New Albert Kahn Exhibit Explores Life and Work of the Detroit Architect

The multi-media display is at the Detroit Historical Museum through July 3
albert kahn detroit historical museum
Among the items on display in Albert Kahn: Innovation and Influence on 20th Century Architecture is a 120,000-piece Lego replica of the Fisher Building.  // Photograph by Emma Klug

Albert Kahn is the architect behind many Detroit factories and iconic structures, including the Fisher Building, Belle Isle Aquarium, Detroit Athletic Club, and Russel Industrial Center. Now, in a new exhibition at the Detroit Historical Museum, locals can learn more about his life and work.

Titled Albert Kahn: Innovation and Influence on 20th Century Architecture, the exhibit is presented by the Albert Kahn Legacy Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to honoring the life, innovations, and influence of the “man who built Detroit.” The multi-media display features photos, video clips, text panels, Kahn’s hand-drawn sketches, and artifacts. Guests can also see wood and Lego architectural models of Kahn’s work, including an impressive reconstruction of the Fisher Building that’s made from 120,000 Lego pieces and stands at over 7 feet tall.

Among many things, visitors will learn how Kahn, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, became a self-taught architect and went on to open his own firm in Detroit, collaborated with his civil engineer brother Julius, and dealt with antisemitism in the U.S. They’ll also gain an understanding of the qualities that make up a Kahn building — glass, brick, and the Kahn Bar and Kahn System of reinforced concrete construction were used in the modern factories his firm designed — and his efforts to support the country ahead of World War II.

“The Albert Kahn Legacy Foundation is excited at the opportunity to share with the community how Albert Kahn and his team’s innovations changed the world,” says Heidi Pfannes, president of the foundation, in a press release.  “We are hoping this exhibit tells the story about how one person has the ability to impact so many people and will inspire a new generation of architects and engineers who will continue to change the world, making it an even better place to live, work, and play.”

As part of the exhibit, the Albert Kahn Legacy Foundation will host a virtual and in-person panel at the Detroit Historical Museum on May 15 on recent Detroit architecture books from Wayne State University Press. The panel will include Stephanie Williams, publisher of WSU Press; Michael Hodges, author of Building the Modern World: Albert Kahn in Detroit; and Michael G. Smith, author of Designing Detroit: Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture. Barbara Cohn, co-chair of the foundation’s Tours and Education Committee, will moderate the discussion.

Albert Kahn: Innovation and Influence on 20th Century Architecture is open through July 3 in the museum’s Community Gallery. Access to the exhibit is free with museum admission.

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