Case Studies

Albert Kahn Family of Companies

Many years, many disciplines, many people

Albert Kahn Family of Companies (Kahn) shaped the U.S. auto industry in the early 1900s. While the company continues to work in the realm today, Kahn has expanded into many markets after 119 years in business. Growing since the beginning, Kahn is now international in scope with three offices in Detroit, Birmingham, Ala., as well as Sao Paulo, Brazil.

With 200 employees and integrated architecture and engineering capabilities, Kahn takes on a number of large and complex projects that would make its founder and namesake Albert Kahn proud. Notably, the company has taken on several adaptive reuse projects to restore buildings built by Albert himself, a century ago.

An integrated organizational approach

Albert was one of the first to bring engineers into the architecture process and house the two disciplines under Albert Kahn Family of Companiesone roof. He was a pioneer in this way, navigating a technique that is often used in the industry today. The combination of the two allows for design flexibility early on in a project and communication and trust are enhanced, as well.

On the architecture side, Kahn’s designs reflect a client’s functional needs, goals and aesthetic desires. The architects at Kahn are skilled in programming and planning, site design, interior design, landscape architecture and sustainable design. Furthermore, Kahn completes existing facilities evaluation, code analysis, construction documents and value analysis.

The company’s engineering capabilities encompass structural, mechanical, electrical and information technology systems. Planning abilities are: urban planning and design, land planning, campus planning and site master planning. For managing properties, a Kahn subsidiary is responsible for strategic facilities planning, program management, commissioning and decommissioning, facility management, asset optimization and management.


Marked by multi-discipline expertise, Kahn consists of professionals with diverse backgrounds in architecture, engineering, planning, interior design, landscape design and project management. The company actively recruits the best and brightest talent. These team members are industry leaders and innovators, which is important to Alan Cobb, president and CEO of Kahn, who believes in supporting the growth of up-and-coming leaders in the company.

Cobb himself has been with Kahn for 38 years and was recruited to join the firm after he won an AIA National Design Competition for Energy Conscious Design, a student project that was published in Architectural Review. Kahn itself has won many awards and garnered international recognition for design innovation.

Kahn works in all market segments today. However, the company developed a reputation early on for the industrial work it completed in the Detroit region, where it’s headquartered. Kahn revolutionized industrial architecture with the development of Ford’s Rouge Plant.

Diversification of industrial beginnings

Still, Kahn works with Ford and recently completed a series of renovations to the company’s plants to accommodate changes to its F-150 truck. “We changed all of the presses from steel to aluminum stamping,” says Cobb. “It was a lot of architectural and structural changes.” Plants are located throughout the U.S. Rust Belt, in Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago and Cleveland.

The company’s talents move beyond the automotive industry. “Our strongest market today is health care,” says Cobb. Kahn designs patient-centered health care environments that have beneficial psychological effects on patients and staff. “In addition to having several health care projects around the country, we have five big health care projects in Sao Paulo right now,” he continues.

On the whole, international work is increasing. “The globe is a much smaller thing today,” Cobb details. “We’re able to do work anywhere in the world fairly easily. The company’s current work includes the design of a new 2.8 million-square-foot university for oil and gas in Iraq.

Cobb is quick to note that education is also a market where Kahn is well-versed. It’s a nod to its roots, as well. “Albert designed 14 of the first 19 buildings on the University of Michigan central campus in the early 1900s,” Cobb says proudly.

A niche that honors the Kahn legacy

“Today, we are involved in many adaptive reuse projects in the rebirth of Detroit,” says Cobb. “This includes many of Albert Kahn’s early factories and laboratories.” For example, the company recently renovated the Argonaut Building, a former GM laboratory built by Albert. The 750,000-square-foot building – a national, state and local historic landmark – is now the Center for Design Education, a part of the College for Creative Studies, one of the best automotive design schools in the world.

“It’s great to see our founder’s legacy buildings in good use,” notes Cobb, “Particularly the Argonaut Building.” Now, it’s a mixed-use facility with academic space, student housing, a cafeteria, tenant-lease space and a charter school focused on art and design: the Henry Ford Academy School for Creative Studies.

In addition, Kahn is working with a developer who is redeveloping the Packard Plant in Detroit, a large automotive industrial plant built in 1903. These adaptive reuse projects, which typically involve an element of historic preservation, are a personal favorite of Cobb’s. “Seeing these old buildings revived and reused is my passion,” he says.

Power of environments

Kahn works hard to solve its clients’ problems and believes that design can influence success and help a company meet its goals. “Facilities, buildings, real estate can do this,” says Cobb of Kahn. “An environment affects how people live, work and play.”

Goals are reached using solutions that are financially feasible, sustainable and effective for a client’s overall purpose based on evidence-based design. Kahn believes in social and environmentally conscious best practices, as well. With nearly 100 LEED AP Professionals, Kahn is a member of the USGBC and has placed No. 42 on Engineering News Record’s Top 100 Green Design Firms listing.

The future will see further diversification as Kahn branches into new areas and partners in order to do so effectively. For example, Kahn is currently designing the penguin conservation center at the Detroit Zoo and is working with Jones & Jones, a zoo exhibit specialist from Seattle. In all its work, Kahn follows lean business principles and is an efficient operation.

Kahn is also a transparent company and continually focuses on improvement while staying true to its values, integrity and professionalism. As it seeks creative solutions for its clients, Albert Kahn Family of Companies remains passionate about the pursuit.

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Spring 2018



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