Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Marxism in Culture: East Detroit and Construction Labor, 1910

22 November 2019, 5:30 pm–7:30 pm


The IAS is delighted to host this Marxism in Culture seminar with Claire Zimmerman (University of Michigan)

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to





Andrew Murray


IAS Forum
Ground floor, South Wing, UCL
United Kingdom

As early as 1905, the young firm of Albert Kahn Architects began using site photography to track large construction projects in Detroit. One of the earliest records is a large folio volume documenting the 1910 construction of the Hudson Motor Company, but earlier photographs also exist. These records were kept for low cost (per square foot) buildings that met strict budgetary and operational requirements, and almost exclusively for industrial commissions.

The buildings represented an incremental increase in size and volume over earlier manufacturing facilities; more fireproof than traditional mill construction, they also maximized daylight, were highly adaptable to changing site conditions, and were designed to adjust to a broad range of manufacturing requirements inside—including but not limited to the moving assembly line. Produced within the framework of welfare capitalism, these buildings were billed as better places to work, with fewer industrial accidents and more accommodating workspaces. Generous sanitation spaces equipped with showers, lavatories, and locker rooms were supplemented by medical clinics for industrial accidents. All of these were documented photographically, providing a record of architecture at a moment of critical change within the history of industrial capital.

The photographs show a developing technology: the manufacturing facility that would soon become an industry norm. To monitor their construction photographically introduced a second, similar technology into the building industry—a remote control device to keep up the pace of construction. With the introduction of the five-dollar day in 1914, yet another technology arrived in Detroit: a social technology for managing workers newly alienated by assembly-line production. 

This talk introduces the photographic record of Detroit’s industrial architecture under construction, as one representation of a fundamental transformation of workers and workplaces in early twentieth-century America. If the daylight factory created a new kind of worker, it was also a gambit for paternalism on the part of a young industry, a gambit that would fail as the industry aged, with the successful unionization of the work force in the 1930s, the lead-up to war, and the tale of woe that engulfed the auto industry in the decades after WWII.


Claire Zimmerman writes on modern architecture and contemporary culture. An associate professor of architecture and director of doctoral studies in architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and an associate professor of history of art in U-M’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Claire is currently researching ‘Building the World Capitalist System: The ‘Invisible Architecture’ of Albert Kahn Associates Detroit, 1900–1961’. Her publications Include: The Built Surface (with David Brown), 2006; Neo-avant-garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (with Mark Crinson), 2010; and Photographic Architecture in the Twentieth Century, 2014. Claire was a member of the core research team for MoMA’s 2001 exhibition Mies in Berlin. In 2015, she co-curated New Brutalist Image 1949–1955: Hunstanton School and the Photography of Life and Art with Victoria Walsh at Tate Britain. 

All welcome!

Convenors: Matthew Beaumont, Dave Beech, Alan Bradshaw, Warren Carter, Gail Day, Steve Edwards, Larne Abse Gogarty, Esther Leslie, Luisa Lorenza Corna, David Mabb, Antigoni Memou, Andy Murray, Dominic Rahtz, Pete Smith, Peter Thomas, Alberto Toscano, Marina Vishmidt. 

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/upnorthmemories/3350732561/in/photostream/