Ford Motor Company's River Rouge Plant
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Ford Motor Company's River Rouge Plant Greenroof in Full Bloom, 2006; Photo Courtesy of Xero Flor America, LLCProject Name: Ford Motor Company's River Rouge Plant
Year: 2003
Owner: The Ford Motor Company
Location: Dearborn, MI, USA
Building Type: Industrial
Type: Extensive, Test/Research
System: Custom
Size: 454000 sq.ft.
Slope: 1.5%
Access: Inaccessible, By Appointment
Submitted by:

Designers/Manufacturers of Record:
Architects: William McDonough + Partners
Vegetated Mats: Xero Flor
Environmental Consultant: ARCADIS
Construction Manager: Walbridge Aldinger
Research Support: Michigan State University, Department of Crop & Soil Science and Department of Horticulture
Stormwater Consultant: Cahill Associates
Vegetation Consultant: Wildtype Native Plants
Plant Suppliers: Hortech, Inc. and Walters Gardens, Inc.
Waterproofing: Siplast
Roof Membrane Installer: Christen, Detroit
Drainage: Colbond, Inc.
Skylight Close-up from 2006; Photo Courtesy of Xero Flor America, LLCLaying the Vegetated Mats, September, 2002. Courtesy Ford Motor CompanyKildeer nest aong Sedums in June, 2004; Photo Courtesy of Ford
In 2000, the 600-acre, $2 billion Ford Rouge Center near Dearborn, Michigan, underwent major redevelopment, laying the groundwork for sustainable manufacturing at one of the world's largest and oldest industrial icons. The above rendering commissioned by McDonough + Partners, rendered by Richard Rochon, included numerous pilots of advanced environmental concepts and a new assembly plant with the nation's largest ecologically inspired living roof on an industrial building.

About 454,000 square feet of assembly plant roofing is covered with sedum and other succulent plants. The roof reduces stormwater runoff by holding an inch of rainfall. Also, the living plants absorb carbon dioxide as part of photosynthesis, so oxygen is emitted and greenhouse gases are reduced.

Redevelopment of the 1917 complex formed the foundation for the company's vision of balancing lean manufacturing with environmental sensitivity. "This is not environmental philanthropy; it is sound business, which for the first time, balances the business needs of auto manufacturing with ecological and social concerns in the redesign of a brownfield site," said Ford Chairman Bill Ford in 2000, whose great-grandfather Henry Ford constructed the complex.

"This is what I think sustainability is about, and this new facility lays the groundwork for a model of 21st century sustainable manufacturing at the Rouge. While most companies would rather move than invest in a 83-year-old site, we view this as an important reinvestment in our employees, our hometown and an American icon of the 20th century," Ford added.
1930's PhotoJuly 2003
Above right is a photo from the 1930's of what the plant used to look like, compared to the plant in July, 2003. The River Rouge Plant, also known as Ford Dearborn Truck Assembly Plant, won the 2004 Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Award of Excellence in the Extensive Industrial Commercial category.

The design of the new assembly plant includes people-friendly features such as overhead safety walkways, day lighting, team rooms, cooler air in the summer months and relaxing places to congregate. Tim O'Brien, Ford director of Environmental Quality, said project planners are designing a system, which, over time, "will use ecologically advanced methods for stormwater management, energy usage, air quality and soil restoration."

Aside from the huge greenroof, other environmental initiatives include:

Swales, or shallow green vegetated ditches seeded with indigenous plants - a pilot involving swales and retention ponds will be used to regulate water flow and evaporation and improve stormwater management on the site; Phytoremediation which uses natural plants to rid soil of contaminants; Porous paving, a surface that filters water through retention beds with 2-3 feet of compacted stones, is another pilot project that helps manage stormwater runoff; Greenscreens, trellises for flowering vines and other plants, shade and help cool the Rouge Office Building; Renewable energy sources: the use of solar cells and fuel cells will be included in the project. For example, fuel cells will provide power for some computer systems in the new plant. The company also is evaluating the possibility of GeoExchange and wind power demonstration projects; Planting of more than 1,500 trees and thousands of other plantings to attract songbirds and create habitats.

In fact, in late June 2004, a company photographer was up on the roof and spied a mother Killdeer and her eggs -see thumbnail photos below - a sure sign that one of the World's Largest Greenroofs is doing one of its jobs, providing habitat for local wildlife originally lost to the footprint of the building. Ford reported that this was the third nest found within the the last two years since the 454,000 sf extensive greenroof had been up.

Michigan State University has partnered with Ford on this project -- believed to be the first such experiment on this scale with the challenging soil conditions on the site. If the pilot is successful, it will be used elsewhere on the site and potentially could become an ecologically friendly alternative to hauling contaminated soil to landfills in the future. A portion of the original Dearborn Glass Plant is being saved to preserve its legendary design by Detroit architect Albert Kahn. The project depends upon completion of negotiations for local, county and state incentives (Don Russell, personal communications, March 2001).

Additional thumbnail photos:

Photo Courtesy of Xero Flor AmericaJune, 2004: Mother Killdeer on the Roof; Photo Courtesy Don Russell, Ford Motor CompanyAerial photo, November 2007. Photo Courtesy of Xero Flor AmericaThe Ford River Rouge Plant greenroof in May, 2012; Photo Courtesy of Xero Flor AmericaA beautiful flowering roof meadow on June 8, 2006, Photo Courtesy Xero Flor America
Plan Your Visit - During the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, visitors will have the opportunity to see the living roof from an 80-foot observation deck atop the Visitor Center. Call Center: 800.835.5237; see the Tour Page. Visit the Ford Motor Company Media website. Read the October 2013 Guest Feature Article Ford Dearborn Truck Plant Green Roof at the Rouge Complex: Looking Back Ten Years by David Aquilina on and the William McDonough + Partners project profile where you see additional photos and many news articles, plus the 2010 Ford Rouge Green Roof Status. Read the November 11, 2002 Ford's Rouge Plant Charts Automaking for the 21st Century from Andrew G. Wright with Joann Gonchar in Engineering News-Record.

Learn about Xero Flor America in The Greenroof & Greenwall Directory.
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