Inside the belly of the General Motors headquarters

With the possible evaporation of the automobile industry — and especially GM’s near bankruptcy — a shot of the GM headquarters in Detroit is often used in current news reports to set the scene. The building(s) above, on the Detroit river across from Windsor, have only been GM’s for the last few years. Previously GM was located in this fantastic Albert Khan building called “Cadillac Place” located in Detroit’s New Centre area  (Midtown). The Renaissance Centre, above, was built in 1977 by Henry Ford II and was supposed to reinvigorate Detroit but unfortunately the complex was constructed like a giant bunker, cut off from the rest of the downtown by concrete berms. When GM moved into the building it was renovated with a relatively successful urban makeover.

As I wrote last month, I spent 4 nights here during the Creative Cities Summit, sleeping in the skyscraper landmark I grew up looking at over in Windsor. This building was our CN Tower — the pointy thing that quickly helped us find our position in either Essex County or Southeast Michigan. You could see it from the farms outside of Windsor and now, when driving back home on the 401, is appears on the ultra flat and treeless horizon somewhere a little past Chatham. That’s the point where we usually switch the radio to the Detroit classic rock station to hear the inevitable rotation of Bob Seger’s Night Moves (and certainly right now, most everybody in Detroit and Windsor long for the easy days when the ‘60 Chevy from that song ruled the world). In high school we went on dates to the 72nd floor revolving restaurant, ordering extremely expensive cokes and packs of cigarettes (filterless Camels, our harsh American punishment for being stupid).

A minor quibble with those establishing shots in the dire news reports is they usually refer to the central building with the GM logo as being the “GM building.” It’s actually the Marriott hotel, and the other towers that surround it house the General Motors brain trust. What follows is a phototour of 4 days spent in Detroit’s hot modernist spaceship of a building.

These glass catwalks were part of the renovation. The concrete everywhere else seems to defy gravity.

Original concrete catwalks and pods. Everything is laid out in a circle, and there are no direct paths to anything. I admit that though I love these kinds of buildings, I was disoriented a lot, trying to remember how I got to where I was and confused as to where I was going. GM cars are the superstars here, lit with spot lights and shining like the end was not neigh.

Sweet, sweet concrete everywhere. Human made mountains.

Lots of glass too — and unfortunate palm trees that don’t really work with Windsor in the background.

And more views from my 54th floor hotel room. That’s Comerica Park in the last picture.


  1. Did you get yelled at for taking pictures of the interior? They seem to be very tight about that, as in many US office buildings.

  2. No, things are more relaxed in Detroit I think. That said, I wasn’t trying to be conspicuous — but also not terribly inconspicuous.

  3. Thanks for the writeup.

    I worked at GM for a year (different location). It was about what you would expect.

  4. Great photos! I am curious are the trees in the suspended pods, that jut out near the banners real or fake? I am guessing fake but I would love it if they were real.

  5. The first time I passed the GM HQ, I thought it looked like something straight out of Robocop.

  6. Dan> I think they are, and have always thought they are, but now that you mention it, I’m not sure.

    Gloria> Well, Robocop did take place in some city called “New Detroit”

  7. Ah, Robocop. Loved the first of the series, though it refered to “old Detroit” and “Delta City” (not “New Detroit”) as the new, corporate Shenzhen-esque wondercity that would replace the old. Unfortunately, most of it was not filmed in Detroit.

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