Resurgent domestic manufacturing means investment in plants and factories is on the upswing in the United States. But a recent pledge by General Motors to spend $1 billion on its Warren Technical Center in Michigan not only adds jobs, but preserves a motor age architectural marvel by Eero Saarinen as grand and soaring as the tail fin of a vintage car. The auto company's plan to rebuild, renovate, and expand the plant will add 2,600 new jobs at a facility that already employs 19,000 while recommitting to the 326-acre campus, a collaborative work between Saarinen and landscape architect Thomas Church that was nicknamed the "Versailles of Industry" in its heyday.
A National Historic Landmark that earned the AIA's "Most Outstanding Architectural Achievements of its Era" designation, the Warren Campus opened in 1956, a $100 million facility that was one of the largest building projects in the United States at the time. Saarinen was tasked with uniting disparate divisions of GM, which were spread out around aging facilities across Detroit, under the same roof. The overall layout grouped 20 buildings into clusters set amid seven man-made lakes. Sleek exteriors of steel, aluminum, and glass, with colorful glazed brick end walls that illuminated the campus, gave way to open interiors without columns, built to avoid the "slum-like" appearance of standard factories and allow for flexible layouts. The floating staircase in the lobby of the Styling Building exemplifies the light, streamlined touch found throughout this industrial project.
The GM reinvestment, which adds additional design studios and a new IT building while rebuilding some of the existing R&D facilities and renovating many of the interiors, comes after decades of decline and a recent flood.