On March 8, 2008 a The fire consumed the IBM building 025. In a parking lot in the south of San José, between a Lowe and an AutoZone, a tiny memorial commemorates the former pioneering tech campus of Silicon Valley.
The campus, built in 1957, was designed by architect John S. Bolles. Under the mandate of IBM’s President Thomas J. Watson Jr., he was instructed to “integrate architecture, landscape and art into an employee-friendly environment,” says an explanatory sign.
If this sounds familiar, it should be like this: Many Silicon Valley tech campuses use the same elements to inspire their employees. Notable muralist Lucienne Bloch designed ceramic mosaics that suggested computer punch cards to cover large swaths of the buildings, and brick structures with floor-to-ceiling glass windows were connected by terraces and walkways.
The environment seems to have proven creative. The engineers at the research laboratory in IBM Building 025 developed a “flying head” disk drive technology that enables real-time processes such as online shopping and Internet communication. In 1959, IBM was proud to host Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev on campus. Reportedly unfazed by the technology on display, he instead fell in love with the company’s self-service cafeteria.
Building 025 was empty until 1996. The company gradually moved its employees to another location. In 2003, Lowe’s Home Improvement decided to build a business on the site of the former campus. Local conservationists protested, and the building remained pending until the fire settled the matter once and for all. Lowe’s funded the tiny monument, with its brick walls and steel grids clearly reminiscent of the lost laboratory, and both its own big-box building and the nearby AutoZone are covered in Lucienne Bloch-style mosaics.