The Living Rouge Center
By Lou Ann Hammond
The land was really worth nothing back then. It was marshland, unsuitable for farming. But farming wasn’t what Henry Ford had in mind when he bought the land. Henry liked to build cars. He was a tinkerer, always looking for a new innovation. The pioneering design of a one-level concrete, steel and glass assembly line was Henry’s idea. Now, in 2004 Bill Ford is taking his Great-Grandfather’s design and redeveloping the 600-acre Ford Rouge Center into the world’s largest and oldest environmentally friendly industrial icon.
The 10.4-acre roof is composed of a drought resistant perennial groundcover, called sedum. Virtually maintenance-free, except for those Kildare birds that like the free housing, it can absorb up to 4 million gallons of rainwater annually. Hailed as the world’s largest living roof (as if the Ford’s didn’t have enough 1st’s in the Guinness World Records book) it will reduce storm water runoff, insulate the building, and create oxygen. Economically, the roof will last twice as long and there is a savings of about 5 percent per year in utilities. More money could be saved if Bill would apply for Section 8 – the low-income housing allowance for the birds and the children they keep hatching on his roof.
A stream of Consciousness
Henry Ford built the Rouge center over a marsh with poorly draining clay soil. Over the years, floods have caused production delays at the complex, a very costly expenditure. At this point, if I were Bill, I would have probably thought about finding another place to build. In fact, let me just go on the record and say, if ever there was a reason for not wanting to live in Dearborn 300,000,000 gallons of water over 600 acres in one year would be one of them. That sounds like a lot more water per acre per year than my little one acre in California gets. And it includes that cold white stuff Northerners call snow. Cold, bad go south. The natural treatment system reduces the amount of storm-water entering the Rouge River, reducing production delays at the complex. Smart… And the natural system costs a third of the amount as a conventional storm-water treatment center. I’m not sure about you, but Bills not looking as much like an environmentalist as he is a smart businessperson. hmm…
Beeworkers of America unite, or I work for food
Bill Ford has employed 20,000 worker bees. Before you alert the UAW you should know, they really are bees – honeybees. The bees are responsible for pollinating the 85,000 flowering perennials, 20,000 shrubs and hundreds of new trees planted on both sides of Miller Road. The Wildlife Habitat Council has recognized the more than 22 acres as a wildlife habitat – the bees are still negotiating a union contract. I would negotiate with them Bill. You’ve never been around 20,000 swarming bees when you’re holding their honey hostage.
And look, they make vehicles there too!
The Model A was the first car produced at the Rouge Center, beginning in 1927. That was after submarine chasers, Eagle boats, torpedo boats, PT boats and then tractors. It is now to be home to the all-new Ford F-150. The Rouge center will include one of the worlds most advanced and flexible manufacturing facilities, capable of building up to nine different models on three vehicle platforms. It even includes wood – instead of concrete – where the workers stand, so their backs take less pressure. No Mr. Cynic, beavers in the wild didn’t gnaw the wood down.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Why do any of this? Some of the reasons are simple and gosh they make good business sense as well;
Lower annual energy costs
Lower long-term maintenance costs
Use and work around non-toxic, easily recycled materials
Create healthier work environment Improve employee productivity
Improve market image Improve the environment.
Back in the 1920s tours used to draw as many as 250,000 visitors annually. School children to heads of state would come to marvel at history in the making. Tours will begin again in 2004. Once again, visitors will come to marvel at history in the making. The tours will be an education in manufacturing and a paradigm in industrial design. But those bees, Bill – they scare me.