The search for where McLaren automobiles are manufactured will take you to no other place but the McLaren Technology Center in Woking, Surrey, England. It is a sprawling 50-hectare housing the McLaren Technology Center – the heart and command post of the McLaren Group – and the McLaren production facility (or McLaren Production Center) where the actual “minting” is done.
Completed in 2004 and 2011, the site serves as headquarters for the British marque and its subsidiaries. It is home to around a thousand McLaren employees. Not that you should go knocking on their door without an invitation, you can find the Center at an unassuming roundabout on the A320 outskirts of London.
Despite the gargantuan size of the $367 million (according to BBC News) ear-shaped office complex, the site is barely visible from the road, as is common with such critical architectural marvels around the world. Sir Norman Foster of Foster + Partners designed the hemispherical architectural masterpiece. The property is home to an assemblage of high-tech companies responsible for the design and development of Speedmark’s sports cars, Formula 1 cars, composite materials, and electronic systems.
A Brief History Of The McLaren Technology Center
It wasn’t a smooth ride from the start to the finish line for the MTC project. Although the Woking Borough Council gave the green light in 1995 and work kicked off in 1998, it wasn’t until May 2003 that McLaren employees started using the facility. Even so, it was a speedy development for a project of that size.
Having applied to build its headquarters- originally called Paragon Technology Center – on the site, McLaren ran into a speed bump after the Department of Environment ordered a public inquiry due to the Green Belt status of the proposed site for the MTC facility.
According to GreenBelt.Org, “‘Greenbelt’ is a general term that refers to natural, undeveloped, and/or agricultural lands that surround urban areas. These lands may include open spaces, parks, farms and ranches, wildlands, or a combination thereof—as designated by cities, counties, special districts, and other jurisdictions.” An area can be designated Green Belt to keep it permanently open and prevent urban sprawl.
In other words, the UK Department of the Environment considered a massive industrial project such as the McLaren Technology Center a possible infringement on the Green Belt conservationist policy aimed at controlling urban growth. Department of Environment Secretary John Gummer approved the project in March 1997 under “very special circumstances.”
The inquiry concluded that the economic benefits of the proposed development outweigh the risk of urban sprawling while trusting in the “exceptional” quality of McLaren’s products and achievements. Over four thousand workers worked at the site of what the Financial Times described as “the biggest privately funded construction project in Europe.”
After Daimler Chrysler bought a 40 percent stake in the company, McLaren announced the complex would house the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren facility. To explain the idea behind the colossal project, the Founder and CEO of McLaren Group said, “Put a man in a dark room, he’s hot, it smells bad, versus a guy in a cool room, well-lit, smells nice… When you throw a decision at those two individuals, who’s going to be better equipped to effect good judgment and make a good decision?”
What You Don’t Know About The McLaren Technology Center
Did you know that the Tooned cartoon series featuring Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton was set at the McLaren facility? Also, did you know McLaren Technology Center has a secret room squirreled behind a false wall and another sliding wall panel? If you got invited to preview the bun in the oven, this room is where you’d meet the marque’s latest models.
You were probably stumped when we said earlier that the McLaren Technology Center was completed in 2004 and 2011, respectively. That’s because the marque’s production facility (McLaren Production Center) was later added to the site and completed in 2011. It sits immediately southwest of the main building, connected via a belowground walkway. The walkway is lined with interactive exhibition spaces.
A separate subterranean 2-story building is home to the Visitor Center featuring educational facilities such as an exhibition space and lecture theater. McLaren’s inclusion of the Production Center (MPC) at the site helped boost production capacity and made it easier to introduce new road-legal cars like the McLaren 720S, the McLaren Senna, and the 600bhp MP4-12C, hand-built sans conveyor belts or robots.
In the summer of 2019, the British automaker celebrated consistently making an average of 20 cars a day at the McLaren Production Center.
The Norman Foster-designed supersized ear-shaped, glass-walled facility is the main building and serves as the McLaren Group’s primary Center of Operations. This very building was shortlisted for the 2005 Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize, although the Scottish Parliament building bagged the coveted prize.
McLaren continued to extend the facility by envisioning other subsidiaries such as the McLaren Applied Technology Center and a wind tunnel to sharpen the McLaren Racing aerodynamic design. These buildings are not haphazard extensions you’d immediately recognize as afterthoughts when you see them. Like everything else with the marque’s fingerprints, nothing about the McLaren Technology Center is left to chance or executed without the extreme organization and precision the marquee is known for.
The main building overlooks a lake, skirted by an arched drive that snakes into the facility’s open reserve. After more than ten years, the building seems to inspire the level of confidence you’d expect from the people that work there. Alan Foster, Director of Operations at McLaren Automotive, said, “We’re seen as a secretive organization. That comes from our Formula One side. At McLaren Automotive we have to be outward-facing.”