GM Commits Big to Tech

In an earlier day, corporations committed remarkable feats of architecture.

In an earlier day, corporations committed remarkable feats of architecture. Nowadays, there tends to be less of that, at least on a large scale. There may be a starchitect building here or there, but nothing that’s really huge.

(OK: as in all discussions, it seems, of things regarding design, there has to be a nod to Apple, which is building its new 176-acre campus, including a four-story building that was designed by Foster + Partners and is approximately a mile in circumference, in Cupertino.)

Back in 1949, when General Motors controlled the post-war automotive world, when it was a true global goliath, it set to work on a 326-acre site in Warren, Michigan, just north of Detroit. It started building its tech center. The lead architect was Eero Saarinen. The landscape architect was Thomas Church.

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The GM Tech Center opened in 1956.

And like any near-60-year old, it is been showing its wrinkles for the past several years.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the site many times, and while remarkable things occur at the facility that some 19,000 people go to work at each day, the buildings have become a bit tattered with time.

So the fact that GM announced last week that it is investing $1-billion in revitalizing the Tech Center is nothing short of impressive, extraordinary and respectable.

It would be all-too easy to turn a blind eye to the Tech Center, all too easy to think that it might be better to build anew in another place, possibly another country.

When announcing the investment last week, Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development and Purchasing and Supply Chain, said, “We will transform this campus into a collaborative workplace of choice for our current team and future talent.”

One way of interpreting that is, “We know that there are places like the being-built Apple campus or the Googleplex in Mountain View. We know that Silicon Valley may be more geographically appealing that southeastern Michigan. But we are going to take a remarkable place and make it even more remarkable so that people who might otherwise not even give doing R&D for GM a second thought will realize that the company is committed to the highest levels of excellence and performance in what we do and how we do it.”

The work will be done between now and 2018.

GM expects that some 2,600 new salaried jobs—in product engineering, IT and design—will be created at the Tech Center.