With the 1940s came a compulsion to move headquarters from the inner-city sprawl to more tranquil environs out of town. Is the resurgent migration a retreat to a natural idyll or a calculated isolation?
The phrase ‘corporate campus’ speaks of the copulation of industry and academia in the Edenic suburbs of the postwar United States. Downtown towers had once been the ideal for ambitious firms, but then the inner city began to lose its cachet – it was too black, too unruly, too expensive and, thanks to the rise of the car, too congested for the executives’ tastes. The car also facilitated their next move, one that would ironically deliver a real blow to urban vitality as businesses retreated to gated communities in the countryside. But there was something less than pacific lurking in the garden.
At the end of his presidency in 1961, Eisenhower warned of the ‘unwarranted influence’ of the ‘military–industrial complex’ on American politics. Senator J William Fulbright, founder of the eponymous exchange programme, expanded the duo to a triumvirate: the ‘military–industrial–academic complex’. During the war, vast sums of money had flowed through this matrix into research institutes such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The success of the initiative – culminating in the bombing of Hiroshima – led to its postwar continuation, fuelled by Cold War paranoia.
‘The phrase “corporate campus” speaks of the copulation of industry and academia in the Edenic suburbs of the postwar United States’
The foundation of Illinois Institute of Technology in 1940 and its subsequent annexation of a poor black neighbourhood of Chicago under the architectural supervision of Mies van der Rohe gave this complex a distinctive architectural expression. Modular, high-tech units were distributed across parkland in an updated version of the Jeffersonian university, an arrangement that theoretically permitted rapid growth and reconfiguration – ideal conditions for an American worldview no longer bound by the ocean but opened up to a new era of international expansion. The architecture itself spoke of this readiness for action in its rhetorical demountability, its appearance as a kit of (beautifully arranged) parts.
Infosys Bengaluru India 2005 Hafeez Contractor
Gordon Bunshaft turned to Mies’s example when SOM was commissioned to design a pioneering out-of-town headquarters for Connecticut General Life Insurance in Bloomfield, Illinois. The few earlier examples of the type, such as AT&T Bell Labs at Murray Hill (completed in 1942), had followed the traditional university model more closely. Bell Labs’ tweediness was designed to attract high-quality staff more accustomed to the prestige of educational institutions, and it worked: the transistor was invented there in 1947 and by 1958 the facility had 4,200 employees, making it the largest industrial research centre in the United States.
Completed in 1957, SOM’s Connecticut General Life Insurance HQ is strikingly different, and impeccably modern. It comprises a central administrative building orbited by a dining block and an executive wing, with the whole encircled by a sea of green – a pastoral effect somewhat marred by the large car parks necessitated by its isolation. Nevertheless, a flood of imitations followed when chief execs realised that – contrary to their initial misgivings – relocation actually decreased staff turnover. The fact that it eradicated their own commutes may also have held some appeal: William H Whyte found that of the 34 rusticated corporations he studied, 31 had moved closer to the homes of their CEOs.
‘The car faciliated a blow to urban vitality - businesses retreated to gated communities in the countryside’
This success strengthened the campus ideology of a quasi-feudal ideal community set apart from the corruption of the city, where de-proletarianised money-makers could frolic in ‘pastoral capitalism’, to use Louise Mozingo’s phrase. Whether increased staff retention was really due to greater satisfaction or because relocated employees found it harder to switch jobs once trapped in the suburbs – becoming corporate serfs, in other words – is a matter for speculation.
Eero Saarinen perfected the campus type in the late 1950s and early ’60s with projects for General Motors, IBM, Bell Labs and John Deere. This last is immensely impressive, its wooded landscaping democratising the picturesque estate for the lucky few who got to live the American dream. But when Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo took over from Saarinen, the campus moved into its postmodern phase. No longer a demonstration of the abstract technocratic power of the American corporation, these idiosyncratic buildings – a collection of inverted pyramids for College Life, a vast Palladian villa for General Foods, fractal extrusions from a multi-storey car park set deep in woodland for Union Carbide – represented instead what Roche called a ‘turn to identity’.
Bell Labs Holmdel New Jersey USA 1962 Eero Saarinen2
Source: Rob Dobi
By 1940, US corporations controlled 60 per cent of the world’s industrial production. Global dominance inevitably bred imitation and variations on the campus theme emerged the world over, even as the suburban HQ waned in its American heartland following the oil shock. Roche and Dinkeloo’s later career saw them exporting the type overseas, to the dynastic businesses of old Europe. Among these, the gargantuan HQ of French telecoms company Bouygues is particularly gobsmacking, a second Versailles located three miles from the original, while Santander City (2005) houses 6,500 staff in a series of pavilions outside Madrid.
‘Wooded landscaping democratised the picturesque estate for the lucky few who got to live the American dream’
In the UK, High-Tech architects looked back to Saarinen’s glory days for inspiration. Hopkins’ 1985 Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre is an impressively engineered large tent for testing oil-exploration technology, the corporate liaison of an ancient university playing catch-up with its transatlantic cousins. In 1990, Britain also got a very distinguished postmodern campus in the form of Cullinan’s Ready Mix Concrete HQ, a series of green-roofed one-storey pavilions surrounding a 19th-century house in the Surrey countryside. It returns the corporate pastoral to its historical point of origin.
Bell Labs Holmdel New Jersey USA 1962 Eero Saarinen
Another factor that had spurred US corporations into leaving town was the possibility of isolating employees from the contagion of organisation. For businesses that had previously operated from one site, this meant separating clerical and research staff from the heavily unionised shop floor. However, even this didn’t suffice for post-1970s capital and, instead, cheaper, meeker labour markets were sought. In India, multinationals found a highly educated English-speaking pool of workers, whom they enticed with the campus.
India urbanised rapidly in the wake of Independence, leading to the familiar problems of overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure. The suburban campus offered the new middle classes an escape from dysfunctional cities, and the government an appealing source of international investment. The results have been mixed: corporate satellites of cities like Bengaluru are undoubtedly nicer places to work than many urban centres, but are architecturally undistinguished. The campuses of IT giant Infosys are especially brash, with vast Baroque colonnades extruded from a Grecian temple, a Louvre-style glass pyramid, and a collection of buildings spelling the company’s name from the air.
Union Carbide Danbury Connecticut USA 1982 Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates
Union carbide danbury conneticut usa 1982 kevin roche john dinkeloo and associates
Source: Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates
Quite apart from their dubious aesthetics, the aspiration of Indian workers to the suburban lifestyle – along with its overconsumption of cars, meat and everything else – is dire news for both local and global environments. However, until we begin to densify our own suburbs we should refrain from casting the first stone, especially as the campus has returned with a vengeance in the West. In the United States a new generation of megacorporations is commissioning the likes of Foster and Gehry to create new Edens in the Californian suburbs, a perfect place for blue-sky thinking unclouded by the bothersome inequality and crumbling infrastructure of downtown. The resulting buildings attempt to create a more friendly image for social media giants than defensive predecessors such as Union Carbide but, as recent revelations about their tax arrangements show, this retreat perfectly mirrors the offshore mentality of firms who feel little obligation to the societies that sustain them.
Google, Mountain View, California, USA, by Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels, 2016
With their ‘don’t be evil’ motto looking increasingly shop-worn, Google’s choice of a self-styled maverick architect to built a new HQ is understandable – but to hire two raises suspicions that someone is protesting too much. As Will Wiles has pointed out, the once-hip internet start-ups have become bloated with middle age, tainted by tax scandals and accusations of complicity in state surveillance. Mid-life crisis image-buffing aside, their growth also necessitates more room. Heatherwick and Ingels had planned to achieve both for Google by clustering pavilions beneath Frei Otto-style canopies dotted across a wooden landscape. The structures were to be erected by robotic cranes, and the latter would remain in place as permanent monuments to the company’s agility. However, that plan was scuppered when the state government handed over half the land to LinkedIn. Plan B is more compact and rather less light-footed, with a lower canopy over a more conventional rectilinear campus layout.
Google Mountain View California USA 2016 Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels
Facebook, Menlo Park, California, USA, by Frank Gehry, 2015.
Who hires Gehry and then tells him to play it straight? Mark Zuckerberg, that’s who – and the result is one of Gehry’s better recent buildings, an elegantly simple and relatively cheap box. Whether it would be a good place to work is a different question, the answer to which depends on your view of open-plan offices. This is the largest example of the type in the world: there are no private offices on the 40,000 square metre floor plate, and so the 2,800 employees all occupy the same cavernous space. As with the new Google Campus, the landscape is reserved exclusively for the use of employees, in this case by being relocated to the roof, where new ways of monetising sociality are dreamt up among the shrubbery, coffee stands and white boards.
Facebook Menlo Park California USA 2015 Frank Gehry
Facebook Menlo Park California USA 2015 Frank Gehry2
Facebook Menlo Park California USA 2015 Frank Gehry3
Source: All above images courtesy of Frank Gehry / Gehry Partners
Apple campus 2, Cupertino, USA by Foster + Partners, 2016
It has been pointed out that the giant Apple-filled doughnut currently under construction in Cupertino – the result of a famous phone call made by Steve Jobs to Norman Foster in 2009 – bears a resemblance to the Cold War-era corporate campus of defence contractor General Atomics. It actually looks rather more like the home of the British surveillance agency GCHQ – not, perhaps, an association Apple would wish to foster as it valiantly struggles to create an impression of imperviousness to governmental snooping. The enormous project – the building will house 13,000 staff across 260,000m2 of floorspace – has necessitated the installation of a dedicated concrete plant, and will reportedly cost US$5 billion. The building inverts the conventional relationship between the two terms in pastoral capitalism as, rather than buildings set in a landscape, the landscape is set in the building, creating a walled garden accessible only to the select – an apt metaphor for Apple’s virtual ecosystem.
Apple Campus 2, Cupertino, USA
Tata Consultancy Services, Siruseri, Chennai, India by Carlos Ott and Ponce de Léon, 2006
On its completion, Carlos Ott’s campus for the multinational IT subsidiary of Tata Group was the largest office complex in India, and certainly one of the most architecturally coherent. Ott – who began his career with the Bastille Opera and has since built a string of grand theatres across China – created a series of pavilions that house 20,000 workers in a landscape of greenery and pools. The presence of moving water is intended to cool the environment, as are the gigantic canopies that shade the naturally lit office spaces – all of which won the project a gold rating for sustainability from the Indian Green Building Council. All campuses are intended to be self-sufficient communities, and this is taken to new heights at Siruseri IT park: as well as the usual cafés and gyms, there are entertainment venues and residential quarters for 300 visiting employees.
tata Consultancy Services Siruseri Chennai India Carlos Ott and Ponce de Leon 2006
tata Consultancy Services Siruseri Chennai India Carlos Ott and Ponce de Leon 2006 2
Suzlon One Earth, Pune, India by Christopher Benninger, 2009
Appropriately for a wind energy company, Suzlon’s corporate HQ is one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, with shaded windows, solar water heating, grey water recycling and natural air circulation systems. Furthermore, the 75,000m2 complex – which houses 2,300 employees – is entirely powered by green energy generated both on site and by Suzlon’s wind farms. As well as incorporating the latest technology, the projecting eaves and sunken water garden with its 40-metre tall central obelisk reference local architectural tradition.
Suzlon One Earth Pune India Christopher Benninger 2009 2
Source: Deepak Kaw
Suzlon One Earth Pune India Christopher Benninger 20093
Source: Deepak Kaw
Suzlon One Earth Pune India Christopher Benninger 2009 copy