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Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004
15 Pages, Grade: 1,0
1.1 Foster Associates
1.3 Corporate Culture
II. Main Part
2.1 IBM Pilot Head Office
2.1.1 Exterior View
2.1.2 Interior View
2.2 IBM Technical Park
2.2.1 Exterior View
2.2.2 Interior View
The aim of this term paper is to describe the IBM Pilot Head Office in Cosham, Hampshire, and the IBM Technical Park in Greenford, Middlesex, both built by Foster Associates, and to show how the architecture contributes to the corporate culture of the company by analysing the exterior relationship between buildings and environment and social and democratic aspects inside. The whole analysis refers to these buildings, and how they were built in the 1970s (in correspondence with one of the seminar topics “British Architecture of the 1970s”), without taking architectural changes after this decade into consideration.
After a short introduction to Foster Associates and IBM and a description of the corporate culture concept, in the main part both buildings will be analysed without going too much into detail, firstly from the exterior and secondly from the interior view. At the end of this work a conclusion will be drawn, stressing the important architectural aspects relating to the corporate culture of IBM.
Foster Associates was established by Norman Foster and his wife Wendy in 1967 and is now known as Foster and Partners. Since its foundation, it has won more than 190 awards and was the winner of more than 50 national and international competitions. In 1983, Norman Foster received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), in 1991 the Gold Medal of the French Academy for Architecture and in 1994 the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1990, he was knighted and nine years later, he was declared Lord Foster of Thames Bank. Today he is one of the world’s most famous architects alive.
IBM was one of the pioneers in information technology. As one of the world’s biggest computer companies, it has been revolutionizing the way in which enterprises, organisations and people operate and thrive. In the 1970s, when the computer industry was booming, it began to expand from the United States to Europe. In 1969, the company changed its way of business by selling components individually, rather than selling the technology packaged – meaning hardware, software and services together. This marketing idea laid the foundation for the multibillion-dollar software and services industries. At the same time, the computer industry started its way into everyday life with supermarket checkout stations, consumer transaction facilities in banks and many other appliances, which were increasingly gaining importance.
Corporate culture manifests itself in many ways. Beside values, norms and behaviour, artefacts are seen as part of the market oriented corporate culture. While values and norms are not clearly visible, behaviour and artefacts are observable because even people with no close relation to the company can see and understand them. This indicates that also the architecture of the corporate building, as an artefact, is of high importance for every company. Therefore, the construction should be planned precisely, integrating all important aspects of the corporate culture and having in mind which specific role the building should play in the whole concept of the company. Especially multinational enterprises must focus on this aspect because their subsidiaries in other countries or even on other continents must be an excellent representation of the parent company.
As architecture is seen as part of the corporate culture, the IBM Pilot Head Office in Cosham, was to represent the American computer company in Europe and also have an “ambassadorial role” for attracting existing and new employees.
The office was intended as a temporary headquarters building, while at the same time in Portsmouth the new headquarters were to be constructed. The requirements of IBM were quite simple. Accommodation for 750 employees and a parking lot for 660 cars were needed, both with potential to expand when necessary. The building was to be finished within 18 months but was completed ahead of schedule. Although the most important requirement was a maximum of flexibility for possible future changes and the stress on being built fast and with low cost, Foster remarked “[…] that any new building should also embrace very high architectural and environmental standards.” Foster himself described the task and its solution as follows (1979):
The brief was to provide space for computers, offices, restaurants and a communications centre. Now, normally this would sprout a multitude of separate buildings, each, say, with connecting corridors. In this instance, the solution was to put them all under one umbrella. In this way, the activities can flux and change over a period of time, and that is what has actually happened. Over a period of 10 years, the building has been subject to constant change.
The single-story building consists of a lightweight steel structure on a thin concrete foundation slab, enclosed by a bronze glass skin and a flat corrugated steel roof deck. There is no material relationship between the building and the site. Normally, such a corporate building would change extremely the entire appearance of its natural surroundings. In this case, the use of the glass walls which reflect the grass and trees from the outside creates the illusion that there is no building at all. Hence, under specific sunlight it appears to be a big mirror and even seems to disappear being just a part of the surroundings. Therefore, the relationship between site and building is not material but visual.
Light and shade have special effects on the building. While sunlight creates mirror-like reflections, darkness and shadows make the whole building look like a simple transparent glass box, like an aquarium, where everything inside can be seen when it is illuminated. All walls of the building consist of full-height solar-reflecting glass panels, held in place by small aluminium glazing bars. The individual panes are connected in straight lines by using neoprene-fixing beads. This underlines the symmetry of the building, while the thin gasketed joints of the envelope create the straightforward mirror effect avoiding fragmentation and making the panes seem to flush in the landscape. The external composition is totally angular and each side of the building seems to be one big window. This way, it is not the details that are recognised, but the whole architectural work. The question of the compositional and functional use of fenestration leads to the answer that the whole building serves as a window, this being necessary for such a deep plan configuration. Incidentally, a sense of openness is created, from inside to outside and, under specific circumstances such as the illumination inside at night, the other way around. What is not visible during the daytime becomes visible at night. If light changes, reflection becomes perfect transparency and through the floor-to-ceiling glazing the complete load-bearing skeletal structure of the building becomes visible.
The building contains a reception, a restaurant, a kitchen, lavatories, a lobby, different offices, a service mall and a computer suite. All highly serviced areas are located on the northern side. A central corridor connects all of the facilities and leads down to the workspaces through small passages.
The novelty was that spaces for computers had not been included in such an office building before but were located in separated buildings for technical reasons. Foster laid all servicing, like electrical cables, between roof and ceiling, making it possible to integrate the computer room into the office building. The only difference to the other parts of the building is that the computer room has a raised floor and needs more air-conditioning than the other rooms to keep the computers cool. However, the whole office is air-conditioned to prevent effects like condensation arising in a building where so much glass is used for construction. Irrespective of the model of clarity in the internal layout, there are certain social and democratic tendencies. These elements become visible by looking at the main office area, where the desks are located in a way that intensive sunlight does not disturb workers but also in a way that from nearly every place the entire staff – office workers and managers – may have an excellent and beautiful external view through the full height glazing. Inside the building there is a similar effect as outside. Like outside all panes seem to be one. Inside nearly the whole office area seems to be one big room, one office, although it is divided. With the use of low-level partitions in the general office area and a few full-height glazing offices, it is almost possible to see everything at once. As there is a sense of openness in looking out through the windows, there is a sense of openness looking over the whole office area as well. Through the glass walls the staff within the building experiences inclusion in the outside surroundings – and no separation, which would be the result of massive walls. Sitting near the glass façade is close to sitting outside. Therefore, the concept of openness is one major characteristic of the whole building. Another one is the introduction of closer integration. Workers and managers are brought together and not separated from each other any longer, as was common in most offices before. In this way, Foster’s archtectural style had a positive influence for the work of the “ordinary” office staff. Thus, it is no surprise that social integration is seen as one theme of Foster Associates’ structural or practical philosophies, which is here fully realised for the first time.
 The only source of the analysis is the texts, photos and sketches in Ian Lambot, Norman Foster: Buildings and Projects of Team 4 and Foster Associates Volume 1 1964-1973, Berlin: Ernst & Sohn 1991, pages 128-143 and 222-245 and Martin Pawley, Norman Foster: A Global Architecture, London: Thames & Hudson 1999, pages 40-49, so some architectural aspects cannot be dealt with or can be dealt with only partially because there is no information about these parts of the buildings.
 Bernhard Schulz, “Norman Foster Biographie” in: Der Reichstag: Die Architektur von Norman Foster, München: Prestel 2000, page 114.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 128.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 128.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 130.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 130.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 142.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 137.
 Pawley, Global Architecture, 43.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 141.
 Lambot, Buildings and Projects, 136.
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