Four great IBM locations

20 November 2006 » Travel

My job responsibilities don’t normally call for travel, but I had the good fortune to visit several IBM facilities over the past year.

There’s something about a few of these places that contributes enormously to my productivity. IBM is a unique company whose size and age have led to interesting architecture and inspirational workspaces in diverse locations.

I’ve created Google Earth placemarks for my favorites to provide a sense of the building and environs. If you’re an IBM employee, you should stop by and see the place in person. If you’re not an IBMer, visit someone who is :)

590 Madison Avenue, New York, New York

IBM’s flagship location in New York City is primarily used for customer-facing events and training. New York PHP holds its monthly meetings on the 12th floor.

  • Environment
    This facility is in the heart of midtown Manhattan, located adjacent to the Trump Tower just south of Central Park. There’s always something going on, and the sounds of the city seep into each floor, particularly when there are parades going down Fifth Avenue. While serenity complements the other locations, the din here provides a motivating soundtrack.
  • Atrium
    The glass-enclosed public atrium is home to a rotating art collection, coffee stand and tables, bamboo shoots, a handful of birds, and the odd concert. The Dahesh Museum also has an entrance here.
  • Floor plan
    Each of the floors are triangular and sheathed in glass. On the long edge, this gives an open, airy feel to the place. At the opposite corner, conference rooms overlooking Madison Avenue and 57th Street are bright. The large entry way on the first floor is also home to vibrant, oversized artwork.

Almaden Research Center, San Jose, California

The Almaden Research Center is considered the birthplace of the relational database and many innovations in hard drive technology.

  • Environment
    ARC is set in the hills next to Santa Teresa County Park and is accessed from the Santa Clara valley via a winding mountain road supplemented by a bicycle path. Signs warn the visitor to watch for resident wildlife. On a wet day, you might catch a rainbow on the way home from the facility.
  • Hall of Fame
    Near the entrance is a hallway lined with plaques honoring the many Distinguished Engineers and IBM Fellows who occupy the building.
  • Library
    There is something odd about a work location which has a library, though this is common to all research facilities, I suppose. This one has a collegiate feel, and has a broad view of Japanese Flowering Crabapple trees and the mountains to the west. A surreal hailstorm occurred during one visit here.

Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York

Yorktown Heights is one of the three sites comprising the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, the headquarters of IBM’s research division.

  • Architecture
    Eero Saarinen, of St. Louis Gateway Arch fame, designed this research facility in New York state. A curtain of glass stretches for three floors and spans nearly a half-mile of hallway on the long edge of this crescent-shaped building.
  • Library
    The library and its furniture were also designed by Saarinen. It’s dated, and reminiscent of an airport terminal, but at the same time a great place to get work done.
  • Environment
    Yorktown overlooks scenic Westchester county near the Taconic Parkway. The foliage in fall makes for a dramatic backdrop.

Silicon Valley Laboratory, San Jose, California

SVL is the home of the group developing DB2 and other Information Management software.

  • Environment
    This facility is near the Almaden Research Center and also shares a border with the Santa Teresa County Park. There are orchards and recreational facilities surrounding its location in Coyote Valley.
  • Architecture
    The laboratory was designed by the same firm that designed ARC. The distinguishing features of this location are the brightly-colored, cross-shaped buildings with offices designed by Gerald McCue to best suit the work habits of software developers.
  • Server rooms
    SVL houses one of the largest server rooms west of the Mississippi, at close to an acre. It occupies the lower level of the facility below the courtyard and the hardware is visible from the glass hallways which surround it. In the winter, the entire facility is actually warmed by the heat generated by the computers.