Ford revamps plans for Dearborn campus redesign

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. and CEO Jim Hackett have new plans to update the automaker's facilities in Dearborn to create an interconnected campus of new and modernized buildings.

Ford plans to redesign its Research and Engineering campus on Oakwood into a walkable campus for 20,000 employees. The initial phase of the new plan would see construction of a new figure-eight building called "The Hub," shown here in a rendering.

The new plans, detailed to Ford employees Tuesday morning, focus on redesigning the automaker's Research and Engineering campus on Oakwood less than three miles from the company's World Headquarters into a walkable campus for 20,000 employees that's more closely integrated into the Dearborn community. New plans get rid of the iron gates that separate Ford's campus from the rest of the city and move the research and engineering campus closer to Oakwood so that the public can visit coffee shops and restaurants planned for the site.

A rendering of the new research and development campus at Ford Motor Company.

The plans announced Tuesday scrap those brought forth in 2016 by former CEO Mark Fields. That 10-year transformation plan would have followed largely the same ideals as Hackett's new plan, but Hackett has hired a new lead architecture firm, Norway-based Snohetta, that's come up with a new site plan aimed at attracting and retaining new talent to southeast Michigan as Ford navigates an uncertain future in the automotive industry.

The research and Development campus at Ford Motor Company is slated to get a refresh.

"When you couple the emergence of this idea in parallel with Corktown and the train station, the Ford footprint is really changing in southeast Michigan," Hackett said. "You're starting to see the vision we've been working on."

The changes would ultimately revamp the low-ceiling, cubicle-riddled labyrinth that is Ford's existing research and engineering center in favor of interconnected office spaces with open, naturally lit floor plans featuring monochromatic designs.

The new plans would take roughly the same amount of time to complete as those announced in 2016. The initial phase of Hackett and company's new plan would see construction of a new figure-eight building called "The Hub" on vacant land and parking lots on the research campus. Initial construction there would be finished by 2022, at which point the automaker plans to tear down the existing Product Development Center on the northwest corner of the campus to finish construction of The Hub by 2025.

"We've not lost time from 2016 and that master plan," Ford Land Co. CEO Dave Dubensky said. "That plan sort of informed how we're going to look at the 300-acre research and engineering site."

A rendering showing Ford Motor Company's new campus research and development campus.

The automaker's real estate arm spent the last roughly three years building out some of the infrastructure for the Dearborn redesign. That included a data center behind World Headquarters. The new research and engineering company would keep cars and trucks on the perimeter of the campus, using interior roadways for "shared transportation" like electrified bikes, scooters and shuttles.

The research and engineering campus is currently made up of stand-alone buildings, and swaths of open land diced up by streets. The new plan calls for a campus that would be easily adaptable as the workplace continues to change. It would also aim to amplify a "corridor" dominated by Ford along Michigan Avenue. Seven miles east, the automaker has started to develop its Corktown campus, which would see the Michigan Central Depot restored and packed with 5,000 employees by 2022.

Ford Motor Company today detailed an expanded vision to transform its Research & Engineering Center in Dearborn.

Ford hasn't commented on costs, but experts have estimated the Dearborn plans would cost around $1 billion. The automaker has said its Corktown plans would be funded from the same money the automaker allocated to pay for the Dearborn plans.

Ford officials have said they're looking at ways to do all of the construction efficiently. Hackett's been at the helm of a multi-year, $25.5 billion cost cutting initiative on the back of an $11 billion global restructuring plan that would reform Ford into a more nimble company fit to brave an uncertain future of fewer vehicle sales, electrified powertrains, self-driving vehicles and new modes of transportation.

But Hackett and other Ford leaders have said they need to make the company an attractive place to work in order to succeed in that future. That means updating aged buildings and adapting the footprint in the automaker's hometown.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau