Heralded as the “Versailles of Industry” when it opened in 1956, the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, remains symbolic of cutting-edge design.
Designed by architect Eero Saarinen and landscape architect Thomas Church, the 320-acre General Motors Technical Center campus initially featured 25 buildings. The most visually arresting and technically challenging of these is the aluminum-clad Styling dome, an auditorium and exhibition space. Harley Earl, GM’s chief of style at the time, believed that the center’s architecture should reflect the automaker’s emphasis on advanced engineering and design, and persuaded the company’s leadership to be ambitious and bold when commissioning the concept, says Susan Skarsgard, manager of GM Design Archive and Special Collections. More than a half-century later, the center is still GM’s thriving creative hub where designers, engineers, and craftspeople develop prototypes and technologies—and the architecture continues to inspire. “Seeing the giant ‘wall of water’ on the lake for the first time in spring, or the blue skies over the colored brick in the evening—it’s a reminder that good design is important, impactful, and lasting,” Skarsgard says.