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Albert Kahn documents donated to Bentley

The Bentley Historical Library will preserve important pieces of the state's architectural history through a gift of original construction drawings, photography and writings from Albert Kahn Associates Inc. (AKA).

"Albert Kahn is considered one of the world's most influential industrial architects, whose work transformed the skylines of Detroit and the University of Michigan and inspired the founders of Modernism," says Francis Blouin, director of the Bentley. "In making this gift, Albert Kahn Associates has shown its commitment to educating the public about the legacy of its founder and to conserving the materials which document this history.
The Ford Motor Co. Rouge Glass Plant, 1922. Kahn's plans for the plant are among the documents donated o the boundary. (Photo courtesy Albert Kahn Associates)

"The Kahn papers are extraordinary, both as significant historical documents and as finely rendered drawings. We are gratified to receive a gift that allows the Bentley to preserve documents that speak both to the history of the state of Michigan and that represent seminal work in industrial architecture."

The initial gift includes construction drawings and photographs for more than 50 industrial, commercial, institutional and residential buildings designed by Kahn between 1898 and 1942. The Ford Motor Co. Highland Park and Rouge Glass plants, General Motors Building, Fisher Building, Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, and Detroit Athletic Club are included.

Kahn's significant architectural imprint on U-M also is represented, with drawings of the Burton Tower, Clements Library, University Hospital, Hill Auditorium and other campus landmarks. Additional projects soon will be transferred to the collection.

Bentley's professional conservators are treating and storing the ink-on-linen drawings appropriately for long-term preservation. Kahn's correspondence, speeches and articles offer his perspective on American architectural history, industrial architecture, Impressionist art and city planning.

"Industrial architecture presents such new problems, but the best results to date are those which exhibit familiarity with and a high regard for what is best in the architecture of the past," Kahn wrote. "I have no patience for those who attempt the novel just for novelty's sake, who disregard fundamentals and indulge in what is queer or eccentric."

"While many of his buildings are significant, Kahn's greatest impact was on industrial architecture," says Stephen Whitney, president and CEO of AKA. "Kahn was a pioneer in designing the factories that met the needs of the early automobile industry. These plants were recognized for their functionality, and their inherent beauty. The founders of the modern international architectural movement–Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe–were all influenced by Kahn. We are pleased to collaborate with the Bentley to conserve these historic documents for future generations."

The breadth of Kahn's achievements in modern industrial architecture adds new dimensions to the Bentley's collections for the study of Modernism. The library houses the archival records of the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, as well as drawings and records of architects Gunnar Birkerts, George Brigham, C. Theodore Larson, Reginald Malcolmson, William Muschenheim and Walter Sanders. These collections afford a unique insight into the intersection of East Coast and Midwest design, manufacturing and design research, domestic and corporate architecture, and urban form.

The Ford Motor Co. Rouge Glass Plant, 1922. Kahn's plans for the plant are among he documents donated to the Bentley. Courtesy Albert Kahn Associates

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