Car Couture | 'Cadillac House’ Opens At The GM Global Technical Center, Detroit

A Car Is Born: 'CELESTIQ' Custom Atelier Transforms Historic Saarinen Building

Written by

Hannah Bhuiya

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Courtesy of GM Design

“Turning cold steel into the gleaming, eye-arresting beauty of the modern automobile, if you could look inside the mind of the Stylist, you’d probably see a moving mass of forms and colors, shapes and curves, inspired by their subconscious reaction to the things they have seen and felt and dreamed throughout their lives. The motto on the wall: 'The tempo of the times is the basic stimulus of design.’ And given wing is a creative imagination that soars off into the blue of tomorrow while the rest of us are enjoying their designs for today.”

Adapted from the narration of ‘The Look of Things to Come’ by Harley J. Earl, 1955

A true work of Art in the age of mechanical reproduction, the Cadillac CELESTIQ is the ultimate luxury vehicle of tomorrow that you can order today. The new premium flagship EV from Cadillac has been consciously designed as equal parts style and substance, power and personality. Hand-built by automotive artisans and personally crafted to the customer’s wildest dream specifications by a team of aesthetic experts, it boasts polished interiors that feel like riding in like a private jet and drive performance as fast as a high-speed train. FLAUNT was invited to visit the freshly-inaugurated ‘Cadillac House at Vanderbilt’ at the landmark General Motors Technical Centre just north of Detroit in Warren, Michigan to discover more of the story behind this new halo.

The CELESTIQ is a ‘couture’ car that offers each buyer a wild creative ride as well as an ingeniously engineered one. An exclusive VIP invitation to Cadillac House to take part in the exciting customization process is included in your pre-order. During their styling appointments, the owner will directly collaborate with tech and texture professionals and watch their very own American Dream Car take shape before their eyes. Each and every all-electric sedan is a one-off and they will always be deliberately rare - only 6 cars can be at built any given time, and a maximum of 500 examples per year will ever be made. Constructed at the dedicated Artisan Center also hosted at the GMTC, this will be the first open-road vehicle to be entirely coach-built from start to finish onsite.

Courtesy of GM Design

The CELESTIQ adventure is aimed squarely at celebrities and international high-rollers - an order starts at $340,000 and could be further customized to the tune of $100,000+. The chic, ultramodern Cadillac House custom suite is a unique way for a storied heritage brand to interact with this advanced level of consumer who expects only the elevated best. Customer satisfaction is guaranteed though the absolutely dazzling array of options to choose from. 200 specially selected paint tones are offered to start, and any swatch or reference can be color-matched for infinite finish combinations. An array of leathers, wools, tweeds, and other options are laid out thematically to touch and feel, or are revealed via James Bond-style hidden buttons and articulated panels in the walls. A precious art object, a shiny CELESTIQ revolves on a spinning turntable dais. And essential element of the visit is the caliber of people that you can connect with there: Design Director of Cadillac Interiors Erin Crossley, who has personally guided the CELESTIQ concept into being, will be available to work hands-on with future owners. Laetitia Lopez, lead Colors, Materials and Finishes designer is excited to share her textural tricks of the trade: “CELESTIQ provides an unparalleled freedom of expression for the client to create their dream vehicle with a multitude of possibilities to customize and personalize their interior and exterior throughout the immersive experience guided by the Concierge and Cadillac Design Team.”

Complement or clash, match your eyes, your manicure or your favorite Erewhon smoothie, your CELESTIQ can be as stealth-wealth minimal or as extravagantly maximal as you desire. Rosé to key lime, ice blue to Yves Klein cobalt, midnight to anthracite. Pastel or primary. Pinot Noir or Beaujolais Nouveau. Your family crest or a personal emblem 3-D metal printed for the steering wheel or perhaps next to the ethereal streamline Moderne Cadillac ‘Goddess.’ This attention to individuality and identity could be nod to the dreamboat Caddys of the past, where buyers ordered all kinds of possible extra features by ticking a box at the showroom. Or perhaps it's more in tempo with orders from actual Royalty like the Duke of Windsor, who had his custom 1941 Cadillac limousine executed in the utmost taste by the top in-house GM coachbuilders with velvet-lined jewelry cases for the Duchess’s priceless gems and rear-doors monogrammed with ‘W.E.’ In pursuit of personal expression, other famous Cadillac aficionados like Elvis, Liberace and Marvin Gaye entrusted their beloved machines to chop shop cowboys who delivered baroque rides dipped in eccentric hues and literal diamond dust.

Courtesy of GM Design

Being a massive global brand, any Cadillac CELESTIQ dealership can also provide a palette of their custom service options so that clients can order from anywhere they might live. But to truly get the most out of this big-ticket purchase, they really should get those jet wheels down in Detroit. Because it's not just a stylish spot to choose trim - to visit Cadillac House is to encounter a key origin-point of Mid-Century Modern design. A glowing glass cube with panoramic views from all sides, the space’s design power was recognized from its debut, winning an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1955. Originally, the structure served as the ‘Central Restaurant’ of the GMTC providing workers with an upscale alternative to each department’s Pop-bright diner-style cafeterias. Elements have been persevered or restored, including the original speckled black terrazzo and the stunning Harry Bertoia enamelled-steel screen that has illuminated the front entrance since inception. The GMTC maintains a team of in-house Historians, and their meticulously curated archives helped to ensure all aspects of the project met with the precise proportions and principles of the original Saarinen build. Senior Global Cadillac Brand Strategy Designer Alexandra Dymowska dug in and “studied the archival images when developing the aesthetic vision for Cadillac House. These records played an invaluable role in understanding the original use of the space, layout, and its ambiance to help recreate and restore crucial parts and find synergies for modernization.” The ‘Cadillac House at Vanderbilt’ handle pays homage to the work of Suzanne E. Vanderbilt, a designer hired in 1955 directly from the Pratt Institute NYC where she graduated in Industrial Design. For the 1958 ‘Women Designed Cars’ show, Vanderbilt added a telephone to a Cadillac Eldorado Seville Baroness, and revamped a convertible Saxony; she’s also known for the interiors of the Chevrolet Vega and Monza. Retiring in 1977, the spirited Sue not only would have dined here with colleagues many times over the course of her career, Vanderbilt also would have been an eye-witness to the GMTC’s very first reveal - itself.

Photographed by Jenny Risher

When it was designed by Eero Saarinen and his firm in the early 1950s, the General Motors Technical Center was like nothing else in the world; it was a truly visionary moment in Modernism. And while the language of clean lines and concrete blocks is ubiquitous now, employed everywhere from carparks to opera houses, visiting the GMTC rewinds the mind to a time when such pure and daring geometricity had never before been attempted on such a grand scale. A Research and Development compound was first mooted as a necessity for General Motors in 1945: blueprinted from 1948, the full site was dedicated in May 1956 with coast-to-coast fanfare
and a live address from President Eisenhower. Over 30,000 square-feet of curtain glass-fronted structures spread out over 700 acres of former farmland supporting many thousands of workers, it was the largest corporate commission of the 20th Century at the time, with the bill topping out at an astronomical $150 million [adjusted for 2023 = $1.7B]. Vibrant optimism was the founding mood, with visitors greeted by the slogan ‘Where Today Meets Tomorrow’ spelled out in two-foot-high sans-serif block letters atop the Mound Road main entrance gate. (The neatly utopian catchphrase also provided the perfect title for former GM designer and archive department founder Susan Skarsgard’s comprehensive insider-knowledge tome on Saarinen and the GMTC which was published in 2019.) Hailed by Architectural Forum as “an architectural feat which may be unique in our time,” Historic Landmark designation was awarded in 2014. The breadth and complexity of the achievement of the GMTC made Saarinen into a star, put him on the cover of TIME and baptized him as the go-to American corporate-identity maker.

Surveying the GMTC, it’s clear that no matter whatever the current post-modern fad or façade might be, Saarinen’s work is timeless. When faced with the logistical and formal problems that the commission presented, the locally-raised, Cranbrook Academy educated Saarinen intuitively developed his own ways of making thoroughly modern materials converge into an epic, monumental statement. His mixmaster genius was served by access to Detroit's skilled metal workshops and GM's other divisions, allowing him to give contemporary form to the ancient and universal geometries which he referred to as the “great awarenesses of the past.” Applying these
everywhere here, he built solid and for the long game; his plans were embedded with a ‘radical flexibility’ that means that only very few alterations have been required to update ateliers and studios for the metallurgists of the 21st Century.

Courtesy of GM Design

The Technical Centre today, as then, is a palimpsest of the best in man-made and natural forms. There is a basis in serene ‘International Style’ but with an added touch of graphic shock to challenge the eye and stimulate creativity levels. This is a harmonious yet active composition, where neutral stones like marble and travertine are contrasted with the playful color-block custom-glazed bricks that surprise-punctuate the endzone of each edifice. New dreamcars were, and are still, taken out to be photographed against these conveniently placed vertical backdrops of cadmium red, tangerine flake and royal blue... Even the trees, all 13,000 of them, both evergreen
and deciduous, were planted so that their seasonal colors would mature harmoniously into the visual plane. Not to forget the actual Modern Art. For upon the shimmering expanse of the 22-acre rectilinear reflecting lake around which all structures are set, a fountain sculpture from Alexander Calder, ‘Water Ballet’ dances. ‘Bird in Flight,’ an organic bronze from Russian constructivist Antoine Pesvner was glimpsed in miniature by Madame Saarinen in Paris; a huge version makes a permanently soaring statement at Styling entrance. It’s Industrial Design magic.

As well as a functional and visual marvel, it really was a sound investment. Bringing the talents and skills of in-house workers (marques at that time being Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet + GMC) together with those of imaginative outside consultants for activation at the innately artful GMTC campus was a roaring success. This was the moment when post-war black and white switched to Technicolor - culturally, these cars were so much more than just cars. With evocative names like Firebird, Stingray, Cyclone, Le Sabre, Eldorado and DeVille, shaped like rockets and torpedos with swooping and flowing lines and chrome armature, GM’s candyland
creations seared themselves into the hearts, minds and childhood memories of several generations and functioned as ambassadors of American wonder to the wider world. Man was about to make it to the Moon and into a Jetsons future where we would glide through the air in modular supercities; 2001: A Space Odyssey was forming in the mind of Kubrick. General Motors proactively and presciently expressed these ideas through their ‘Futurama’ exhibits at the New York World’s Fair in both 1939 and 1965 as well as the ‘Motorama’ shows which traveled around the US throughout the same period. Highly theatrical and cinematic, models twirled in high-fashion outfits matched to the cars, which were craned through clouds of colored smoke or clusters of balloons to land on a revolving dais. In November 1954, just as the steel beams of the GMTC site were being set, a Chevy Bel-Air coupe was having its hardware gilded in real 24-Karat plate to match its limited-edition ‘Anniversary Gold’ finish. This was ‘The 50th Millionth GM Car’ ever swung off the factory line and it was paraded through the streets in celebration of the milestone.

Courtesy of GM Design

This bold yet poetic way of creating and communicating a product arrived with mid-century master showman Harley J. Earl, a carmaker from Los Angeles who bought some Golden Age Hollywood sophistication with him when he was headhunted to work at GM Detroit in the late 1920s. His super-stylish 1927 Cadillac La Salle became the first vehicle designed by one man as an integrated whole. Earl’s ‘Art and Color Section’ established the artistic sculptural studio techniques - from full-scale 3 dimensional clay modelling to dynamic airbrushed renderings - which revolutionized the entire automotive industry and are still in use. The formidable California
transplant was also a master marketeer. He wanted the consumer to know that cars didn’t fall from the sky with wings and fins, but were a product of the imagination of men and women who lived and worked in the same world they did - ‘The Stylists.’ His aims were infused into GM’s 1950s publicity shorts such as the seminal ‘The Look of Things to Come,’ (whose eponymous booklet is a 'how to’ of modernism) ‘Up From Clay’ (about the Styling Design process) or ‘Body Bountiful’ (about the Fisher Body
process). A stylishly lensed journey inside the General Motors Design studios 1958 is part of ‘The American Look’ film which emphasizes ‘that a car is not a thing unto itself but a thing in the world, a world of remarkable beauty and harmonious form and color.’ Centre-stage throughout these presentations is the unmistakable wall
texture and Modernist-classic furniture of the GMTC, which was - and is - an essential part of communicating this Total Vision.

At the Styling Building today, Harley Earl’s present successor Vice President of Global Design Michael Simcoe looks out on the shimmering lake from behind the same angular cherrywood desk HJE did. And it is from this vantage point that Simcoe and the interlinked creative and engineering teams at the GMTC have ushered in a convoy of vehicle concepts that both align with the company’s progressive founding principles and are powered by the extreme advances in knowledge and technology they have spurred forward. To conceive to invite their most valuable clients to Detroit and into the inner sanctum of the Global Technical Centre as part of the CELESTIQ purchasing experience demonstrates GM’s sincere belief in the renaissance and regeneration of their home base region and their vibrant optimism about its cultural wealth and essential role in the still unfolding story of American industrial production. This is a company clearly unafraid to put their money where their motors are.

Courtesy of GM Design

The spectacular view from the office window also takes in the shining Space-Age beauty of the ‘Styling Dome,’ aka The GM Design Auditorium. The aluminum-and-steel cupola is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Technical Center and never takes a bad photo. It was designed to be accessible from the building’s subterranean alleys so that no matter what the weather, bosses could stroll over to conduct car reviews under a range of different lighting conditions without hazard to their suits. Nearly every GM body since 1956 has been evaluated under the hallowed Dome, and review approvals include several glamorous members of the rapidly
expanding Cadillac all-electric ‘IQ' family. The Cadillac LYRIQ, CELESTIQ and 2025 ESCALADE IQ were just joined in late November ’23 by the launch of the 2025 Cadillac OPTIQ. A variation of the same EV core template, the OPTIQ SUV is a smaller, but still luxuriously appointed electric vehicle placed at a TBA entry-level price point that will also use GM's Ultium Battery platform.

And so it was fitting that the GMTC Detroit adventure was rounded out with a smooth Downtown (Super)cruise in the CELESTIQ and OPTIQ’s sibling the Cadillac LYRIQ SUV. The impressive waterfront vista is dominated by the cylindrical mirror-glass turrets of the GMRenCen, casting a Bladerunner silhouette over the skyline since
1976 and in General Motors ownership since 1996. At dusk, stopped at a traffic light, I spy the image of a royal blue CELESTIQ glowing out from a back-lit Renaissance Centre sign. It’s the first real-world advertisement for the dream machine that I have seen so far - and to me, its serendipitous apparition here in right the heart of Detroit signifies that this exploratory journey has come full circle. As has this story about industry and imagination, craft and creativity, pride and passion.

Simcoe is on record regarding the CELESTIQ with: “When this goes down the road, there will be nothing like it.” He’s right. When this work of Art is let loose on the streets, each car one-of-one, it will take personal driving pleasure vrooming off into the beyond. Heads will turn and children will look up in wonder as it passes. The message will be clear: Dream big. #BeIconic. Come to the place Where Today Meets Tomorrow. I depart Detroit in awe of the past and content in the knowledge that the future of automotive is being built here, each handmade part at a time. With CELESTIQ, GM are aiming for the sky - and reaching it.

Courtesy of GM Design
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