Buffalo Architectural History Minute
Part 2: Ford
Designed: (1910-15), 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.
Henry Ford came to Buffalo in the early 1900s for an auto show and seemed interested in what he saw. Ford wanted to build a major assembly plant here, but the city fathers didn’t want to give him any incentives, so he went elsewhere. (sound familiar…..)
Buffalo would be unable to acquire the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, but Ford would continually invest in the labor force and economy of Buffalo. Khan began his work with Ford as early as 1908 when the plans for the new Highland Park Factory (figures 12-13) housing the production of Ford’s Model T were still in their infancy stages. It seems Ford and Kahn had a common bond in the lack of formal education, as well as the outside the box thinking processes which the two bounced off one another. While the Highland Park plant on Woodward Ave. (Detroit) was the headquarters of Ford Motor Company at the time, many miles from Detroit, Ford already had schemes for the distribution of his new tin lizzies, and one of the first prominent tributary production facilities would occur at Main Street and Rodney St. in Buffalo, New York (figures 15-19). The factory just north of Jewett Parkway and south of Amherst St , was again adjacent to the Beltway but this time to the north. This plant was designed by Albert Kahn and built between 1910-1915. This building was interesting in the somewhat detailed and ornate exterior cladding executed in brick and glazed terra cotta that seems like a bridge between Kahn’s industrial typology and the eclectic commercial office buildings Kahn would design for Detroit, including the General Motors and the Fisher building. Buffalo’s Ford plant would produce over 600,000 of the 15 million Ford Model T’s produced by 1927. The plant continued the producing Fords now Model A’s until 1931 when Ford decided to sell the Main St. facility.
The Ford Plant at 2495 Main St. was important because it marked a change in Ford philosophy of the design of mass production factories. While Ford would not implement the assembly line technique until 1913, the idea of a single story factory was abundant in his mind even in 1908, “When Henry Ford took me to the old race course where the Highland Park stands and told me what he wanted, I thought he was crazy. No building such as he talked of had been known to me. But I designed them according to ideas. Ford’s big contribution to industrial building is the covering of many activities with one roof and thus saving expense in building, heating and upkeep” (Hildebrand 51). While neither the Highland Park nor the Buffalo facility took advantage of a single story plan, we already know that Kahn had devised the linear system at the Pierce Arrow factory. While it is not clear whether Ford of Kahn implemented this digression of the automobile factory, what is for sure is that both Ford and Kahn have been credited with the development of the single roofed linear planed auto production facility.
Hildebrand, Grant. Designing for Industry: The Architecture of Albert Kahn. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1974.
Nelson, George. Industrial Architecture of Albert Kahn, Inc. Architectural Book Publishing Company, Inc. New York. 1939
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