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Photographing IBM: La Gaude

Posted on: March 29, 2014 by Chris | No Comments
IBM La Gaude

IBM La Gaude

I’ve been lucky enough in the last eighteen months to have been involved in a long running project with IBM’s Academy of Technology which has taken me to various IBM sites around the world. My favourite so far has been Somers, designed by the architect I.M. Pei, but La Gaude, in the hills above Nice runs it a close second.

Needless to say, my personal experience of local accommodation came a distant second to the splendour of the architecture. This has been a recurring theme in my travels. Usually determined by the same logic. I elected to stay in a hotel close by, which turned out to possess all of the charm and indeed some of the architectural features of the Bates Motel. The identity of said hotel shall remain a secret, but for those, like me, expecting to work at La Gaude, I can in good faith recommend alternative accommodation on the medieval town of Vence, about five miles distant.

IBM La Gaude #2

IBM La Gaude #2

Back to the lab. this extraordinary example of 1960’s brutalism was designed by the Hungarian modernist Marcel Breuer and built between 1960 and 1962. It’s worth repeating a story here that plays on the fact that the IBM building was supposed to have been one of his favourites.

Breuer’s Architecture went through five recognisable phases and this example using modular prefabricated concrete facades was the first in a phase that went on to dominate an entire town at Flaine.

IBM La Gaude #3

IBM La Gaude #3

Accused by critics of being perhaps a little repetitive, Breuer responded somewhat peevishly: “I can’t design a whole new system every Monday morning.”

I’m not sure that even IBM can design a new system every Monday morning, but I like the retort, especially in the context of La Gaude.

One of the things about these buildings is that they embody the kind of bold statement that one might expect from one of the world’s largest and most successful corporations of a certain time in history. I doubt we’ll see this type of statement again, indeed many of the IBM sites are being returned to the wild, a reflection of changing times and changing workplaces. Most of our work is done these days from home or from customer sites, the offices being required only for research and development, customer demonstrations and administration. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back and we’ll see another phase of  these grand designs.

IBM La Gaude #4

IBM La Gaude #4

Finally, a detail from the front of the building, shot in the early morning sunshine, accentuating the shadows and bringing out the best I think of this type of architecture. I used a wide angle lens to get this shot, accentuating the curves and really maximising the geometry. These buildings really are breathtaking, the scale and scope of the project being quite vast.

So, on to Dublin next week. Not sure what I will find by way of architecture, but it’s a great city and I’m looking forward to the couple of days I’ll be spending there.

What's your view?