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The following article is a chapter of my PhD Dissertation at the Technische Universiteit Delft titled Typical Plan. The Architecture of Labor and the Space of Production defended in 2014, and published in The City as a Project, Pier Vittorio Aureli (ed.). Berlin: RubyPress: 216-260, 2014. (More info here). Extracts from this paper have been also presented at The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University and at the Architecture and Labour Symposium held at the Architectural Association in London (more here).
The vast architecture of the factory is perhaps the only means of translating the immeasurable reality of production into a present and tangible form. From the extraction and transportation of materials thousands of miles away, to the assembling of products and their final distribution across foreign lands, it is the colossal nature of the factory which enables such a particular architecture to represent all modes of industry. Rather than a building, the factory resembles a system of relations that extends far beyond the limits of any enclosure. It is more than a metaphor: as the model of industrial logic in which raw materials become finished commodities, the factory functions as the concentrated form of the modern metropolis. The discrete entities that compose the city – coordination of masses, building typologies, land values, and levels of integration – run parallel to the individual jobs on the factory floor; the whole of an architecture or place cannot function without its parts. And it is precisely these parts that have, through labor struggle and revolution, shifted not only the entirety of the industrial plan, but also the societal machine intrinsically linked to production.
Over time, capitalism did not determine the factory; rather, the attitudes, frustrations, and needs of the working class influenced advancements in policy, plant conditions, and architecture. As employers answered their employees’ struggles, protests, and sit-ins by investing in better wages, fairer hours, and safer working conditions, capitalist goals were not simply met but exceeded. Financial potential lay within revolution and the architecture and work systems that answered it. By reacting to struggle with enhanced worker incentives and a more streamlined approach to production, automotive giants such as Henry Ford and the Ford architect Albert Kahn set the physical and psychological foundation that make even today’s factories run. To understand the ever-evolving dialectical logic between struggle and development, architecture and revolution, there is nothing more revealing than retracing the evolution of the factory plan.
I. MARX IN DETROIT
By the end of the nineteenth century, the dramatic economic growth of industry could no longer avoid addressing the dire circumstances responsible for its rapid success. A revolutionary project was taking place that began to dissect the power dialectics of the era and explicitly confront the subjects involved, primarily intolerable living conditions and the oppressive rhythms of labor exploitation. The promises made by the industrial arena of a better life or future paled in comparison to strife – low wages, long days, and abuse – within the factory. Yet if the human condition has always evolved through labor and labor-conflict, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggested in both the Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy and The Housing Question, then an accurate analysis of the political relations and the embedded contradictions of this historical time could have enabled workers to understand that the metropolis and its capitalist development were a result of their labor struggle, not its premise. In this sense, the history of the workers movement seems to culminate wherever capitalist powers have been able to deploy their strongest mechanisms of resistance – offices, warehouses, department stores, universities, housing settlements, and, above all, factories – in a strenuous endeavor to technically “solve” the workers revolution by opposing an appropriate architecture.
Revolution, therefore, could not be avoided. On the contrary, it became the true agent of capitalist advancement and its architecture of production. In Detroit, the early stages of Fordism, from 1905 to 1941, saw unprecedented levels of labor struggle at its most fundamental; workers were devoid of any ideology and only “asked for more”: more wages, better working conditions, and freedom of assembly. Yet it was precisely this radical and disenchanted bargaining strategy that produced a higher capitalist technical response: the industrial architecture of Albert Kahn, whose factories for Henry Ford literally demonstrated both how the opposition of the working class generated the space of production and in which ways the “blood and fire” of American labor history could be translated into new rational configurations of workshop layouts. Mass production reduced living labor down to an abstract and generic entity – to a “labor sans phrase” – uniform in quality and only different in quantity, which enabled the factory to approach production with a plan drawn from the simplest form of possibility: the “typical plan,” a coherent, flexible, and reproducible scheme, constructed from an homogenous envelope, a technical core, and a minimum of supports that achieved maximum profit from tacit human potential, which could be altered by those in charge or the acts of employees themselves as an instrument of control and emancipation.
The term “typical plan” was first introduced by Rem Koolhaas in a short text describing the repetitive homogeneity of twentieth-century Manhattan’s plans for office buildings as one of the purest American non-ideological archetypes – a plan stripped of all its qualities and reduced to calculated relations between discreet elements, in which anyone could simply be and perform himself. “Typical” was in fact the “nth” plan, the standard skyscraper floor plan that resulted from the vertical “extrusion” of a given urban site, whose tautological over-imposition allowed the multiplication and controlled reproduction of the wild spirits of Manhattan’s congestion. From the “montage of attractions” of the first hybrid skyscrapers (such as the Flatiron Building, the Waldorf-Astoria, or the Downtown Athletic Club), massively deduced from real-estate possibilities and simply shaped according to the envelopes of the Zoning Law, to the post-1929 prototypes, which operated independently from the urban block through slender automated combinations of volumes and the serial rectangular variations of the plan (as in the case of the RCA Building, the Lever House or the ONU Headquarters), Koolhaas described the technological evolution of the typical plan in parallel to the progressive demise of the skyscraper’s representational and narrative character. This genealogical rarefaction resulted from the mature absorption and metabolism of unconscious metropolitan energies via the abstraction of “business,” a program that did not require any particular function or spatial distribution except for a simple architectural frame that could accommodate its continuous fluctuations and changes by means of both the empty indeterminacy and the specificity of its singular form.
More than a plan, the typical plan was a device meant to contain, mediate, and measure any kind of activity across the floor: it did not possess any meaning or an established configuration in itself but was instead generated, in each instance, from the forces, variations, selections, and revolutions contained within its enclosure, as an “index” of the generic human potential. Besides its internal rarefaction, the power of the typical plan existed in its regular delimitations, which permitted technical reproduction and the opportunity for its inhabitants to achieve their full potential. Typicality, then, did not imply an inconsiderate and uncontrollable flat extension, but a rigorous modular reproducibility of similar yet non-identical forms based on the living activities of the subjects who inhabited its floor. In this sense, rather than repressing the material and immaterial forces of production or, as Koolhaas claimed, inhibiting the soul of Manhattanism, the reproducibility of the typical plan and its technical conventions made these forces even more explicit (and thus exploitable) by clearing away everything unnecessary to let life simply emerge.
While financial capitalism drove the typical plan towards its basic form, it was modern American industry that established its political and economic foundation, the dialectical relation between architecture and production, typical plan and forms of life. In Mario Tronti’s postscript to Workers and Capital, the author offered the direct political strategy of American pre-union workers as a model for the European working-class movements of the 1960s. But beyond the organization of workers in the early 1900s, a more useful perspective into the linked roles of the working class, capitalism, the factory, and the city can be found in a genealogy of Albert Kahn’s industrial buildings. The work of this Prussian-born “Architect of Detroit” conceptually redefined the “typical plan” not as a mere default condition of the modern city but rather as the true measure of its most fundamental principle for growth: labor power, the generic ability of any human being to produce.
II. 1905–1910: DAYLIGHT FACTORIES
“Labor struggles are an irreplaceable instrument of self-consciousness for capital: without them it does not see, it does not recognize its own adversary and, therefore, it does not acknowledge itself.”
—Mario Tronti 
Though the history of the United States began on the Atlantic coast, the country’s culture, politics, and ideologies developed on the western Plains and through the industries of the North. At the turn of the twentieth century, the progressive era coincided with the conquest of this frontier as well as the establishment of national boundaries and a general reassessment of the laissez-faire economy, whose impulsive speculations, mostly driven by railroad construction, had pushed the country and banks into deep financial crisis. Rapid growth of commercial exchanges and the development of new forms of corporate enterprise imposed a “visible hand” – the managerial layer of a company – upon the otherwise wild forces of markets. This type of supervision coordinated the circulation and distribution of needs, goods, and services and set the foundations for an intensive plan of industrialization and the future of financial capitalism. Anti-monopolistic “positive government,” which would culminate with presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, enhanced the legislative role of Congress to endorse a balanced financial reform while nationally managing natural and energy resources (opening the peculiar path that would, in response to the Great Depression, influence President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s implementation of the New Deal economy). At a larger scale, this political strategy enacted comprehensive territorial planning, which involved considerable urban interventions and the construction of national infrastructural networks. Gradually, the American landscape, especially that of the American West, was transformed from an untamed externality of adverse conditions into a measured isotropic extension made of geographic distances and endogenous basins of resources.
On a smaller scale, improved land-surveying techniques and notational systems (which dissected urban settlements and evaluated the degree of fire hazard in relation to the effective quality of the built environment) soon revealed the unreliability of conventional mill construction, specifically in the structures’ ability to adapt to new systems of production. Citywide surveys had to be conducted, and insurance companies compiled special atlases whose protocols were based on “typical plans,” in which the data taken from each building unveiled the working components that formed the true skeleton of the city. Each building’s essential elements – from the size of the plot, construction materials, and characteristics of the supporting structure, to the locations of openings, doors, elevators and the presence of skylights or sprinkler systems – were accurately recorded to provide a complete sense of basic functionality. However, the true modern rationalization of the factory only occurred with the introduction of “daylight factories,” the first entirely fireproofed buildings built from reinforced concrete. The durable material provided an efficient deadweight resistance, a rapidity of erection with larger glazed surfaces, cleaner and safer workshops, a considerable reduction of supports, longer spans, a major economy of space, and wider flexibility, all without qualified builders. Yet the archetype’s clear spatial and economic statement as the “first fruit” of the new age unveiled a fundamental contradiction to the approach of progressive-era industrialization, whose menacing nature was articulated by the increasing discontent of the working class, which exploded in decades of numerous riots and upheavals (from the railway strikes during the 1870s to the 1882 Pennsylvania homestead strike, Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket Affair, and the revolt of the Pullman Company town in 1894). The daylight factory, in this sense, constituted an ambivalent response to and a rational capitalist weapon against the assault of the working class and emerging labor organizations. Accepting and, at the same time, opposing the requests of their employees (eight-hour work days, sanitation, and laws to safeguard children, women, and convict labor), employers could carry out even heavier forms of production by implementing new forms of scientific management in the production process. Ultimately, the daylight factory turned out to be an instrument of exploitation rather than an amelioration of poor working conditions.
Albert Kahn was among the first to realize the value of daylight factories in the United States. Thanks to the Kahn System of Reinforced Concrete – patented by his brother Julius – the architect, whose family immigrated to Detroit when he was eleven, managed to not only erect multi-story concrete frames capable of withstanding massive weights, but also reduced the frequency of the interior columns by up to ten meters – an innovation particularly suitable for the rising automotive industry in Detroit. In several lectures, Kahn praised America’s “sanest and most comprehensive development”: concrete industrial architecture. He advocated for the elementary expression of smaller elements such as columns, lintels, and floors, and he strove to achieve a clear rhythm of light and shade. Through a simple articulation of solids and voids, Kahn’s architecture maintained a size in proportion to the masses working inside the buildings. Kahn’s first two important industrial commissions – for the Packard Plant in Detroit and the Pierce Arrow in Buffalo – were variations on the daylight factory, based on two defining structures: the multi-story platform, a three-dimensional concrete frame that could vertically organize the entire production process “under one roof,” and the roof-lighted single-story horizontal workshop, where all manufacturing activities occurred “over one floor” appropriate for heavy machine-rooms. Both models converged in Kahn’s first project for Henry Ford: the renowned 1908 Highland Park plant of Detroit, built to manufacture the Ford Model T, “the average car for the average man.”  The plant consisted of nine buildings. A four-story main unit of reinforced concrete framing hosted each distinct vehicle assembly procedure around a gigantic, centrally located single-story machine workshop where the parts of the Model T were made under a glassed saw-tooth roof. All elevators, stairs, shafts, and restrooms were concentrated in four utility towers attached to the building, leaving the production floors completely uninterrupted.
Nearly one thousand cars were completed per day at Highland Park, which meant that almost 640 tons of materials constantly circulated through the workshop before being assembled into the final Model T. The handling of these materials, the allocation of workers, and the control of activities played key roles in maximizing the profit of every single square meter of floor space. Therefore, the “plan” of the daylight factory was transformed into a “layout” that reduced men and raw materials to parameters of an overall logistical dispositive and eliminated any possibility of waste, congestion, or worker insubordination. Ford claimed that the manufacturing process required an orderly progression of commodities through the shop, which distributed and confined workers, tools, and machinery according to assembly procedures. As for the “organization of geneses” described by Foucault, each worker’s movement was translated into a planned series of temporal segments and spatial operations that even the most unskilled man could perform. For these reasons, Henry Ford preferred to hire people “who had nothing to unlearn” and simply executed what they were told to do. His assembly line proved itself as a successful device that yielded the quantity-oriented mechanical choreography for which he strove. In this sense, the architecture of the Kahn-designed workshop combined the Ford principles of mass production – power, accuracy, economy, system, continuity, and speed – with a mobile, teachable, and massive workforce, thus exploiting the “docility” of the workers as parts of the productive machinery, moving homogeneously at a standard velocity which excluded “the least representation, and the smallest murmur”: fast workers had to slow down while slow workers had to adapt to rhythms imposed by production. ,
Although the integration of the assembly line induced the logical replacement of the experienced and trained labor force with masses of unskilled immigrant-workers, hired for lower wages and heavier, more exhausting shifts, this rational management of production also demanded new, qualified “immaterial” employees to monitor and scientifically analyze the rate of production. The continuity of operations required constant technical supervision of workers and machinery, which gradually resulted in specialized inspection teams of foremen, sub-foremen, and “shortage chasers,” who, in order to avoid shortages among the different departments, were put in charge of controlling the volume of production, assemblage sequences and pace, stocking and storing availability, and the ratio of ordered quantities to purchased material. In this way, the hierarchical “technical composition” of the daylight factory coincided with the fragmented “class composition” of the workforce, whose marked subdivision between untrained workers, experienced operators, foremen, and scientific managers resulted in few official national syndicates and numerous grassroots labor organizations. These new bureaucratic ranks of “knowledge workers” recorded the information exchanged between each manufacturing department in order to achieve a seamless production process, which already anticipated certain Toyotist principles such as “lean production,” the elimination of waste by means of a “just-in-time” plan of production, and reversing the process from the effective demand of final products to the amount of raw material necessary to sustain a constant maximum regime. In other words, the Fordist factory was already post-Fordist.
III. 1910–1929: OBJECT FOR THE MASSES, MASSES FOR THE OBJECTS
“In this sense the traditional organization of the American workers is the most political in the world, because the load of their struggle is the closest to the economical defeat of their adversary, the closest not to the conquest of power to build up another society on the void, but to the explosion of salary to make subaltern capital and capitalists within this society.”
From 1910–1913, production at the Ford Highland Park Plant tripled. At the same time, worker frustration grew, and labor-turnover rose to unprecedented levels. In March 1913, after having organized the famous six-month strike of silk mill workers in Paterson, New Jersey, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as Wobblies, arrived at the gates of Highland Park to campaign for the eight-hour day and better factory conditions. The IWW operated on the premise that “an injury to one is an injury to all” and believed that because reality was entirely determined by “the nature of industry,” a union of general industry employees was the only way the working class could gain enough power over the means of production and distribution to engender a society that utilized the “greatest achievements” of the capitalist economy “for the benefit of all useful members of society.”,
At this point, however, simple improvements to the factory space were no longer enough to satisfy pressure from employees on the floor. If mass production, as defined by Henry Ford, consisted of fabricating large quantities of commodities at a minimum cost by means of a “rational factory” – a model that normalized and streamlined the equipment, techniques, and output of production – the necessary next step to absorb this kind of voluminous production would have been to stimulate an adequate degree of consumption by creating a “social factory,” which, rather than producing objects for the masses, would shape masses for the objects. Indeed, when he was made aware of the menace of both an internal spontaneous insurrection of his employees and the external threat of unionism, Ford temporarily accepted worker requests and countered with a labor-reform plan to extend the discipline of the factory far beyond the limits of the production floor: wages were increased to five dollars a day, and employees who had met specific requirements (thrift, good service, and sobriety) could buy shares in the company. As a result, Ford gained stronger consensus among his employees, and by replacing the salary differentiation with a meritocratic “skill-wage classification,” he ensured a sufficient “human appendage” to his machinery, instilling obedience and self-commitment in his workers. Finally, the Ford Sociological Department was established to monitor the private lives of employees and shape their social habits to suit production.
Ford answered the frustrations of his workers by implementing strategies that were actually better for production. Fordism, according to Antonio Gramsci, soon translated to Americanism – a hegemonic system of coercion and persuasion aimed at reframing the workers’ overall form of life to develop appropriate psychophysical conditions for optimal labor performances. Taking into account the preponderance of immigrant workers at the company, Ford launched an Americanization Campaign: the company organized language schools, civics courses, journals, and advertisements which aimed to educate the non-English-speaking workforce in an effort to rid employees of their native cultures, accents, and idioms. Hence the factory, beyond its manufacture of physical commodities, extended production as a social apparatus that set standards by establishing conventions, behavioral attitudes, sexual prohibitions, racial discriminations, desires, and artificial needs.
From 1913–1914, worker conflict and its subsequent labor reforms required revisions to the Highland Park Plant. Albert Kahn’s design for an extension was a sophisticated variation of the multi-story daylight factory. The structure featured a reinforced concrete skeleton, clad in brick with walls of large windows, while a further set of six-story buildings, 260 meters long by 19 meters wide, spanned one side of the Detroit Railway Terminal. As in the earlier structure (also known as the Old Shop), production began and descended down conveyors and gravity slides on the top floor. However, in Kahn’s extension, finished products went straight onto railway tracks for immediate shipment. These building units were arranged as a series of structures running parallel to each other and were joined by six-story, glass-roofed craneways equipped with more than 200 cantilevered platforms to support a vertical distribution of material. Here, height distinctions no longer existed between the single pavilions or freestanding structures built inside the plant¬. Instead, all buildings were serially juxtaposed to each other and internally cleared of partition walls. Even the air-conditioning and ventilation systems were directly embedded within the structural frame of the hollow-columns, ensuring the maximum economy of space at the lowest possible cost. As a result, the general cross-section of the factory revealed an almost continuous interior working environment.
As labor reforms and the five-dollar day dissolved the factory’s “specific moment,” the new buildings of Highland Park dissolved any “specific form” of the factory as a hypothetically mechanized and artificially conditioned reproducible platform within the wider society. The typical open plan and reinforced concrete skeleton implemented autonomous principles that were no longer limited to the industrial spaces of Ford. The model developed by Kahn was suitable for commercial activities, warehouses, and offices as well.
It was no coincidence, then, that the construction of the New Shops in Highland Park paralleled the rapid growth of downtown Detroit, where large profits from the auto industry were invested in the erection of skyscrapers. In 1919, William C. Durant commissioned Kahn to design the new General Motors administrative building for his empire of automobile companies, which included Buick, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile. In order to avoid the increasing land prices downtown, Durant proposed a new directional center in the north of Detroit. Soon, the world’s leading automotive enterprise had bought the block of West Grand Boulevard between Cass Avenue and Second Street, demolished the almost fifty existing structures that stood there, and broken ground. At more than 100,000 square meters, the GM Building was, at the time, the second largest in the world. Upon its completion in 1923, the headquarters hosted fifteen stories of rentable office space above a massive plinth that contained exhibition halls, auto showrooms, an auditorium, shops, restaurants, lobbies, and an expansive annexed laboratory.
The plan, which closely resembled Holabird and Roche’s Stevens Hotel in Chicago, consisted of four crossed wings running perpendicular to a central spine supported by a steel frame and reinforced concrete floors. Kahn designed both the GM Building and the subsequent art-deco Fisher Building, which sat on the opposite side of Grand Boulevard, in an attempt to test the layout of his industrial works against the monumental idea of “great dimension,” a concept with which Kahn’s close friend Eliel Saarinen (future president and designer of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit’s northern district of Bloomfield) experimented. Both architects sought to disentangle the skyscraper from its Chicagoan self-referential nature by designing buildings characterized by vertical masses organically connected to the urban context: the steel “mountains” rose from the commercial and living forces of the city in a synthesis of technology, nature and business, depicting infinity simply through their concrete presence.
As a result of its brutal volumetric juxtapositions and the complex articulations of its basement, the civic dimension of the skyscraper was nothing but financial capital turned into stone – architecture done on a “business basis.”  The rise of the skyscraper not only mirrored the influence of the factory model, but also perpetuated the plan: just as Ford saw the factory as the center of production – a “city under a single roof” – Raymond Hood’s Rockefeller Center in New York explicitly conceived of the urban block as the ultimate possibility for the single capital accumulation of rent. In Germany, Ludwig Hilberseimer interpreted the “cores” of the Highland Park Plant machine rooms into the cultural and commercial center of his City Building in Berlin, where narrow office slabs and venues simply replaced assembly lines with think tanks.
Beyond the city of Detroit, the years after the First World War saw a country-wide wave of nearly 1.6 million demonstrating workers, general strikes for better labor laws, and a growing anxiety, the so-called “Red Scare,” around the Russian Revolution. While the frustrations of industrial employees were answered with important reforms such as the National War Labor Board (issued in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson, it acknowledged the eight-hour day, the right to organization and union representation, a minimum wage, and female wage parity), the country deeply feared the threat of communism on domestic soil. To eradicate any chance of Bolshevik subversion, major industrial enterprises ensured their fixed capital with large-scale economic interventions by investing in machinery and strengthening their industrial methods. Henry Ford consolidated his domains by expanding the territory his plants covered and commissioned Albert Kahn to design and oversee the construction of the Ford River Rouge – the world’s largest industrial settlement at the time. During construction of the New Shops, Ford and Kahn had realized that multi-story buildings were not ideal for a rational deployment of the assembly line; vertical exchanges between floors and loading operations caused too much wasted space and time. In the narrow plots of a dense metropolitan area such as Detroit, the vertical daylight factory still constituted an optimal solution, but with the planned 4.5 million square-meter River Rouge factory in Detroit’s southern district of Dearborn, the inefficiencies of the already existing platform could be avoided by designing longer, single-story, steel-framed workshops. Because of their modularity, these buildings could be strategically arranged on a line, individually expanded or customized, and rapidly assembled.
It was at River Rouge that the self-sufficient city and assembly line united; every phase of automotive production could be processed on-site without any dependence on external suppliers, market instabilities, or material shortages. In essence, the factory possessed, contained, and produced whatever it required. The linear plant was comprised of separate factories, arranged along 150 kilometers of internal high-line railroad, which directly connected to national and international commercial routes thanks to a harbor and railway logistics terminal. Among the numerous units designed by Kahn at River Rouge, the rigorous simplicity of the Eagle Plant, better known as B Building, has remained his most paradigmatic achievement. Rapidly erected to produce Eagle Boats for the American Army during the Second World War, the unit was the first to be realized on the site. Despite its impressive length of more than a half-kilometer, steel framework enabled its completion in less than four months. Two of the factory’s five juxtaposed sixteen-meter-wide aisles were equipped with rail tracks to transport the heavy components of the boats; hulls were assembled in the other three. Running the length of the building between the main aisles were low, wooden-framed volumes, eight meters wide, which hosted the entire unit’s subsidiary and service functions. Once built, the boats rolled out at the south end of the factory for a direct-transfer to the launch slip. B Building’s structural modularity epitomized the logic of the entire River Rouge industrial complex. By rationally coinciding with the function it performed and integrating the assembly line as its infrastructural rule, the typical plan became an urban planning principle extendable across the entire metropolis, giving form to the spaces of consumption, distribution and reproduction.
IV. 1929–1942: ASSEMBLY-LINES CITY AND FORMULATED PLANS
“It seems like an abstract ballet, lacking any meaningful content. But, like the self-enclosed form of a mathematical formula, the logic of these movements is impeccable.”
The intense regime of uncontrolled mass production, which was not met with an adequate increase of customer purchase-power, culminated on Black Thursday – the beginning of the 1929 economic collapse – and in the wave of labor struggles which followed from 1933 to 1938. The British economist John Maynard Keynes proposed a drastic therapy of reversal, assuming that the working class – the “party of catastrophe” – was the real driving force of capitalist development, not its demise. In this sense, Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money offered the principles for a capitalistic use of the working class. He argued that incentivizing consumer demand, increasing salaries and wages, and reactivating investments at lower rates could enable a strategy that utilized the state as “planner.” Based on his theory, market forces and long-term investment in worker wellbeing – i.e. decent pay, overtime, and benefits – could converge to transform the factory “plan” into an “operant mechanism to integrate the public at all levels”: consumers needed products, which valued employees felt motivated to produce at a fast pace. In a plant that utilized a worker’s physical, intellectual and psychological states of being, the management of production could successfully overlap with the economy and the collective conscience of society.
But beyond a restructuring strategy, the Ford Motor Company also faced serious competitive concerns. General Motors controlled higher shares of the automotive market and was attracting new consumers by abandoning the mass-standardization of a single car to instead produce a new, better looking, more affordable model every year. In 1927, after a long period of internal debate, Henry Ford was forced to close his bigger plants in order to retool the machinery for a new line of cars – the Ford model A, whose sinuous shapes and three different paint jobs replaced the boxy model T, famously available only in black. As a result of these plant closures, especially in Detroit, thousands either lost their jobs or took pay cuts. Workers took to the streets in protest and demanded implementation of new welfare measures to protect against the era’s rampant economic recession. Ford, however, was already looking overseas to expand and improve his company’s standing in the tense financial climate. In 1929, he enlarged his market of mass production precisely where the labor force was the strongest, demand was the highest, and the economic role of the government went uncontested: in a partnership with Gosplan, the State Planning Committee of the Soviet Union, the Ford Motor Company designed and broke ground on three new tractor plants in Stalingrad, Chelyabinsk, and Kharkov. ,
Construction soon began on hundreds of other American factories throughout the Soviet Union: facilities for automotive, chemical (Kalinin), aeronautical (Kramatorsk, Tomsk), mechanical, steel (Upper Tagil, Kuznetsk, Kamenskoi, Kolomna, Sormonovo), and electrical manufacture all went into production. Because the Soviet Union required a standardized mass-production of commodities to rapidly build the foundation for a national economy, Fordism – when stripped of its parasitical regime of profits and reduced to its strict scientific functionalist method – turned out to be a powerful class instrument to construct a new socialist state based on labor and collective effort (practically an assembly line ethos already) as a unique and ubiquitous form of living. Paradoxically, within both of the major world economic systems at the end of the 1920s, the factory became the essential ideological background for modern economic development, and the architecture of production became the highest achievement of the human general intellect.
Ironically, it was only in the Soviet Union that the assembly line research undertaken by Kahn at River Rouge could be fully realized. The wider territorial extension of the USSR provided the unique possibility of deurbanized metropolitan development and a more balanced distribution of population and productive centers, thus eliminating the differences between cities and agricultural lands – as proposed by Marx and Engels. Kahn’s theories on the linear modular arrangement of industrial plants became the model for the Socgorod – the Socialist City, which, as described by Nikolaj Miljutin, was based on a territorial alignment of “settlement units.” In essence, the Socialist City was comprised of productive and residential components organized in programmatic strips – industry, agriculture, transportation, energy, administration, collective activities, leisure, parks, education, and housing – and connected according to the chaining “logical principle” of the assembly line. Twenty years later, this model returned to the West – specifically to Chicago and Detroit – as a topos of modern urban planning underscored by Ludwig Hilberseimer’s scenarios for regional development.
The increase in Soviet factory commissions, coupled with a stateside growth in the workforce, required Ford to become a more streamlined and efficient global corporation. Kahn, therefore, reconfigured the hierarchy of the company – using same assembly line principles – to develop a new model for manufacture. The design process for every product was subdivided into specialized departments (i.e. architectural, structural, mechanical, estimating, construction, and management) that simultaneously oversaw the technical and executive aspects of each project. This new configuration shortened delivery times and enabled the development of a “formulated” company design-syntax, which consisted of a limited set of typical plans and protocols to allow a wide and rapid layout deployment that could meet many industrial situations. The factory plan, in a sense, became an algorithm for creating space according to configurable parameters that could be shaped, stressed, reduced, or specialized depending on circumstance. By the mid-1930s, three plants stood out as exemplary applications of a unique, formal vocabulary that worked in accordance with a twelve-by-twelve-meter structural steel bay that could be halved or doubled as needed.
The Chevrolet Commercial Body Plant in Indianapolis (1935), the De Soto Press Shop in Detroit (1936), and Chrysler Corporation’s famous Half-Ton Truck Plant, also in Detroit (1937), shared the same flexible parameters: technical equipment and employee facilities were either packed above or below the shop floor, leaving the manufacturing space completely unobstructed. Butterfly-bent roof beams enlarged the structural spans of the buildings and prevented direct sunlight through inclined steel sash monitors. The outer walls were usually clad in brick with continuous steel sashes and finished with gunite. Gradually, electric lighting and air-conditioning were integrated into the structural elements of the plan, thus maximizing space usage and definitively eliminating any previous dependency on natural daylight or weather conditions. Due to this artificially controlled atmosphere, all points of the floor achieved the same potential, whereas the width and length of the building became indifferent to any structural limitation. The typical plan had become one homogeneous and clear plane.
This series of architectural and managerial evolutions paralleled the elaboration of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) passed in 1935 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “one hundred days” of reforms. Paragraph 7A of the act granted workers the right to organize, collective bargaining through elected representatives, and the freedom of demonstration. In Detroit, new associations grew out of enthusiasm for Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms, including the Mechanics Educational Society of America (MESA), which enrolled a selective “aristocracy” of autoworkers – those who specialized as mechanics – as opposed to any autoworker, and the independent Automotive Industrial Workers Association (AIWA), which protected all ranges of workers at the Dodge auto factory. These groups helped set the stage for a final attack against the open shop regime of Detroit’s biggest automotive corporations, which, after decades of unrest, had still not met the demands of the working class. In 1935, industrial unions within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) formed the Committee for Industrial Organization, which later split from the AFL and became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), partially fulfilling the mission of the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World to organize the blue-collar workforce into a single industrial organization. Among the founding members of the CIO was the United Auto Workers (UAW), who, with the support of MESA and AIWA, became the most important independent democratic union in the city.
On November 27, 1936, the UAW and CIO sparked a war against the employers by organizing a sit-down strike at the Detroit Midland Steel plant, where 1,200 employees dropped their tools and sat down at their workplaces in passive resistance. With this new strike strategy of machine-occupation, workers completely changed the rules of protest by using the factory itself as a stronghold against the employers and the police while also protecting their jobs from any strikebreaker. One month later, in December, another strike – this time in Flint, Michigan – paralyzed production at the General Motors plant for 44 days. The demonstration was seen as the union’s first victory and won a new labor contract with the company. Organized protests continued through the winter, and in March 1937, 60,000 workers blocked production in all nine of Chrysler’s Detroit auto plants: strikes at Dodge Main, Chrysler Jefferson Avenue, Amplex Engine, Plymouth Assembly, Dodge Forge, Dodge Truck, Chrysler Kercheval Avenue, Chrysler Highland Park, and DeSoto quickly spread across the whole city, involving thousands of people and shutting down offices, department stores, and warehouses. Chrysler’s employees were fighting against the company’s defiance of the Wagner Act, which prescribed the election of a labor union to represent the majority of the employees at any company in order to guarantee equal bargaining rights. Despite holding the majority of the seats, the UAW was denied by Chrysler, who preferred to deal with a fragmented class-composition. However, the occupations continued for weeks, forcing Walter Chrysler to surrender to the demands of his employees and recognize the UAW as their sole representative.
The Ford Motor Company managed to escape confrontations with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the organization that enforced agreements between employers and unions. Ford’s resistance to union requirements continued for another four years before the company was forced to sit at the bargaining table and accept the situation of the closed shop – the company was legally bound to hire only union workers. Ford’s final defeat was made possible by Detroit’s African-American autoworkers, who, towards the end of the 1930s, abandoned their unanimous support for Henry Ford to endorse the UAW. For decades Ford had won the favour of segregated black communities by offering jobs and decent wages and funding churches. But the influence of the Unemployed Councils, the growth of the League of Struggle for Negro Rights and the settlement of a National Negro Congress in Detroit convinced the overwhelming majority of the black labor force to join the enormous River Rouge walkout in April 1941, which secured Ford’s capitulation to the NLRB and the birth of a new Detroit.
In this sense, Kahn’s zero-degree industrial architecture – based on a fixed formulaic vocabulary and composed only of technical cores, minimum supporting steel-frames, standardized unlimited envelopes, and unobstructed production floors – corresponded to the greatest working-class opposition of the Great Depression as well as the highest level of unionization. The apogee of this architectural simplification culminated with the construction of the Arsenal of Democracy during the Second World War, as part of the armaments industry. Among the numerous military plants designed by Kahn, the 1938 Glenn L. Martin Co. Assembly building in Baltimore, designed to produce the PBM Mariner and the PB2 Mars airplanes, remains his greatest achievement. Its single monolithic rectangular space,140 by 90 meters and 22 meters in height, was supported by a series of parallel Pratt trusses (90 meters long and nine meters high, placed at fifteen-meter intervals) and allowed an assembly space entirely free of columns.
The absolute emptiness of the Glenn Martin building epitomized the evolution of Kahn’s industrial architecture from an apparatus of exploitation to a mechanism of subject management by clearly illustrating how the struggle and unionization of the working-class engendered the gradual rarefaction of the industrial typical plan into a few structural elements. This shift in architecture can be understood in a series of phases linked to the volatile but essential relationship between capitalism and the working class: in the initial stages of Fordism, industrial giants such as the auto industry reinforced “fixed” structures with the rigid opposition of machines and constraints against the mass of the workers. In the second phase, the factory addressed its workers’ potential, integrating the general intellect and pulses of the whole society by shaping individuals rather than objects. Finally, the Fordist factory assumed an almost diagrammatic form, reducing its fixed capital to an algorithmic formula that was neutrally applicable to any urban settlement.
V. EPILOGUE: THE SINGULARITY OF THE GENERIC
Between July 1932 and March 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression and just after the Hunger March massacre at River Rouge, the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera completed his Detroit Industry fresco, depicting Kahn’s industrial architecture as the direct crystallization of the deepest “geological composition” of the city itself. , After months of studying and sketching the masses at work in Detroit’s plants, Rivera praised the factory as the greatest manmade environment ever created, as well as the most tangible expression of human nature’s potential substratum, which Marx named “labor power”: the aggregate of material and intellectual endowments common to the human species from which individuals construct and define their own singularity. Such a generic disposition to produce, in fact, can only exist in the body of the worker as a “possibility to be actualized,” proliferating through the existences and performances of individuals according to the material conditions of their lives.
For these reasons, Marx used the particular definition of the “social individual” to indicate the twofold nature of man (the worker), who is composed of singular determinations and universal faculties, continuously negotiated through a process of adaptation. In this sense, man is indeterminate. To remedy his innate lack of specialized instincts and assigned environment, he is constantly forced to “produce” not only the world in which he lives, through his own industry, but also what he is, his own form of life. Similar to Rivera’s scene, which depicts early forms of agricultural toil and automobile production beside the latest chemical and pharmaceutical experimentations, the worker’s own living labor is objectified not only into instruments, technical objects, landscapes, and architectures that are built, developed, spent, and solidified across centuries, but also in different subjectivities, cultures, and mass behaviors. The worker plays the essential role as an individual in the manufacturing process, while functioning as part of a larger collective. Even in their emptiest states, Kahn’s factory plans reveal that industry could not survive without every single person on the assembly line. In turn, it was precisely the work of the individual that strengthened the bonds among workers and created a common, basic force – among employees and employers – of production.
From this perspective, the “typical plan” of the factory signifies the capitalist attempt to crystallize and exploit the social forms of production, acting as an “index” of the generic human labor power. Resulting from the designed combination of both a permanent layer (a structural core, an envelope, and a supporting frame) and a relatively “open” one composed of an indeterminate and empty field of possibilities, the typical plan of the factory incorporates inner pressures and outer contextual contingencies as synergic conditions for its functioning as a coherent, flexible, and reproducible scheme.
In the early stages of industrial capitalism, the primary measure of the typical plan was the body of the worker, whose physical performance was dissected into spatial and temporal intervals that were further translated into wages and profits. But in addition to entering a relationship with capital as the singular owner and seller of his labor power, in factories he was also exploited as a “social individual,” where he produced, one among many, as part of a unique yet collective force with capabilities far beyond his own efforts. As employees specialized in certain areas of production and were distributed along assembly lines, their generic potential was not only put to work but also enhanced by their concerted action. It was this mutual cooperation that truly gave birth to the daylight factory and the modern metropolis as “theatres” for production.
Due to the internal struggles, activities, and collective performance of its occupants, the typical plan became effective only when each individual performed a certain role by “individuating” his own potential into a productive form of life – i.e. the repetitive toil of a worker, the action of a user, the affectivity of a dweller, the purchases of a consumer, the distraction of an observer. In this sense, the intentional emptiness and incompleteness of the typical plan enabled and controlled, while stimulating and conceiving, the proper human industriousness, framing but not restraining man’s generic tendency to produce the world and his own singularity.
Yet despite its internal rarefaction, the typical plan maintained its regular delimitations, exemplifying the latest “spectacular” form of liberalist production and concluding the series of “neutralizations and de-politicizations” which, from the beginning of twentieth century, had sedated the domain of market competition and technological religion by replacing politics with policy, conflict with civilization, enmity with humanity, and state with society. From the mechanical choreography of factory workers to the desires of supermarket consumers or the distracted wandering of the cognitive worker, the typical plan gradually moved away from its rigid industrial nature towards more open regimes of indeterminacy and neutrality, eventually losing its peripheral enclosure and becoming a technical background for production – a sort of continuous “tempered environment” suitable for any generic human activity. In this sense, the shift of production, which Koolhaas envisioned in the typical plans of 1950s Manhattan, not only coincided with the first industrial outsourcing, but also with the massive demise of the same forces which produced those architectures: the workers’ movements and the combative front of labor unions were deprived of power by a financial capitalism interested in controlling all aspects of life rather than the movement of individual workers on the assembly line.
Even the typical plan was undermined by its own principles. It was forced to surrender the clarity of its controlled delimitations to extend, as a continuous plateau, in order to integrate wider parts of the city within its system of production – as witnessed by the ruined factories and wastelands in Detroit, now paradoxically aestheticized through photographic profiteering. When life and its singularities were put to work in their entirety, not only would any traditional form of labor organization or resistance vacillate (thus exacerbating violence, precarity, and exploitation), but any fixed space of production would also lose its own clear boundaries.
In this sense, rather than arousing a nostalgic memory, the “ruins” of Detroit at present engender a clear concern for the future, emphasizing an entropic and ubiquitous state of uncertainty that was foretold long before their physical demise, and evoking the renowned passage by Robert Smithson, “these buildings don't fall into ruin after they are built, but rather rise into ruin before they are built.”  Rather than indulging in what has been lost, it would be more fruitful to investigate the revolutionary principles and power relations that generated these ruins in order to reflect on a possible strategy of exodus. In assuming living labor as its own force and using struggle to trigger development in the contemporary cognitive economy, the genericness of the typical plan achieved a totally new potential as a device for emancipation, transforming itself into a battlefield for the advancement of different modes of organization and resistance. “Detourning” the vagueness of the typical plan to recover its delimited emptiness and singularity can give form to new institutions and labor unions, provide space for cohesive and collective movements, defend the productivity of the general intellect, and construct Trojan horses within and against the all-encompassing regime of exploitation.
3 For the notion of the “index,” see Charles Sanders Pierce, “A Sketch of Logical Critics,” in The Essential Pierce: Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 2, (1909), 460-461 and Rosalind Krauss, “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America. Part II”, October, Vol. 4 (Autumn, 1977), 58-67.
4 For a complete analysis of the work of Albert Kahn, see George Nelson, Industrial Architecture of Albert Kahn Inc. (New York: Architectural Book Publishing Company, 1939); Grant Hildebrand, Designing for Industries (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1974); Federico Bucci, L’architetto di Ford. Albert Kahn e il progetto della fabbrica moderna (Milan: CLUP, 1991); and W. Hawkins Ferry, The Legacy of Albert Kahn (Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1970).
6 The radical shift from the traditional American single-unit enterprise (in which an individual or a number of owners directly operated a single office) to hierarchical business organization – companies owned by shareholders and administered through multiple units in different locations and handling different lines of activities, goods, and services – marked the rise of the advanced class of managers and the salaried masses of employed immaterial workers. See Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977).
7 The concept of “externality,” or the conditions which are external but still influence the productive process (defined by Keynes as “given facts”) has been transformed from a negative problem to be solved with the industrialization of nature (through infrastructure, transportation, and communication systems) into a positive resource for modern immaterial production, where localized qualities can be emphasized by creating distinctions increasing profits. Territorial hostility became fixed capital, a spatial “cost” to be maximized, and the traditional American “agrarian” ideology turned into a new strategy of accumulation through its gradual industrialization: from Emerson and Thoreau to Ludwig Hilberseimer – passing through Henry Ford. See Francesco Dal Co, “From Parks to the Region: Progressive Ideology and the Reform of American City,” in The American City: From the Civil War to the New Deal (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1983). For a general account of American industrial architecture, see Betsy Hunter Bradley, The Works: The Industrial Architecture of United States (New York, Oxford University Press, 1999); Lindy Biggs, The Rational Factory: Architecture, Technology and Work in America's Age of Mass Production (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); and Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm (New York: Viking, 1989).
8 It is no coincidence that, in the opening spread of Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York, there is an extract from a Sanborn Map of Manhattan, which emphasizes the rude materiality of the typical plan beneath the phantasmagoria and congestion of the metropolis. See Diane L. Oswald, Fire Insurance Maps: Their History and Application (College Station, Texas: Lacewing Press, 1997).
9 The pioneer of concrete construction in the United States was the engineer Ernest L. Ransome, who, starting in 1884, designed several massive buildings in California using rudimentary concrete systems armed with twisted steel bars of squared cross-sections. His experiments, developed through several patents from 1902¬–09, culminated with the Ransome System of Unit Construction, composed of an entirely standardized set of prefabricated elements. Ransome’s first large-scale factory buildings – the Pacific Coast Borax at Bayonne, New Jersey and the United Shoe Machinery Company in Beverly, Massachusetts – were the first fireproof daylight factories built in the United States. These structures consisted of three-dimensional concrete frameworks with a large number of glazed surfaces, and they were entirely assembled with precast elements and mass-produced classical decorations. See Rayner Banham, A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture 1900-1925 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986).
10 From the beginning of the depression in the 1860s, the National Labor Union, the Knights of Labor, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) fought to establish the eight-hour day and legislation on child, female, and convict labor.
11 The system was based on the “trussed steel bar,” a steel bar with a diamond-shaped section that projected wings on either side and slotted off along the edge of the diamond, bending up to an angle of 45-degrees to reinforce the shearing stress of the joint.
12 See Albert Kahn, “Reinforced Concrete,” typewritten, November 18, 1918 and “Reinforced Concrete Architecture: These Past Twenty Years,” speech for the twentieth anniversary of the American Concrete Institute, typewritten, 1924 (Albert Kahn Archive).
13 Building No. 10 for the Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit was commissioned in 1903 to extend nine preexisting brick-pier buildings, which were organized around courtyards. Kahn designed a new unit using a reinforced concrete frame, whose rectangular plan of 60 by 100 meters was divided into two aisles by a central row of columns. The squared bays, spaced by almost ten meters, supported a central girder, on which rested the beams at five-meter intervals, according to the Kahn Trussed Steel system. The structural skeleton was completely exposed on the façade, devoid of a perimeter girder, and filled either with glass or brick panels where light was unnecessary and further protection was needed. The technical volume at the last bay, containing services, shafts, and the water-tank, constituted the only exception to the absolute severity of the multi-story frame, defined by Reyner Banham as a real “a null value condition, a zero-term of architecture of ruthless rationality which hardly any other architect or builder with a professional conscience could have done.” The other variation of the daylight factory was the Geo N. Pierce Car Company in Buffalo, conceived in 1906 as a unique plateau for production. Only one story high and roof-lighted, the architecture in this case was entirely deduced from the flow of production: the horizontal plan was organized according to a common structural module proportionally adapted in relation to the different sectors of the manufacturing processes: brazing, manufacturing, assembly, and body building. Since the whole manufacturing process occurred on a horizontal plane, the saw-tooth glazed roof achieved a complete independence from the workshop, the machines, and their partitions, ensuring a diffused natural light and an homogenous ventilation across the whole production space, prefiguring the technical ceilings of modern office buildings. See Reyner Banham A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture 1900-1925 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986), 82-102.
14 Soon, the tendency was to combine the advantages of the first – expandable, suitable for expensive urban areas, and allowing the supervision of the production routine within building units – with the qualities of the second – advisable for heavy and vibrating machines and for operations requiring large and uncluttered space for technical maneuvers. See Moritz Kahn, The Design and Construction of Industrial Buildings (London: Technical Journal LTD, 1917).
17 “The first assembling line established in the Ford shops (for the magneto) was originally speeded at 60 inches per minute, which proved much too fast. The next speed tried, 18 inches per minute, was found to be as much too slow. The third guess, 44 inches per minute, answered so well that it is yet retained…The work is so divided among the assemblers that each operation is performed in 7 minutes and 36 seconds, turning out 300 complete chassis assemblies on each chassis-assembling line in 8 hours of working time, save in case of operations 1 and 2.” Horace Lucien Arnold and Fay Leone Faurote, Ford Methods and Ford Shop (New York: Engineering Magazine Company, 1914), 140.
18 Although information would only reach its complete primacy in contemporary factories, an organizational regime of tasks and techniques was already highly developed in the Fordist factory. In his researches at FIAT and Olivetti, Romano Alquati noted that information contained the very essence of labor-force, being “what the worker – by the means of constant capital – transmits to the means of production on the basis of evaluations, measurements, elaborations, in order to operate on the object of work all those modifications of its form that give it the requested use value.” In this sense, for Alquati, cybernetics and bureaucracy would constitute the two sides of a unique system for controlling, coding, evaluating and capturing the information posed by the workers. See Romano Alquati, “Composizione organica del capital e forza lavoro alla Olivetti,” part 1, Quaderni Rossi 2 (1962), part 2, Quaderni Rossi 3 (1963).
19 During these same years, Peter Behrens was building his AEG Turbinenhalle Fabrik in Berlin – still considering the factory as a temple, symbolically “representing” the collective effort of a whole community, whereas the supreme indifference of Albert Kahn’s architecture did not represent anything beside itself and the logic of mass production it embodied.
20 Since its 1905 establishment in Chicago (and following the paths of the Knights of Labor, the American Railway Union, the Western Federation of Miners, and the Socialist Party), the IWW attempted to “organize the unorganized” by recruiting all American industrial wage-workers within a single institution and admitting all the workers excluded from the official national syndicates. At the 1908 IWW convention, the movement diverged into two tendencies: a more anarcho-syndicalist Chicagoan branch led by William Haywood and Eugene Debs, and a reformist Detroit-branch under the guide of Daniel De Leon, leader of the Socialist Labor Party of America. De Leon believed that it was only through strict industrial unions and the legitimacy of the “ballot-box” that the working class would eventually achieve political power – electing their representatives to a central Industrial Congress and never using violence or sabotage, but only the general strike.
21 In One Big Union, the IWW’s founding general-secretary, William Trautmann, outlined an overall plan for industrial organization across the world. A chart depicted workers as members of one industry divided into different departments (agriculture, land, fisheries and water products, mining, transportation and communication, manufacture and general production, construction, and public service), which were all contributors to the generic act of production. William E. Trautmann, One Big Union: An Outline of a Possible Industrial Organization of the Working Class (Chicago: Charless H Kerr & Company, 1911), 5 and Industrial Union Method (Chicago: Charles H Kerr & Company, 1912).
22 The Marxist theoretician Raniero Panzieri defines the “specific moment” as a polarizing, concentrated situation heightened by mounting worker frustration. Renato Panzieri, Lotte operaie nello sviluppo capitalistico (Turin: Einaudi, 1976).
23 I refer here to the famous distinction between the Greek kolossos and the Roman columna, reprised from Derrida by Mario Gandelsonas, in relation to the architecture of César Pelli (who worked with Eero Saarinen, son of Eliel Saarinen). The colossal exceeds normal dimensions, something that delivers the concept of infinity through the rough presentation of its size. See Mario Gandelsonas, “Conditions for a Colossal Architecture,” in Cesar Pelli: Buildings and Projects 1965-1990 (New York: Rizzoli, 1990), 9–12 and Manfredo Tafuri, “The Disenchanted Mountain: the Skyscraper and the City,” in The American City, eds. Giorgio Ciucci, Francesco Dal Co, Mario Manieri Elia, and Manredo Tafuri (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1979).
24 Albert Kahn, “Architecture and Business,” typewritten speech, December 8, 1927 and “Putting Architecture on a Business Basis,” typewritten speech delivered to the Cleveland Engineering Society, December 16, 1930, Albert Kahn Archive.
25 Before his Vorschlag zur Citybebauung [Proposal for City-Building] and even in his earlier work Grosstadtbauten, Ludwig Hilberseimer considered the metropolis to be the logical anonymous product of capitalist omnipotence, a bio-political apparatus of residential, commercial, cultural, and industrial settlements where its inhabitants could live, work, and reproduce themselves in the most radical social proximity and, at the same time, in the greatest isolation. Regarding Hood’s proposal, see Raymond Hood, “A city under a single roof,” Nation’s Business (November 18, 1929).
26 From 1920 to 1926, Henry Ford had already been selling his Fordson tractors to the USSR, but he only committed to build the first massive Stalingrad Tractor Plant in 1929, after a delegation of Soviet engineers and architects, accompanied by representatives of the Amtorg Trading Corporation, visited River Rouge. Between 1929 and 1932, Ford and Kahn were involved in the design and construction of more than 500 industrial settlements. While the early designs were developed in Detroit, in a second stage, Moritz Kahn and a team of 25 architects and engineers moved to Moscow to join the Gosproyekstroy (State Design Construction Trust). See Allan Nevins and Frank E. Hill, “The Russia Adventures,” in Ford Expansion and Challenge: 1915–1933, vol. 2, Appendix 1 (New York: Scribner’s 1937) and Anatole Senkevitch Jr., “Albert Kahn’s Great Soviet Venture as Architect of the First Five-Year Plan. 1929-1932,” Dimensions 10 (1996), 34–49.
27 The Stalingrad tractor plant, able to manufacture 40,000 tractors per year, comprised a huge 400 by 100 meter assembly building, a foundry, and a forge shop, all of which were assembled on-site with steel and parts imported from Michigan. The Chelyabinsk tractor plant was even bigger. It covered a surface of almost ten million square meters; a six-kilometer underground tunnel connected all the shops. Its assembly building was the biggest in the world at that time, 450 meters long and 192 meters wide, with nine casting conveyors, 149 molding machines, four dome-furnaces and 84 transporters running along the whole length of the building.
28 In 1921, Henry Ford, supported by Thomas Edison, envisioned a linear, 120 square kilometer settlement of aluminum industries and agricultural villages to implement the impressive dams planned on the Tennessee River around Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Criticizing the parallel financial investments for the Tennessee Valley Authority, Ford promoted a paradoxical alliance between industrial capital and the American agrarian tradition, reversing the regime of the “money sellers” into the clean and much more rewarding “energy dollar.” See Francesco Dal Co, “Dalla Progressive Era al New Deal. La questione di Muscle Shoals,” Casabella, (May 1977), 425; for the Soviet and American linear industrial settlements, see Nikolaj A. Miljutin, Sotsgorod. The Problem of Building Socialist Cities (1930), trans. Arthur Sprague (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1978), 64-73; and Ludwig Hilberseimer, The New Regional Pattern: Industries and Gardens, Workshops and Farms (Chicago: P. Theobald Editions, 1949), 120-182.
29 The procedure against Ford’s anti-unionism was extremely difficult, and saw several moments of violent conflict between the company and unions. On May 26, 1937, when the UAW arrived at Gate 4 of River Rouge to launch a leaflet campaign called “Unionism, not Fordism,” the organizers Robert Kantor, Walter Reuther, Richard Frankensteen, and J. J. Kennedy were severely beaten by the Ford Service Department, a secret-service paramilitary organization of 3,000 men, during what would be later remembered as the “Battle of the Overpass”.
30 The severe nobility of this “box” profoundly impressed Mies van der Rohe, who utilized a photograph of its interior hall as a background for his perspective collage of the Concert Hall project in 1942.
31 Called by the Unemployed Councils and the United Auto Workers, the Hunger March demanded “Jobs for all laid off Ford workers; immediate payment of fifty per cent of full wages; seven-hour day without reduction in pay; slowing down of deadly speedup; two fifteen-minute rest periods; No discrimination against Negroes in jobs; relief, medical service; free medical aid in Ford hospital for employed and unemployed Ford workers and families; five tons of coal and coke for the winter; abolition of Service Men; no foreclosures on homes of Ford workers; immediate payment of lump sum of fifty dollars for winter relief; full wages for part-time workers; abolition of the graft system of hiring; and the right to organize.” The march was heavily repressed by the Ford Service Department, who killed three people and injured more than fifty.
32 The fresco, preserved at the Detroit Institute of Arts, consists of 27 panels roughly divided into three levels. It depicts the history and industrial development of Michigan and was commissioned by Edsel Ford in 1931, under the patronage of William Valentiner. As Diego Rivera claimed, “the principal manifestation of this fact which gives the city of Detroit its special and unique character is the automotive industry, that is to say, the industry of speed, together with the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which effects its results by means of changes in speed caused by the structure of the materials which it synthesizes, analyzes and transforms.” See Diego Rivera, My Art, My Life: An Autobiography (New York: Citadel Press, 1960) and his description of the fresco in “Dynamic Detroit: An Interpretation,” Creative Art (April 1933).
33 The same etymology of the term “generic” – from the Greek substantive genos (γενος, “race,” “kind,” or “species”) and the verb gignomai (γιγνομαι, “coming into being,” “generating,” or “producing”) – confirms this twofold meaning. It indicates both the innate potential of the human genus, the Marxian Gattungswesen, and the common ability to produce – “life-engendering life.” See Karl Marx, Economical and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1959). For the notion of labor-power as the potential aggregate of mental and physical capabilities “existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being,” see Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, ch. 6 (Hamburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 1867).
34 These characteristics coincide with what Gilbert Simondon defined as a “technical object,” which converges from an “abstract” mode of existence, constituted by the juxtaposition of different independent functions, towards a “concrete” one, which is a self-sufficient synergic system coherent with itself, through a progressive redistribution, differentiation, reduction, and condensation of its inner forces in relation to its associated milieu, as in the process of human individuation. Gilbert Simondon, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (Méot, 1958; Paris: Aubier, 1989, second edition).