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IBM Building 025 (atlasobscura.com)
65 points by ecliptik 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 14 comments





On IBM's architecture around the world, see chapter 3 in The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945 -- 1976 by John Harwood. The book is about how architects and designers Eliot Noyes, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen and many others gave IBM products a consistent look that expressed the corporate philosophy, from buildings and exhibits through computers and typewriters to publications and letterhead. The book is online at:

https://muse.jhu.edu/book/24792

The IBM building in downtown Seattle was built in 1963. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the Pacific Science Center for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962 and the original World Trade Center towers in New York City. During the 1960s, IBM had a working System/360 machine room behind the glass windows facing the plaza, where the computer and its operators could be seen by shoppers and passers by.

https://unicoprop.com/properties/ibm-building/


This is the lab where the world’s very first disk drive was created. The project got canceled by headquarters, because it would eat into IBM’s cash-cow punched card business. But they just kept on working on it, being very far away and hard to keep an eye on.

Seems that engineers can be a rebellious lot, a-la Soul of a New Machine:

https://www.tracykidder.com/the-soul-of-a-new-machine.html


In the same spirit, Commodore engineer Bill Herd once said [0] the secret of their (limited) success despite serious mismanagement was,

> Stay in front of management. Don't give them a chance to catch up to you.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zpv6u5vCJ4


There are many such artifacts from IBM's halcyon days. They really spared no expense in their campuses:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Rochester

https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/vintage/vintage_fac...


I kind of want to go back to 70's America and experience the tech life of a recently graduated student entering the workforce. Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, Intel, DARPA, Lockheed Martin SkunkWorks, IBM, HP, Boeing, Westinghouse, GE, etc.

It was a different era.


Indeed.

I visited most of those places in their prime. I saw the bean bag chairs and the original Alto at Xerox PARC, demoed by Alan Kay. Visited an Intel fab during the 1K to 4K DRAM transition. The designer of the x86 instruction set was in my college dorm. I met Bell Labs people in the early days of the Internet. Worked on some DARPA contracts. Knew people at HP Labs in Palo Alto. Almost went to work at IBM Almaden Research, which is a big glass building on a mountain, surrounded by parkland. I happened to be there the day IBM exited the disk drive business.

It was a small world. The cutting edge of computing technology was a few hundred people in the US in the early 1970s. Academic computer science departments were 10-30 people at CMU, MIT, Stanford, and a few other schools. It wasn't that hard to meet everybody.

All these places were about making it work. Not about getting people to click on ads.

Of course, many of us had to take a career detour though the Army. And I spent my first seven years working on operating system maintenance of a big mainframe OS. Theory and research came later.


I'm always pleasantly surprised by the famous names talking on HN.

I started many years later, but still get to meet and sometimes work with some of those people you mention. I have the impression that I caught the very tail end of a golden age.

There are still companies making it work, rather than in the business of exploiting users/humanity, but I had a hard time finding many in my last job move.

The closest I found was AWS, but I had some side concerns. I ended up instead picking a startup that was doing something constructive, and seemed like decent people, and one of the ways they got my attention was by touting in their initial contact that they don't do blockchain. :)


In many cases, employment for life or at least decades--that was the plan in any case. (In some cases, more than others. For example, aerospace was notoriously cyclical and IBM had a near-death crisis.) And mostly solid middle-class compensation. I do know people at some of those companies who are (or were when they retired) employed for 20, 30, 40 years.

There were also I.M. Pei's pyramids in Somers which led to some really ridiculous triangular rooms in the corners. The IBM building at 590 Madison is also quite striking architecturally.

The conference center in the Palisades in NY was also quite striking. Not so much because of specific architectural features but of how it blended into the landscape and was populated with all sorts of old IBM equipment as displays. (It was also populated with Token Ring long after that went non-mainstream with the result that the rooms had signs warning you not to plug in your Ethernet jacks or your network connection would be fried.)


One not on the list is IBM UK's (former I think) HQ in Portsmouth. Designed by Foster and Partners.

https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/ibm-pilot-headqua...


I've been looking for this episode that covers when Krushchev visted, but it seems the only way to get it is to buy the DVD.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/cold-wa...


The novel Red Plenty by Francis Spufford has an account of Kruschev's visit to the US. It includes his visit to California but I can't remember if it includes the IBM visit . It's fiction, but Spufford took pains to be accurate. He writes that any words he gives to an historical character in the book were actually said by that character (although maybe not on that same occasion).

I just checked the book. No IBM visit, not even California, just Washington DC and New York. Still well worth reading.



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