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GM's Renaissance Center Opens in Detroit

With its dedication earlier this month of a new public entrance and lobby, General Motors has completed its eight-year, $500-million renovation of Detroit’s Renaissance Center. Opened in 1977 from a design by John Portman of Atlanta, the RenCen is Detroit’s postcard image, consisting of four 39-story office towers surrounding a central 73-story hotel. Although designed to rejuvenate the city’s deteriorating downtown, the RenCen instead became the focus of criticism for its perceived design flaws, including huge mechanical berms that walled off the structure from the rest of downtown, and the failure to address even minimally the Detroit River waterfront that borders the site.

After buying RenCen in 1996 for its world headquarters, GM worked with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to remove the berms, build a Wintergarden and plaza on the waterfront side, install an internal circulation ring to aid way-finding in the RenCen’s notoriously labyrinthine corridors, and create the new glass-and-steel public entrance facing downtown.

John Gallagher