Following World War II, General Motors purchased 320 acres north of Detroit and hired architects Saarinen and Swanson (later Saarinen, Saarinen and Associates) to create conceptual plans. Construction of the new research park was completed in 1955.
In their only known collaboration, Eero Saarinen worked with landscape architect Thomas Church to create a Modernist landscape where the architecture and landscape mutually reinforce each other. Formulated on an orderly grid arranged across a relatively flat and narrow rectangular parcel, the site’s iconic central feature is a 22-acre reflecting pool around which five clusters of low-slung, International Style buildings are oriented. The western side of the pool incorporates a fountain 115 feet wide with a 50-foot spray, which recirculates water for the air conditioning system. Four small, linear islands planted with willows float perpendicular to the pool edges, while a 132-foot tall, spherical water tower operates as both infrastructure and objet d’art.
Local landscape architect Edward A. Eichstedt implemented Church’s design, planting linear bosques to shade the buildings and rows of low evergreens to define outdoor spaces. He also created expansive vistas over swathes of lawn and a forested perimeter greenbelt with 13,000 trees. Eleven miles of roads and 85 acres of surface parking are shaded by tall deciduous trees.
In the mid-1950s General Motors doubled the campus acreage and hired Argonaut Realty to design the East Campus. Hargreaves Associates created a master plan for this area in 2000. The campuses were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2014.