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Course Detail

Term Fall 2017
Class ARCH 603
Class Title Material Capital: Albert Kahn Associates in Detroit
Description In the first four decades of the twentieth century, Albert Kahn Associates in Detroit rapidly produced more buildings accommodating more people over a wider economic spectrum than any major architectural firm had done before. Housing populations in factories, offices, institutions, and residences, the firm demonstrates this claim most effectively in industrial buildings and campuses in which workers and machines functioned synchronously. Kahn buildings benefitted the industrial clientele that hired the firm in the first place, a fact that partially accounts for the firm’s remarkable growth and financial success. Equally, it was open complicity with capitalism that made Kahn and his office unwelcome in histories of architecture, a profession valorized by the achievements of the progressive avant-gardes, laid down definitively in the 1920s. This course uses archival research at the Bentley Historical Library and elsewhere to investigate this paradox. On the one hand, practices associated with the umbrella term “modern architecture,” were capable of remarkable aesthetic, formal, and political achievements, but failed to respond to mass society at large scale. On the other, a different set of professional practices brought capital and architecture into seamless alignment within a viable commercial model, while capitulating absolutely to the demands and exploitation of industrial capitalism, with its concomitant abuse of the very human subjects that made large-scale industry possible. The course proposes a radically new look at this familiar opposition, in a granular analysis of specific choices that the Kahn firm made as they pioneered market-driven supply chain architecture. Examining this work as material history, we can ask what was gained and what lost in the effort. The working hypothesis of the course: that procedures adopted by the Kahn firm might lead to radically different results from those pursued by the firm; and equally, that architects must not only adjust to finance capital, but continually find ways to keep ahead of it, if they are determined to render architecture as both a political force and a public good.

Exhibition. This course is an exploratory research seminar for a possible Albert Kahn exhibition. Students will do primary research with archival materials, and may be encouraged to tackle projects that extend beyond the bounds of the class. The class will include extensive work in the Bentley and at other sites in Detroit. Less than $100 class expense.
Prereq none entered yet
Crosslist none
Required No
Elective Yes
Selective No
Meets Thursday 1:00-4:00pm 2227 A&AB
Credits 3
Faculty Claire Zimmerman
Syllabus not available