happy new year, archilovers.
As I was making my way south last month for a little rest and relaxation, I made a quick stop at Marcel Breuer's IBM Boca Raton, and despite being chased off by security (a story for another time), I managed to get a look at this impressive Breuer brute.
During the late 1960s, IBM began planning a new research and manufacturing center for South Florida- a sunny outpost that would stand removed from the corporate grind of New York City. IBM, under the direction of architect/designer Eliot Noyes, would go on to hire Marcel Breuer & Associates (Breuer shared project architect duties with partner Robert Gatje) to design the headquarters, a sprawling complex that would provide plenty of space (and sun) for new ideas. A rather obvious choice, Breuer was at the height of his career, having just completed the IBM complex in La Gaude, France, in 1962. And much like his more famous European headquarters, the Boca Raton IBM incorporated many of the same design elements that would come to define the architect's more monumental works (see also Robert C. Weaver Building (HUD) in Washington DC and UNESCO Headquarters in Paris). Here in Boca Raton, the architects balanced economy and practicality with the sculptural potential of concrete to create an innovative corporate complex that seems both heavy and light, forward-looking but familiarly Breuer.
When Boca Raton's IBM center opened in 1970, the vast campus housed nearly 3,500 employees and covered more than 60,000 acres (not to mention the 1.7 million square feet of space). Comprised of a number of buildings- including a manufacturing center, distribution facility, and utility plant- the design was ultimately defined by its two X-shaped concrete office blocks, artfully arranged around a central manmade pool. Like the aforementioned IBM La Gaude, the Boca Raton composition resembles a concrete forest of "tree columns"- each one branching into a V-shape as it reaches the upper floors of the building. (For IBM, the tree motif is one that often reappears during this period- see the Saarinen and Eames-designed pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City). Supporting the bulk of the elevated structures, Breuer's idiosyncratic columns create a deeply shadowed grid that unifies the concrete complex while also offering shade from the hot Florida sun. This uniformity- the repeating grid, the mirrored X-shaped buildings, the rhythm of the columns- was Breuer at his most precise, the regularity of the design accommodating Noyes' insistence on patterns and modules.
On the interior of the building, Breuer's affinity for the minimal was on full display with stark spaces filled with functional furniture (also, the folded facade provided "raceways" for mechanical systems, which resulted in a more flexible interior space). But overall, the feeling of the IBM campus- even today- is one of energy, technology, and the future- the bright white concrete playing off the lush Florida landscape, like a computer in the garden.
Today, though IBM has long moved on, the complex continues to be a center of new ideas and technology as the Boca Raton Innovation Campus or BRIC. With the many brutalist buildings under threat these days (sorry, Paul Rudolph), it is nice to see this one in such great condition, still buzzing with people and potential. So if you ever find yourself traveling down I-95 toward Miami, Breuer's under-the-radar design is well worth a stop.
Just make sure to tell security I said hello.
You can read more about Marcel Breuer's buildings here and here.
Photographs (unless otherwise noted) by author, 2019.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.