The GM Renaissance Center is one of the world’s largest commercial campuses. With financial backing from the Ford Motor Company, this ambitious project was intended to renew downtown Detroit and to be a statement of the city’s strength in the face of social and economic difficulties. Despite its size, the existing complex represents only part of what was originally intended. Initial proposals called for 15 towers and 1,000 residential units.
Four 39-story office towers actually got built in 1977, rising from a common base and surrounding a cylindrical 73-story hotel. The complex soon saw the addition of two 21 story towers. In 2004, General Motors undertook a major renovation to improve circulation and areas of public interface, including the riverfront.
The complex might have benefited from the completion of its originally intended Phase III. Despite the renovation, which involved many prestigious architecture firms and improved the experience of the Center from a pedestrian point of view, from a distance the contained arrangement of the complex resembles nothing so much as a closed fortress – or, at best, an industrial facility.