Buffalo Architectural History Minute
The “OTHER” Khan
Part 1: Pierce Arrow
Designed: (1906), Albert Khan
Largely know for his work with Henry Ford producing the world largest single source automobile manufacturing plant (River Rouge), he also worked with many other manufacturing industries to produce sprawling day-lit factories.
The city of Buffalo in the first two decades of the twentieth century was like a miniature Detroit. Auto manufacturers such as Thomas Flyer and Pierce Arrow created their own Buffalo based ventures competing intensely with Detroit automobile companies. Kahn’s first work in Buffalo would not be with Henry Ford but with the George N. Pierce Company in 1906. Kahn began this collaborative effort with both The Trussed Concrete steel company and the Architectural firm of Lockwood, Greene and Company from Boston.
Albert Kahn is an Architect who came from humble beginning and never seemed to lose that human touch, which many attempt to transcend. Kahn’s functional and somewhat utilitarian designs allowed him to shy away from the question of style into a comprehension of human space and a more instinctual aesthetic. It seems that while a majority of his work occurred on a somewhat close proximity to Detroit where he was centered, Kahn has produced work in 134 American industrial cities as well as many countries around the world. Albert Kahn as an Architect should be illustrated. Kahn was born in 1869 in Rhaunen, Germany and spent most of his youth in the city of Echternach. This area was known for its natural and picturesque setting and Kahn grew up admiring this rural landscape. It seems that Kahn’s father was a very personable man, with many talents but was largely unable to support his family of eight children. This proved quite the challenge for Albert as the eldest child who felt a responsibility to help carry the burdens of his family. Eventually Albert’s inclination for drawing led his parents to encourage him continue to gain skills in the visual arts eventually led Kahn to his first architectural job with the firm of Mason and Rice at the age of 15. It seems that George Mason would take Kahn under his wing and not only serve a guide, but as to instill within Kahn the importance of client and project individuality. At the age of twenty one, Kahn was award a traveling scholarship to Europe in which he was able to engage with the vernacular and classical architecture. “To the Architect of the early 1900’s, trained to think of himself as a kind if high priest of art, the designing of a factory was something beneath his dignity. But Kahn’s rigorous training had developed in him a more realistic approach, …‘When I began, the real architects would design only museums, cathedrals, capitols, and monuments. The office boy was considered good enough to do factory buildings. I’m still that office boy designing factories, I have no dignity to be impaired’ (Nelson 17).
The location of this factory was to be located on Elmwood Ave to the South of the New York Central Beltline on the former Northeast corner of the Pan-American Exposition grounds. This 15 acre site would come to house 8 buildings overall. Three buildings were placed directly adjacent to the railway, from the east the 55’ by 139’ Garage, the 55’ by 377’ Brazing building, and finally the 55’ by 196’ foot power house. Fronting Elmwood Ave was the originally 67’ by 250’Administration building, which was the only building oriented North-South. Across an alleyway running behind the Administration building was essentially 401 foot deep block encasing the Northern most Manufacturing building, the Assembly building and the Body Building fronting Great Arrow Ave. The 205’ by 401’ manufacturing building had 25 by 20 foot bays and monitor glazing running east west for natural lighting and ventilation occurring 50 feet apart. The 122’ by 401’ Assembly building built directly south of the manufacturing building implemented 93” deep beams essentially allowing for two 61’ by 401’ bays with column free space. This building was taller to house a three ton crane which operated on an east-west Axis, above this were again glazed monitors this time running north- south. Across a 40 foot alley sat the U shaped Body Building which was two 60 foot wings each with two 30 foot spans. The final building was the Motor Testing building situated on the far west of the site, and similar in size to the Brazing Building.
The significance of this Factory complex was the fact that 6 of the 8 buildings were all single storied structures with an east-west orientation. This is important because it allowed for raw materials and finished components to travel in a north-south flow and the assembly and manufacturing processes to happen on an east to west flow. This allowed for production to be very efficient, and with the inter-connection of the main three building the whole of the production was practically under a single roof. Here Kahn’s creative genius and functional know how allowed him to create the best suited design for this newly forming automobile industry.
It appears that the Pierce Arrow complex was a success not just for Kahn, but also for Pierce arrow Company. The 280,000 sq ft. complex was completed within 6 months, which was far under the time any other designer and contractor could complete the project. By 1910 The Pierce Arrow production facility had grown to over 1 million sq ft. and had employed over 10,000 people.
The Buffalo centered auto producing industry would eventually grind to a halt with the on set of the Great Depression era of the 1930’s, but not without a fight. The auto industry was one of exponential growth and change and even many of the Detroit auto companies were becoming extinguished, so while Buffalo’s car companies slowly dwindled, Both Ford and GM would begin to have a strong presence in Buffalo
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HOLT Architects, P.C.
217 N. Aurora St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
phone 607 273-7600 Ext. 151
fax 607 273-0475