Associated largely with the post-World War II era of economic expansion and the
monumental growth in power and size of American business organizations, the
architecture of corporate office parks has its antecedents in designs as different as
Rockefeller Center (1927–45), by Reinhard and Hoffmeister, with H. W.Corbett and
Raymond Hood, in New York City, and Walter Gropius’s Werkbund Factory and
Administration Building (1914) in Stuttgart, Germany. Although corporate office parks
are often reviled today by “signature architects” in favor of other, more prestigious
commissions, many of the early examples of this form of architecture were designed by
such well-known masters as Frank Lloyd Wright and Eero Saarinen.
The history of U.S. corporate office park architecture is tilted toward the second half
of the 20th century. Before 1945 large-scale construction in the United States was slowed
because of the Great Depression, the materials shortages spawned by World Wars I and
II, and the fledgling (relative to the post-World War II era) nature of the corporate,
Fordist regime of capital accumulation that would come to define the American economy
until the 1970s. The development and rise of the corporate office park was spurred, first
and foremost, by the growth, in both size and wealth, of U.S. corporations. Along with
such growth, corporations saw a need for centralized headquarters that accommodated the
increasing division of labor that such growth necessitated, that provided working spaces
to enforce such hierarchical divisions, and that offered corporations the opportunity to
develop a positive and marketable public image through the design of their offices. The
low-rise and open-plan corporate campus is today a nearly ubiquitous presence in suburbs
of most U.S. cities.
Aside from the previously mentioned efforts, perhaps the most famous
corporate office park built before World War II was Frank Lloyd Wright’s
Johnson Wax Administration Building (1936–39) for S.C.Johnson and
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 596
Son in Racine, Wisconsin. Modestly described by Wright as “one of the
world’s remarkably successful structures,” the curvilinear building is
perhaps best known for the columns that support it. Resembling concrete
mushrooms, the columns were thought insufficiently strong by city
engineers, and Wright had to build a test column to prove that his design
was capable of handling many times the load necessary. The test was, as
we all know, a great success for both Wright and S.C.Johnson and Son.
The publicity surrounding the opening of the building (the image of which
was used in advertising for the company), in the estimates of Johnson
Wax’s own publicity department, was worth around $2 million.

Procter and Gamble Headquarters,
Cincinnati, Ohio, designed by Kohn,
Pedersen and Fox, 1982–85

The fame that it garnered Wright also played a significant role in advancing his career.
Entries A–F 597
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, a number of American corporations were in the
process of building new headquarters. Unlike their urban predecessors, Rockefeller
Center and the Johnson Wax Administration Building, the majority of these corporate
office parks, exploiting the development of the interstate highway system, were built in
suburban settings. As such, suburban developments, such as the General Motors
Technical Center (1948–56) in Warren, Michigan, materialized a host of complex social
dynamics, including the increasing wealth and prestige of the American corporation, the
appropriation by popular culture of the aesthetic impulses of modernism (the GM
Technical Center was designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, whose use of glass and steel
in forms both clean and regular set the standard for many postwar corporate office parks),
the technological advancements made in air conditioning and fluorescent lighting, the
waning political power of urban centers in the postwar economic boom, and the racially
exclusive nature of American society (e.g., by 1960 the GM Technical Center employed
4153 employees; only six were African American). One of the lasting achievements of
Saarinen’s design for General Motors was his ability to create a composition that
suggested the corporation possessed both economic and cultural authority. Eero Saarinen
would employ the same modernist idioms in his designs for other suburban corporate
office parks, including the John Deere and Company Headquarters (1957–63) in Moline,
Illinois, and the IBM Watson Research Center (1957–61) in Yorktown Heights, New
Until the 1970s modernism was the style of choice for the majority of corporate office
parks. As the rest of the architectural world went, however, so too did corporations, and
throughout the 1970s and 1980s a number of office parks were built that are nearly or
wholly Postmodern. These include the Procter and Gamble World Headquarters (1982–
85), designed by Kohn, Pedersen Fox Associates, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the College
Life Insurance Building (1967–71), by Roche and Dinkeloo, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The
explosive growth of the computer industry in California in the last 30 years spawned a
number of significant office parks in Silicon Valley and surrounding areas. Among the
more famous examples are the IBM Santa Theresa Programming Center (1976) by
McCue Boone Tomsick; the Oracle campus (1989–98) by Gensler Associates, in
Redwood Shores; Electronic Arts (1998) by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, in Redwood
Shores; and Silicon Graphics International (1996) by Studios Architects, in Mountain

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