Ford Experience Center is reimagined to promote connection

Michigan is known for its history-making contributions to the motor industry. A big name in the business of automobiles still has its roots here, with Ford Motor Company. Portions of their 305-acre corporate campus in Dearborn recently underwent a massive makeover. The new Ford Experience Center reflects the company’s expertise in mobility and travel. The immersive, two-story space allows Ford team members, dealers and thought leaders to connect and create. 

Landscape Forms, an industry leader based in Kalamazoo, was at the forefront of the project. The company designs and crafts landscapes to enhance the outdoor experience, using adaptive outdoor structures, seating, shelters, signage, bike racks, LED lights and more. Their work has included projects all over the world, including for Harvard University, the city of New York, Google, Coca Cola, Nike and hospitals. They were named Michigan Manufacturer of the Year by the Michigan Manufacturers Association, and one of Southwest Michigan’s Wonderful Workplaces by 269 Magazine. 
Photo courtesy of Landscape Forms
This particular indoor/outdoor renovation project was a collaborative effort between Zaremba & Company and Ghafari Associates. Angela Cwayna is a senior designer at Ghafari Associates and works in interior design as well as outdoor architecture. Cwayna worked on the design and layout of the interior space at Ford. She says the previous look and feel of the building was dark and outdated, and the project called to revitalize the space and make it more appealing and useful.

“Transparency is a big deal to Ford,” Cwayna says. The space is a large oval-shaped building, and it’s really enclosed. In collaboration with Jennifer Kolstad, in-house global design and brand director for Ford, we worked very closely with her on this design. We opened up the facade, took down a lot of the concrete walls around this oval. Relating back to Ford’s transparency, we used glass. When you walk past the building, you’re able to see directly inside of it.”

Although it can display the future of electric vehicles and advances in modern technology, the open, airy, classic space feels timeless, says Cwayna. 

“We weren’t trying to do anything kitschy. We wanted these finishes and this interior to stand the test of time,” she says. “We went pretty simple with the wood floors, and there’s white terrazzo floors throughout the building. There's oak wood on a lot of the elements throughout the clean, bright space.”
Photo by Garrett Rowland
To avoid echoing, the acoustic plaster ceiling absorbs the sound. The facade features electrochromic glass, which brings in ample light, but can also tint for shade. The adaptable space can be used for special events, team meetings, product launches and features a gallery center, cafe, full-service kitchen, lecture hall and a pilot program space. The front door was realigned to line up with the Henry Ford Museum, creating a perfect sightline to the facility, tying together the past and present of Ford. Outdoor terraces and the patio spaces for mixers and events create an open environment, extending the design elements to the exterior. 

“We handed initial concepts over to Zaremba, and they took it to the moon,” Cwayna says. “They designed all the exterior landscaping, came up with the beautiful benches you see outside and integrated the furniture from Landscape Forms to have a cohesive exterior experience. We wanted it to feel just as welcoming and dynamic on the inside and outside.”

Studio 431 partnered with Ed’s Concrete, out of Ontario, Canada, to produce the precast concrete that formed the retaining walls and seating.

The project kicked off in 2019, with construction starting in early 2020, which was halted briefly due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, the jobsite reopened, following protocols, and was completed in Feb. 2022.
Photo courtesy of Landscape Forms
Cwayna says the symbolic design project represents the past, present, and future of the Ford Motor Company.

“This building will be the ‘front door’ so to speak of a 600-acre campus that Ford’s developing behind this building,” she says. “Visitors of the Henry Ford Museum can look right across the street, and see this beautiful building that’s telling the tale of where Ford is going.”
Photo by Garrett Rowland
“It’s this huge, expansive space, so we wanted to make sure that it felt human-centric,” Cwayna says. “The scale is large, but we didn’t want it to feel overwhelming, we wanted it to be comfortable. We paid attention to the sound of the area.”

The redesign has been well received by Ford, and has been awarded recognition too. In June, The Ford Experience Center received an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects’ Michigan Chapter. 

From furniture to shoes, from arts to education to even policy creation, design is everywhere you look. Designed in Michigan, a new story series coming out of West Michigan, is devoted to sharing the expansive role design plays in Michigan's past, present and future. It is made possible through the support of Kendall College of Art and Design and Landscape Forms.
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