Fordism in the Hospital: Albert Kahn and the Design of Old Main, 1917–25
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 67, Number 3, July 2012
- pp. 398-427
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The 1917–25 planning and construction at the University of Michigan of a new University Hospital, later dubbed Old Main, offers a noteworthy case study of the formal convergence of hospital and factory in early twentieth-century America. Designed by Albert Kahn, the architect responsible for Ford Motor Company’s archetypal automobile plants, and located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, less than forty miles from Detroit’s burgeoning factory landscape, Old Main was well positioned to reflect the values of industry in both appearance and operation. The building’s outer surface represents a striking departure from the historicism that characterized several other hospitals of this period, while plans for the building’s novel diagnostic unit demonstrate unique operational parallels to the assembly line model of production. Ultimately, Old Main’s industrial design similarities cast it as a precociously modernist hospital, relating streamlined form to function more explicitly than many of its contemporary institutions.