Snøhetta Develops Master Plan to Transform Ford’s Research & Engineering Center in Dearborn
Ford Motor Company has unveiled a Master Plan to transform its Research & Engineering (R&E) Center and greater Dearborn campus in Southeast Michigan. As the result of Ford’s 2-year research and planning process, created in partnership with Snøhetta as lead architect, master planner, and landscape architect, the Master Plan re-imagines the broader Dearborn campus as Ford’s global epicenter through empowered workplaces, productive landscapes, smart technology and versatile mobility systems. In the last decade, connectivity, automation, electrification and other technologies have dramatically shifted the automotive and mobility landscape. In this new era of change and disruption, Ford today stands at a pivotal point in its trajectory. As Ford expands its core business of automotive manufacturing to lead the industry in future-facing mobility solutions, the Master Plan will enable this step forward through a deep reconfiguration of Ford’s workspaces, creating centers of excellence where talent can thrive.
A vision ahead of its time, the 1946 Master Plan for the R&E Center spearheaded by Henry Ford II detailed the company’s first campus solely dedicated to research and product development. The Ford Administrative Center, later rededicated as the Henry Ford II World Headquarters, followed shortly thereafter, located along Michigan Avenue within close proximity to R&E and the Rouge Complex, providing expanded office space for Ford’s administrative and executive teams. Over the next half-century, Ford’s Dearborn facilities would continue to expand as Ford and its product offerings matured. While its product development and the expertise of its employees became increasingly specialized, the company’s skill teams settled into focused, yet dispersed, workspaces. Through the efforts of the Master Plan, Ford’s employees that are currently dispersed throughout Dearborn and southeast Michigan will be consolidated in state-of-the-art research and production spaces that facilitate the easy flow and circulation of ideas and catalyze opportunities for collaboration, co-location, and therefore, efficient product innovation.
Building off an extensive, year-long interview process with over 40 different employee focus groups and previous masterplanning studies conducted by Ford, the Master Plan is a direct response to the needs expressed by Ford employees and their interconnected communities. From these leadership and employee studies, a conceptual framework for the Master Plan emerged, one that conceives of Ford’s natural and built environments, employees, neighboring communities, and the movement between them as symbiotic parts of one Ford ‘ecosystem.’ Questions that anchored the design team’s process asked: What is productive landscape, and what is productive architecture? What kinds of environments foster interaction, wellness, creativity, and innovation? And how can the daily journey through these environments be both pleasurable and efficient? The Master Plan’s response to the site’s core mobility, site, and architectural systems was driven by the need for consolidated and interconnected workplaces; ecological thinking about the landscape that creates habitat for people, flora, and fauna in equal measure; and intelligent campus mobility systems that will evolve over time.
While complex and multi-layered in its execution, the Master Plan’s approach at large operates through three key actions: consolidating Ford populations, integrating skill teams to optimize critical adjacencies, and creating opportunities for interaction, knowledge sharing, and ideation. The Master Plan proposes a central campus hub at the R&E site’s northwest corner—closest to West Dearborn, regional transit, and The Henry Ford Museum. Concentrating building density will enable more than double the number of employees to be one day located at R&E from roughly 11,000 today to more than 20,000 upon full realization of the master plan, supporting greater knowledge exchange, collaboration, and informal social interaction through heightened proximity and connectivity. Movement within this core campus is pedestrian-focused and transit-rich, connected directly to amenities and key adjacencies and networked through a shared transportation loop, limiting personal vehicular access to the site’s perimeter. These broad moves in turn intensify the ecological systems across the remainder of the site, engaging existing forest and wetlands and adjacent residential neighborhoods. Where possible, it restores predevelopment ecologies.
Broadly, these actions serve Ford’s mission of ensuring an innovative and vibrant workplace for people. Drawing from a rich legacy of consumer and employee trust, this Master Plan provides a comprehensive framework for Ford to drive future growth, empower its workforce to deliver on its business plan and create centers of excellence in its hometown, Southeast Michigan as well as globally. The Master Plan is, at its core, a renewed commitment to Ford’s employees, creating a people-first workplace that will also prepare the company for another century of innovation as it leads the global automotive industry into a new era of disruption.
The Ford Campus
The Master Plan provides a comprehensive framework to guide future growth at Ford’s Dearborn campus through a deep engagement with its natural and built environments and the movement between them--otherwise referred to as mobility, site, and architecture.
Mobility, the largest scale system, considers the daily journey of the Ford employee or visitor to the site, and functions as the connective tissue that facilitates efficient, pleasurable movement between and through buildings and outdoor destinations. Site refers to the natural processes and outdoor campus environment that promotes the symbiotic wellbeing of people and wildlife. At the most human scale, architecture refers to the indoor environments that support and inspire people’s daily activities. These systems are not discrete, but rather intersect and overlap in their contribution to a healthy, diverse, productive, and evolving Ford ecosystem.
Ultimately, Ford’s transformed campus will function as primary testing grounds for its future innovations and their impact on the built and natural environment. Understanding Ford’s campus as a living laboratory, the Master Plan, as a living document, aims to work in lockstep as a companion guide for ensuring the longevity, flexibility, and fitness of the company at large.
What is a Street?
Ford employees currently commute to work from across the Detroit metropolitan area, and mostly by private car, as parking is ample and public transit systems are currently less convenient. On campus, physical movement between buildings is made difficult, as buildings are separated by great distances, vast parking lots, and streets with high traffic volumes. By consolidating people and parking, re-defining the notion of streets, celebrating gateways, and diversifying mobility modes, the Master Plan reduces travel time on campus and increases interpersonal interactions.
The Master Plan challenges the wide, car-centric rights-of-way and limited pedestrian space that characterize the typical street of today, instead proposing a vibrant social space. Through these diversified mobility modes, the Master Plan creates opportunities for active recreation, clean propulsion, and increased efficiency that promote well-being. Pedestrians, cyclists, microtransit, personal vehicles, shared or autonomous vehicles, and shuttles will integrate and circulate in ‘living streets’, which are designed as both paths for transit and places for people. This concept ranges from “complete streets”—which safely, comfortably, efficiently and equitably accommodate all users and modes of transportation—to “shared streets”—which prioritize the pedestrian experience with all modes sharing a common right-of-way. These and other living street typologies will be strategically deployed across campus, serving as places where Ford’s next generation mobility technologies can be displayed and experienced, in turn creating a campus where streets serve as both public realm and living laboratory. The Master Plan does not only focus on facilitating pleasurable and efficient movement across the site, but also anticipates future mobility technologies and needs by introducing adaptable infrastructure.
Access and Gateways
Oakwood Boulevard and Rotunda Drive are the two major arterial roads that frame the campus. While they’re currently efficient thoroughfares for vehicles, the Master Plan recommends they be enhanced for a wide range of users. In coordination with the City of Dearborn and Wayne County, Oakwood Boulevard can be redeveloped as a complete street with the addition of trees, pedestrian and bike paths, seating, and other human-focused amenities. Points-of-entry into campus from these arterials range from the urban to the naturalistic but remain monumental in nature to define thresholds, regulate access, and distinguish the Ford experience.
What is Productive Landscape?
By concentrating development at the northwest corner of the site, urban and naturalized landscape areas emerge that support the Ford community in a multitude of ways. Diverse yet cohesive, the overall landscape serves as an extension of the workplace and simultaneously as an interlude from it. In the more urban area of development, a dense network of buildings will be linked with active streetscapes, plazas, courtyards and roofscapes. In the remaining site, naturalized native savanna and hardwood forest ecologies will re-establish the site’s ecological functions and integrate a variety of outdoor destinations for employees and visitors.
With their proximity to the Rouge and Detroit Rivers, Ford’s Dearborn campus is uniquely positioned to help restore and repair native ecological and hydrological networks. In doing so, the Master Plan can promote both ecological and social well-being on campus and beyond. From plazas and courtyards to trails through the naturalized landscape, the campus landscape is designed to adapt to and celebrate diurnal, seasonal, climatic and social change, immersing users in highly textured, colorful, and fragrant environments that transform over time. These landscapes, although aesthetically different, are each productive—an extension of the indoor workplace, a thriving habitat, a horticultural amenity, and a set of programmed places for the Ford community to meaningfully engage with each other and natural systems—together promoting a healthy workplace and site ecology. The proposed reconfiguration marks a new chapter in sensitive environmental planning for Ford, as its future growth will be developed in harmony with its natural setting.
The Master Plan embeds outdoor destinations throughout the campus that prioritize the experience of nature. Shared walking, biking, and microtransit paths meander through a diversity of native landscapes and connect to indoor and outdoor campus and neighborhood destinations, including existing monument buildings, pocket parks, small gathering and viewing areas, stormwater features, and pavilions. These stand-alone pavilions provide opportunities for conference rooms, kitchenettes, and restrooms for Ford employees and can serve as locations for day-long retreats, important client, or vendor meetings.
What is the Workplace of the Future?
Today, Ford facilities are dispersed across Southeast Michigan, which limits interaction and collaboration among its employees. An evident craving for connected workspaces emerged from early conversations with the employee group. In the interest of promoting a sense of community among Ford employees, the Master Plan largely consolidates populations at its Dearborn campus where appropriate and possible.
To create a people-first workplace, the Master Plan will empower Ford employees to connect, collaborate, focus, and move comfortably across a range of scales. A framework of key design principles anchors this goal: the Master Plan prioritizes proximity through visual and physical connections, supporting Ford employees’ expressed desire for increased face-to-face interaction. The campus offers a range of spaces varying in character and scale that accommodate a breadth of workflows, from individualized to group work. Careful attention is paid to existing buildings that house critical functions and should be preserved, and are thoughtfully integrated into the transformed campus. Massing strategies respond directly to the existing and proposed architectural and landscape context. Indoor-outdoor spaces increase access to daylight, views, and fresh air, enhancing both productivity and well-being.
To organize the campus and translate its large scale to the day-to-day human experience, the R&E campus is conceptualized as a community of four neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is distinguished by characteristics that respond to their specific program and context, from the bustling workplace at the Hub nearest West Dearborn, to the vibrant public realm of the Exchange along Oakwood Boulevard, to the more integrated fabric of the Hamlet and the naturalistic character of the Retreat.
Highly interconnected workplaces will blur the boundary between buildings and landscape and offer ample daylight, outdoor terraces, roof decks, and views to indoor and outdoor courtyards. The ground plane will largely be comprised of a porous network of interconnected courtyards punctuated by building entrances, lobbies, and other program spaces that require ground level access. This dynamic experience of indoor-outdoor spaces is a defining characteristic throughout the entire future campus.
Within R&E’s pedestrian-focused core, the Master Plan features courtyards, terraces, and rooftops that vary in character and program and aid wayfinding throughout. Each of these pocket spaces respond to their respective ecological zone, neighborhood characteristics, and adjacent buildings, celebrating social, workplace, and ecological productivity in unique ways. From courtyards to shared greenspaces and atria, together these courtyards will create a rich and varied indoor-outdoor experience for the Hub community.
On a more intimate scale, courtyards woven throughout the more integrated Hamlet neighborhood may include edible gardens, pollinator gardens, playscape/discovery gardens, herb/olfactory gardens, and rare native plants gardens. Others, located in the more public-facing Exchange, can be designed for product display, demonstration, and high-volume social interaction while engaging themes such as reduce-reuse-recycle, native Michigan ecotypes, and food production through gardens at ground and roof levels.
While the primary focus of the new master plan is the R&E Center, it also lays out a long term vision for the broader Dearborn campus. The Campus Master Plan embodies the vision for a community-engaged, future-inspired, human-centric workplace. Integrated mobility, site, and architectural systems work in concert to create a distinct and stimulating campus experience for Ford employees, suppliers, visitors, and the public. Parking needs will be consistently evaluated over the course of project implementation.