dedications of many of Kahn's buildings. Articles often include Kahn's own comments about the buildings, as well as construction and opening-day photographs which document the artistic detailing and technological advancements of his structures. Researchers interested in the work which Kahn's firm did in Russia between 1929 and 1932, during which time he designed 521 factories for Stalin's First Five-Year Industrial Plan, will find two leather binders of newspaper articles documenting this period in Box 13.

A number of journal articles written by Kahn himself summarize his views on defense architecture and the business of industrial architecture. The researcher will note the proliferation of articles from 1939 to 1942, when such national journals as Aero Digest, Engineering News-Record, Heating and Ventilating, American Builder and Architectural Forum covered in detail his design and construction of aircraft factories, tank arsenals and U. S. Navy air stations. Articles written after his death include analytical pieces by historians Grant Hildebrand (1970 and 1998), David Lewis (1975), Anatole Senkevich, Jr. (1996) and Janet Kreger (1998). Post-1942 materials, documenting the demolition, restoration and adaptive re-use of a number of Kahn's buildings up to the present time, have been included in the collection.

The Photographs of Completed Buildings in Leather Portfolios series is an important collection of large-format, black-and-white images of 96 of Kahn's projects, built between 1907 and 1941. With the exception of the Hudson Motor Car Company Factory photographs, which document the project under construction in a series of fold-out images, all of the photographs in this collection were taken after the buildings were completed and measure between 4-1/2x6-1/2 and 10x14 inches, with the majority at the larger end of this range. These 1366 prints are housed in their original 85 leather portfolios, with marbled end-papers. A few smaller leather albums can be found in Box 11. The series is listed alphabetically by project title. The volume numbers were assigned by the Bentley Historical Library during processing of the collection.

The full dimensions of Kahn's work are represented here, from institutional, residential, commercial, and industrial buildings to such important First and Second World War projects as Langley Field (Hampton, VA), Buick Airplane Engine Plant (Melrose Park, IL), Chrysler Tank Arsenal (Warren, MI), Curtiss Wright Corporation Aeroplane Division Buildings (Buffalo, NY), and Thompson Aircraft Products Building (Euclid, OH). The twenty-three photographs of Langley Field (1917) are particularly interesting, because they document views of several military and civilian structures, even before the roads were completed. The portfolio photographic collection offers researchers an unparalleled opportunity to view in rich detail the exteriors and interiors of Kahn's buildings, representing the entire range of his industrial-modern and historically influenced projects. Two buildings photographed in the portfolio collection were not designed by Kahn: the Detroit Institute of Arts by Paul P. Cret and the University of Michigan Lawyers' Club by York and Sawyer. These photographs were probably housed in this collection because, during the 1920s, Kahn served as both an advisor to the board of the D.I.A. and as "Consulting Architect" to the Committee of Five, which supervised all of the building projects at the University of Michigan. Five of the leather portfolios contain photographs of important buildings by other architects, including Paul P. Cret, York & Sawyer, Malcomson & Higgenbotham, Ayman Embury, Charles Platt, Walker & Gillette and McKim, Mead & White.

The photographers whose work is represented in the portfolio collection were among the most respected architectural photographers of their day, including the Hedrich-Blessing Studio of Chicago, John Wallace Gillies of New York, and Thomas Ellison of Detroit. The partnership of Ken and Bill Hedrich and Phillip Blessing, established in 1929, is particularly noteworthy, as the firm became the premier, architectural, photographic studio in the country, with such other famous architects as Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill also using their services. Albert Kahn hired Hedrich-Blessing to photograph four of the projects in the portfolio collection: Curtiss Wright Corporation Aeroplane Division Buildings (Buffalo), W. K. Kellogg Auditorium and High School (Battle Creek), Southeastern Junior High School (Battle Creek), and Thompson Aircraft Products Building (Euclid, Ohio). The archives of the Hedrich-Blessing Studio have been housed at the Chicago Historical Society since 1991.

The Photographs series includes construction photographs of 49 of Kahn's significant buildings, representing the range of industrial, commercial, residential and institutional projects which he built in Detroit, Ann Arbor and across the nation. The evolution of construction technology through the first half of the twentieth century is captured in these dynamic, black-and-white prints. Researchers interested in the innovative structure of his industrial designs will find the construction photographs of the Detroit News Building, Glenn L. Martin Company Factory Buildings (Baltimore), Chrysler Half-Ton Truck Plant (Warren, MI) and Ford Motor Company Willow Run Bomber Plant (Ypsilanti, MI) of particular value. Other icon buildings represented in this photographic collection include the General Motors (Durant) Building and Ford Motor Company Engineering Laboratory in Detroit and the University of Michigan Natural Science Building and Hospital in Ann Arbor.

Albums Containing Furniture, Fabrics, Ironwork and Terra Cotta Samples comprise the second series which was accessioned in 2009. These 19 scrapbooks contain photographs and drawings of decorative arts pieces used by Kahn in the designs of both the interiors and exteriors of a number of his projects, built between 1913 and 1926. Researchers interested in Kahn's selection of furniture, fabrics and decorative architectural elements for such buildings as the Detroit Athletic Club, the University of Michigan Natural Science Building and Hill Auditorium, the Standard Club of Chicago, the Evening News Building, King's Theatre and Detroit Trust Company, among others, will find these albums of great interest. Many of them were prepared by W. & J. Sloane, the renowned interior design firm and furniture and rug store in New York, which serviced prominent clients across the country during its 94-year history (1891-1985).

The Books Owned by Albert Kahn series (added to the collection in 2009) is a library of 73 books, most of which were autographed and dated by the architect when Kahn purchased them between 1901 and 1938. These volumes, published between 1881 and 1937, cover a number of subjects of interest to Kahn, including European and American art, architecture and gardens, as well as library, school, greenhouse, ironwork and hospital design. The large-format books about architecture and gardens contain hundreds of plates of images, which may have been of inspiration to Kahn in the design of his residential, commercial and institutional buildings.

The heart of the Albert Kahn Papers is located in the Project Records series. A total of 7,417 original, architectural drawings by Kahn's firm are located in 32 flat-file storage drawers and 69 oversized tubes and are accessible to researchers for study. The meticulously detailed, ink-on-linen drawings are associated with 145 of Kahn's projects, and are organized for the most part in construction sets, with a few design development drawings available for some of the projects. The Bentley Library reference archivists will explain certain reproduction restrictions to researchers who wish to order duplications of drawings in hard copy or on CD. The drawings of a number of the 145 projects have been scanned.

The buildings represented in this collection of drawings range from Job #1, A. Dupont Residence (1896) to Job. No. 1888, Ford Motor Company Willow Run Bomber Plant (1941-1943). They include such industrial landmarks as Packard Motor Company Building No. 10, Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant, Ford Motor Company River Rouge Eagle Shipbuilding Plant, Ford Motor Company River Rouge Glass Manufacturing Plant and the Amtorg Trading Company Stalingrad Tractor Plant. The drawings representing sections of these innovative factory buildings are especially illustrative of the pioneering structural design which revolutionized American industrial architecture. Elevations of the George G. Booth, Edsel and Eleanor Ford and James C. Couzens residences show the rich, historic, exterior detailing of Kahn's domestic architecture. His versatility with Italian Renaissance and Art Deco design styles in his institutional and commercial work is also beautifully illuminated in the construction drawings of, among others, the William L. Clements Library and at the University of Michigan and the Fisher Building in Detroit.

The original, ink-on-linen drawings in this series are arranged chronologically by building and often include the structural, mechanical and electrical drawings, as well as the architectural. Please note that the date, medium/support and dimensions of the documents within each of these sub-groups of drawings are described in their headings in the finding aid. Exceptions to these descriptive data are indicated next to each drawing in the list which follows the headings. A number of the larger projects include more than one building, as in the case of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Residence (1926-1932), for which the drawings of the Gate Lodge, Heating Plant, Boat House, Dog Kennel and later Activities Building (1990-1991) are also available.