Path of Kahn member Alan Lucey began, unassumingly, taking photographs of the myriad of bicycle sheds spotted in each city. Somewhere along the way, perhaps in Amsterdam (where we saw some of the largest and most interesting bicycle sheds) the group starting peeling their eyes for these “sheds,” prompting Alan as to when he should snap a photograph. A lot of times the sheds were meager looking, especially when set alongside our core buildings—a pathetic lean-to stuffed with bikes spotted in the back corner of the AEG Turbine Hall complex—but we were cognizant that there must have been something significant about our desire to catalogue these bicycle sheds.// Early on, probably in the UK (perhaps even in Lincoln itself), Professor Zimmerman informally lectured about Pevsner’s idea of the bicycle shed as building and the Lincoln Cathedral as Architecture, which not all of us were aware of before the course’s inception. This core distinction between practical function and aesthetic function is both fundamental to architecture, as well as extremely relevant to Kahn. Many of us Path of Kahn members have come to agree that Kahn had more interest in building functional spaces that met the needs of the client, than in making a social impact. Therefore, is a structure dubbed Architecture or building based on the effect it has or the mark it is able to leave on society? Are the European buildings we visited more successful in their reuse and re-appropriation (as compared with the deteriorating Kahn factories in Detroit) because they are considered Architecture? Do pragmatic buildings only ever allow for their original program? Therefore, are these monumental, European buildings in effect more pragmatic if people are interested in continuing to use them? Yet many people use these bicycle sheds everyday—they are an integral part of society in that people depend on them for leisure, for exercise, for getting to work, for going to the store to buy the things they need for daily life.
It becomes somewhat of an anomaly that these Kahn factories should be decaying so severely in comparison to the factories visited in Europe. In theory, Kahn’s pragmatic structures should be the most effective in accommodating new use—they are flexible, open, and allow for future growth. As Professor Zimmerman eloquently put it, Kahn’s factories for production are “containers for dynamic objects.” Seen first at Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company factory from 1906, Kahn employs the one-story factory space to assure that the production process receives as little interruption as possible. What this building, and many of his factories to follow might suggest is that they actually anticipated the creation of Ford’s iconic horizontal assembly line production. Pragmatism can therefore absolutely make a lasting impact, and once again, we are called upon to question Kahn’s role within the paradigm of modernist architecture both in America and Europe.