Ciseal Roots: The GM Tech Center

by Nicole Hodsdon

Ciseal Roots: The GM Tech Center

I wasn't always a design fan - in fact, I studied engineering first thinking I should be responsible and have a "real job."  Little did I know that that "real job" would lead me on a path towards becoming one of those artist types who gets to have fun and make things every day.

My path to this point of making bent plywood things for a living all started when I got my first real job at the GM Technical Center in Warren, MI.  At the time, I didn't have a clue about this mid century architecture and landscape design mecca.  Little by little, though, the design bug began to emerge as I was surrounded by the purposeful yet beautiful vintage architecture, interior design, and landscaping.

GM Research Building Lobby

The vision for the Tech Center was that of GM's head of research from 1920 to 1947 Charles Kettering.  He insisted of the campus' architect Eero Saarinen that it wasn't to be a fancy facility.  Kettering wanted solid, streamlined buildings that would encourage innovative thinking.  When naming the Tech Center a National Historic Landmark in 2014, The U.S. Interior Department and National Park Service noted, "The General Motors Technical Center (commonly known as the “GM Tech Center”) is one of the most significant works of architect Eero Saarinen...The GM campus represents Saarinen’s work not just as a creator of buildings but also as the planner/designer of total environments." 

GM Design Center Lobby Stairs

What piqued my interest was the variety of buildings and features that were designed over 70 years ago, but have remained intriguingly modern.  Things like the staircases that appear to float down from the floor above, the brightly colored glazed bricks that keep the thermal load of the buildings low, the design dome which is the most awe inspiring space to see a concept car, and the lobbies that have so many details that you could spend hours in them and not catch it all.

GM Design Center

GM Design Dome

GM Design Center Lobby Reception Desk

(All photos from the Library of Congress)

Nicole Hodsdon
Nicole Hodsdon