"The world’s most modern and complete industrial design center," said Harley J. Earl in a 1957 INTERIORS magazine article (first page of this article is featured midway down at this section). GM backed up Mr. Earl's noteworthy statement corroborating how his organization of more than 1,000 skilled personnel was, "the largest of its kind in the world." 

The Technical Center officially opened on May 16, 1956 and 5,000 people attended the dedication ceremony (see Beacon of the Future displayed at bottom of this section). 

Earl personally commissioned Antoine Pevsner to create the "Bird In Flight" statue; a bronze with raised polished lines.

Vigilant eye shape in central core of 20-foot bronze positioned outside Earl's office. 

1938 Cadillac Sixty Special and Pevsner's statue  -- symbols of speed and motion. 

The twenty-two acre lake was a central element of the Tech Center and on the west side was a gigantic fountain that formed a wall of water 115 feet long and 50 feet high. A smaller decorative fountain, designed by the sculpture Alexander Calder, was placed at the northwest corner of the lake. 

As one can clearly see, from these photographs, the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan had futuristic nuances. Harley Earl conceived of the idea, picked the location site and even chose the local Michigan father & son architectural team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen to build it. Before completion, the complex was coined the “Versailles of Industry” and the reference stuck and was nationally heralded in the media at the original unveiling in May, 1956. This architectural tour de force is still considered modern.

First page of an important May 1956 LIFE magazine issue; article directly below.

At the May, 1956 debut --- 55 years ago! --- the Detroit Free Press wrote, "The doors at the GM Tech Center open up to a world of the future." 

Photos, above & below are from 1956.

CAROFTHECENTURY.COM is in complete harmony with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of MI's project vision to, "create a new image for the state, based on the design legacy of its automobile industry, its vibrant furniture industry, and the outstanding Michigan architects that helped shape contemporary urban design." 

1958 Styling Administrations Building; the Teacup and Buell Mullen's colorful painted metal sculpture.

Nicknamed the "teacup," the white fiberglass receptionist's desk in the lobby of GM’s Styling Section administration building, above, was just another one of Earl’s more modern and playful gestures.  

Now that GM and Detroit's insular worlds are beginning to open up after the 2008/09 bottom its now easier to understand how bad Harley Earl’s protégé, Bill Mitchell, completely sold out to the financial administrators running GM during the early 1970s. That's because GM's new ultra-conservative treasury office administrators and old fashioned engineers loathed Earl’s "modern movement" and that's why they went on to quickly kill off so many of his visual metaphors of success. It was a clear signal GM's new elite  had no intentions of following in his footsteps. Why you might ask...especially since leaders like H. J. Earl had done so many positive things for this company and the modern auto industry? Because to follow what this man did, meant upholding the high standards and essentially continuing to work hard towards meeting the demands of progress…and why on earth would you want to do that when you damn near had 50% of the domestic market share pie. GM's impetuous new treasury office leaders began demonstrating their sword of power by taking GM down a whole new scary direction...one that was almost polar opposite the course Sloan & Earl had wanted the company to go down in the future. And, it was only after this point that a historic tear down of some of Detroit’s finer examples of modern art began. It wasn't just isolated to the miserable incident detailed below:

In the early 1970s, the teacup along with the beautiful hand painted stainless steel sculpture, shown above, that the artist Buell Mullen had so meticulously created were literally sawed up into small pieces within the main lobby of the first floor Styling Section administration building and carried out and put in a garbage dumpster! Naturally, a lot of people inside GM Styling/Design were shocked. But, back in the seventies if you worked for GM and dared voice an opinion on this atrocity you'd get demoted or simply canned.  

Anyway, to properly celebrate the 75th Anniversary (1927-2003) of Harley Earl’s creating the first "Design Center" in industry and/or Detroit, GM simply put up copied variations of these two works of art where they once stood so proudly. This is a excellent example of a long overdue job of beginning to restore GM's public image after supposed hotshot leaders, like ex GM CEO Roger Smith, almost sunk America's largest auto manufacturer. Notice Wayne Cherry, below, who was the current GM Design vice president, in 2003, standing in front of the dumbed-down -- a bland new copy -- of Buell Mullen's hand-painted sculpture. As you can see, it's a far cry (lacking any color) from the original art work shown in the picture above. 

Directly above and below, are pictures showing copies of Buell Mulen's sculpture and "the teacup" in 2003

The excerpt directly below is from an October 1955 INDUSTRIAL DESIGN magazine (the entire issue was dedicated to the new profession of automobile design) which was fittingly titled Design In Detroit:


The number one architectural event in Detroit is the spectacular new General Motors Technology Center, covering a mile-square plain a dozen miles north of the city. It is architecture on unprecedented scale – actually a complete research town where each of the five major GM research functions has its own complex of buildings, pools, landscaped squares and gardens. The 17 individual structures, low and generously spaced, surround a 1780 ft. lake and are encircled by drives and shaded parking areas. Final touches are just being put on the Styling Section – the cornerstone of a $100 million project that has been underway for a decade.

The Technical Center, designed by Saarinen, Saarinen & Associates of nearby Bloomfield Hills, is an integrated interpretation of a great industry: the crisp building forms and precise detail of the glass, steel, aluminum and enamel facades convey the spirit of technology and the machine; the brilliant glazed brick end walls in nine gala colors are a reminder of craft and the skill of the hand. In industrial buildings like the Tech Center there is a significant new dimension to design-for-industry: when business is designing products to improve the life and beauty of its own operation, it expresses itself proudly and boldly in the unified language of art.

Furthermore, the lead-off sentences of the editorial inside this 1955 INDUSTRIAL DESIGN issue clearly says something new and wonderful has already fashioned the Motor City and will continue to radically transform the future auto world: 

Why Design In Detroit

Detroit is the center of the biggest, liveliest and most adored consumer industry in the country, and perhaps the world. In many senses, Detroit is also the design capital of the U.S.A. For one thing, the welfare of that giant industry --- whose success and method of operation have a profound effect on the entire national economy --- is more and more dependent on design. The Motor City is the source of a new concept about the power of design as a weapon of sales --- and even as a source of obsolescence. It is the author of a rather special design idiom based on this idea. Detroit has invented a way of using......

Also read the first page, below, of a 12-page article in a January, 1957 INTERIORS magazine. It properly locates Detroit's "Engineering Design" heavyweight champion of the modern auto world:

Double page magazine ad, below, released during Tech Center's illustrious opening week of May 16, 1956. Vivid print ads like this one were placed in all the major weekly publications LIFE, TIME, NEWSWEEK, COLLIERS, etc... The text forecasted the importance of being "devoted to the progress in the industrial arts." Detroit's Design Hero, Harley Earl, was naturally responsible for this type of forward thinking and/or dream filtrating outside GM's/Detroit's boarders (along w/the other major U.S. auto makers). Yes, Earl's new paradigm-shift was supposed to be a metaphor of the direction Detroit's leaders of the 1960s were to follow in. Of course, something went horribly wrong because Detroit's auto world story between the 1970s leading up to current times in 2006 is a well-known debacle in history. Don't take our word for it, simply read what was in the print-ad: 

"America's technological leadership of generations to come" along with "...making it [GM] the largest institution in the world devoted to progress in the industrial arts." 

GM and the rest of Detroit's auto manufacturers today --- in 2007 --- don't want to recognize auto-making in the same terms Harley Earl and GM's other great leaders of the 1950s once viewed this "American business" because to do so would be an admission of guilt. That's why nobody in Detroit's auto world these days refers to the auto business having anything remotely to do with "the industrial arts." Of course this is a giant oversight GM and the rest of Detroit's leaders don't want to address these days. Why educate the public and the press as to how misguided and far away they are from being on the right track? The truth is that none of Detroit's auto world leaders are close to turning around America's flagging auto world.  

This caption and photo here are from the We Welcome Challenge of the Future print ad; notice highly trained artisans below

Timeless quote by Earl on why all his new "car brand studios" were so brightly lit: "To best study a car, it should be seen under natural light."

Charles Kettering, H.J. Earl and C.E. Wilson


Click below to see conceptual artist’s view of this modern Technopolis