Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Body by Fisher

Body by Fisher.  Anyone who grew up in the 60's and 70's around autombiles will recognize that name as synonymous for style and quality.  One would see this symbol, usually on the doorsill as one steps into a General Motors couldn't miss it.  I had a 60's era Pontiac for a while, and my dad had a Chevrolet Impala and later an Oldsmobile.  All had a "Body by Fisher". 

In my recent ramblings around Detroit the evidence of past automotive glory are unmistakable...and sometimes the emphasis of past glory is more on the past than the present.  Such it is with the Fisher Body Plant, located not far from downtown Detroit.

My first view of the plant was from the freeway.  Thankfully traffic was slow enough I could grab a few shots as I waited for traffic to move.  The textures in the image are amazing...the broken windows, exposed red brick, peeling concrete punctuated by colorful graffiti.  I was able to get closer in later images.

The Fisher Body Plant was originally built by General Motors in 1919 with the help of reknowned industrial architect Albert Kahn, shortly after GM bought the operations from the Fisher Brothers.  An interesting feature is the all-concrete construction used in the building, which was different than the Ford Piquette plant built just a few blocks away that still used wooden floors in the structure (and which become a fire hazard when oil and grease seeped into the wood).   Architect Kahn also extensively used large windows to make the assembly areas well lit with natural light.  The plant supplied all the body panels for General Motors vehicles until 1984 when it was shut down.  It has remained empty ever since.

The Fisher Body Plant is just one of many such buildings in this area sitting empty and derelict, often separated from each other by expanses of overgrown parking lots or empty fields.  The lack of human presence gave it an eerie post-apocolyptic feel. 

A glimpse inside offered a peek into what was once a bustling enterprise, and one can easily imagine the fenders, trunk lids, doors and quarter-panels set on pallets ready for shipment to the assembly plant. Now, the silence is often broken by the flutter of pigeons or the caw of nearby crows...or possibly a broken bottle tossed by a squatter.

One of my primary interests is the effect of decay on a building's structure after so many decades of neglect and exposure to the elements.  Here one can see the exposed steel reinforcing on the underside of the second floor slab, where the concrete cover has fallen away.

Seeing the window blinds hanging cattawampus behind broken window panes and underscored by the urban scrawl beneath it only accentuates the sense of abandonment. 

Much has been written and documented about the decline of the American automobile industry, and one could certainly argue that older plants such as this one have been replaced with newer and more efficient ones scattered throughout the country, leading to a recent resurgence of this industry.  Yet seeing the old buildings, once thriving and bustling but now derelict, is perhaps analagous to us as a country...or perhaps us as individuals? 

Are we willing to sit back and let ourselves do the same?