Friday, April 06, 2007

Man as Industrial Palace

Illustration by Fritz Kahn.

This image, by the artist Fritz Kahn, shows the nervous system as a complex electronic signalling system, complete with buttons, charts and busy workers. Fritz Kahn's books and illustrations explored the inner machinery of the human body, using metaphors of modern industrial life. Kahn turned the brain into a complex factory with light projectors, conveyor belts, secretaries and cinema screens; he showed the journeys of blood cells as locomotives encircling the globe; and he compared bones to modern building materials such as reinforced concrete.

Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace). image via

Kahn’s modernist visualization of the digestive and respiratory system as "industrial palace," really a chemical plant, was conceived in a period when the German chemical industry was the world’s most advanced.

Kahn was born in Halle on September 29, 1888 to Arthur Kahn and his wife Hedwig Kahn (née Schmul). He first attended school in Halle, and later the Sophien-Gymnasium in Berlin. After graduating school in 1907, Fritz Kahn studied medicine. He finished his studies completing his dissertation on Das Versehen der Schwangeren in Volksglaube und Dichtung in 1912, and started to practice as a gynecologist in Berlin. During his studies, Fritz Kahn became involved with writing articles on popular sciences. In 1920 he published a book on the Race question, Die Juden als Rasse und Kulturvolk. One of his most well-known works, Das Leben des Menschen, a five volume edition on the human body, was published between 1922 and 1932. Around 1914, Fritz Kahn served in the military during World War I. Shortly before Hitler came on power in 1933, Fritz Kahn travelled to Palestine, where he started to work on his manuscript Die Naturgeschichte Palestinas (The Natural History of Palestine). Because of the political situation in Germany, he was not able to return there. Eventually, he became a citizen of Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. In 1939, Fritz Kahn left Palestine for France and Portugal before he was able to immigrate to the United States early in 1941 with the help of Varian Fry and Albert Einstein. read on his exciting life story:


sydneyland said...

I've sometimes thought of my body like this. A complex machine with control rooms, offices, and cranky workers just trying to do their job.

When I'd eat something stupid, or in the old days do too many drugs I used to imagine the various body systems engineers going into a panic.

The crew that ran the digestive systems would be on the phone with parts of my brain. They'd be furious, and demanding to know just what the hell was going on up there!

Then the gag reflex dept. would cut in and give the usual 30 second warning that there would be serious vomiting so the brain should get the rest of the body either out into the street or to the toilet,

True sometimes there's a false alarm, but all the engineers have learned by hard experience to take the vomit department at it's word.

Sorry,..didn't mean to go on about this, but this post did remind me of all that.


Moon River said...

that's ok, you were taking things "down to earth", any how, i see what you mean.