Bytes and Dust
The IBM-Scape of Upstate New York

5230 The latest Google Earth view of Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, the $5 billion, Norman Foster-designed circular infinite loop that is replacing the company’s 1980s campus a mile away (with the better address: 1 Infinite Loop Road). The new building, on the site of a former Hewlett Packard campus, is called Apple Park. The circular main building, with a diameter larger than the Pentagon, is expected to contain more than 12,000 relocated Apple employees when it is fully operational in coming months. Google image

WITH THE OPENING OF APPLE'S new futuristic headquarters in Cupertino this year, it’s perhaps timely to think about how information age corporate architecture is also dissolving, like its ultimate product, into the cloud of immateriality.  While dense and expensive Silicon Valley seems to have developed a pattern of building on top of previous versions of itself in some kind of infinite loop of architectural erasure, computer company campuses in other places evolve, mutate, and decay on the landscape in other evocative ways. 
 
Let’s look at IBM in upstate New York, the company that arguably started it all. Before Big Blue was run by men in suits in the suburban corporate hinterlands of Westchester County, it was a machine company in the industrial city of Endicott, in upstate New York’s Southern Tier. Though remote from major cities, this was an early innovative manufacturing corridor along the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers, from Corning to Binghamton. 
 
Endicott is where IBM started out a hundred years ago. The Tabulating Machine Company joined the newly consolidated Computer-Tabulating-Recording-Company, an amalgamation of businesses making things like meat slicers, scales, and employee time recorders. Business machines. (The company changed its name to IBM in 1933.)
 
Innovative punch card machines made by the Tabulating Machine Company in Endicott had been used as early as the 1890 US Census. By the 1930s, the US government became an even bigger customer, contracting IBM to manage employment records for millions of Americans for the Social Security Administration. Counting everybody began to really count.  
 
In World War II the company built rifles, bombsights, and other armaments, and sprawled further through downtown Endicott, still the company’s primary manufacturing location at that time, though the headquarters had moved to Manhattan by then. New manufacturing plants were built at Poughkeepsie, Washington DC, and in San Jose, California, to support wartime production in the Pacific region, one of the early computing seeds planted in the Silicon Valley. After the war, stimulated by wartime innovations in electronics, mechanical computing began to give way to electronic machines, and the federal government continued to fuel and fund developments in computing, dominated by IBM. The company built the Defense Department’s SAGE system with MIT’s Lincoln Lab, and AT&T, the continental early warning system that was the first large-scale electronic network. In 1961, just a few years later, IBM evolved that technology into the SABRE reservations system for American Airlines.
 
5231 There are dozens of crumbling former IBM buildings in Endicott, New York. CLUI photo
 
5232 The old IBM logo on buildings in Endicott, New York, where the company began. CLUI photo
In the 1950s and 1960s IBM perfected magnetic tape storage systems and hard drives, and electronic processors that became the standard mainframe and time sharing computers for government and big in businesses worldwide. IBM also invented the Selectric typewriter, which dramatically increased the typed output of American offices. 
 
In the 1970s and 1980s, IBM innovations spread further from big businesses and government realms into commercial and consumer markets with automatic teller machines, personal computers, floppy disks, magnetic card strips, relational databases, and the universal product code (UPC) system—all IBM technologies. As the PC wars played out in the 1980s and 1990s, with IBM selling off its consumer printer and personal computer divisions (becoming Lexmark and Lenovo, respectively), the company lost steam, and lots of money. In ten years, 1985 to 1995, employment dropped from 405,000 to 225,000. Its constellation of manufacturing centers and campuses contracted. Communities, especially in upstate New York, imploded.
 
In the 2000s, the company reconfigured itself by leaving much of its hardware history in the past, and focusing on research, software, and software infrastructure, like storage and speed optimizing. IBM has become a major cloud computing and artificial intelligence firm, a kind of Silicon Valley-like company, consuming other emergent technologies, like Softlayer, which formed the basis of IBM Cloud Services Division. Today, with 380,000 employees working in 174 countries, IBM is back as one of the largest companies in the world. Now an IT service company, working primarily with software, it is increasingly virtual, too, leaving the world of the edificial hardware it made, to dissolve into the cloud, behind a burnished and legendary brand.
 
IBM’S HUDSON VALLEY EMANATIONS
IBM has sites all over the country, from Austin, Texas; Raleigh Durham North Carolina; Rochester, Minnesota; and Silicon Valley, but as a company it definitely emanated from upstate New York, and principally the Hudson valley region. 
5233 IBM Corporate headquarters, Armonk, NY. CLUI photo
IBM Armonk
The top of the pyramid of IBM is the corporate headquarters in Armonk, New York, just a few miles from the Westchester County airport, in rolling, wooded, mostly affluent residential countryside, peppered with golf courses. The company moved its headquarters here from Manhattan in 1964, to land it had purchased in the 1950s—a former apple orchard, surrounded by woods. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill built a formal modernist rectangle with an open atrium in the middle, next to a giant parking lot for the 900 or so executives and secretaries commuting to work. For more than 30  years, the building served as the administrative center for one of the most powerful companies in the world, with little in the way of upgrades, except a pyramidal gazebo-like entry structure designed by I.M. Pei in the mid-1980s. It is now known as the North Castle building, as it was replaced as the official headquarters by a new structure, built on the property in 1997. This is a zig-zagging postmodern building, with lots of glass, open floor plans, and an irregular footprint aligned with the terrain, surrounded by woods. It intentionally represented a departure from the uniform corridors of identical offices at the North Castle building, the old IBM modernism that had brought the company to hard times by the mid-1990s. The new building is still the current headquarters for the company, which gave up trying to sell the old building, and now uses it for additional corporate office space. Also on the property is the Learning Center, a training center with a few hotel-style residence buildings next to the corporate headquarters. The Armonk campus is a private place, with a number of gated entrances screened off from public view by rolling terrain and trees. 
 
5236 IBM Yorktown, NY. Google image
IBM Yorktown, NY
Eight miles northwest, across the Westchester terrain, past Hillary and Bill’s house, the Trump National Golf Course, and the Saw Mill Parkway, is the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, at Yorktown Heights. This is the headquarters for IBM research, named after the founder of IBM, Thomas J. Watson, who was CEO from 1915 to 1952, and who was succeeded by his son, Thomas Watson Jr., who ran IBM until 1971. The building is a modernist crescent shaped structure with hundreds of windowless offices, designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1961. Like the corporate HQ, it is not open to the public. 
 
IBM Research is often cited as the largest industrial research company in the world. It has a few other research campuses in the USA, including at Cambridge, Massachusetts, near MIT, focusing on cybersecurity, and AI; the Almaden Research Center in the hills above Silicon Valley, which opened in 1986; in Austin, Texas, established in 1995; and in Albany, New York, focusing on nanotechnology.
 
5239 IBM Yorktown, NY. CLUI photo
 
5238 IBM Somers, NY. Google image
IBM Somers, NY
Ten miles northeast of Yorktown, across the waters of the New Croton reservoir, is another IBM site, the 730-acre Somers campus, which housed nearly 3,000 IBMers from various divisions of the company, including Global Services, Software, and the Systems and Technology Group. 
 
The campus was built from 1984-1989, and was designed by I.M. Pei, with four triangular pyramid-topped buildings connected to a rectangular pyramid-topped building. IBM sold it in 2016 to 294 Route 100, LLC (the address of the property) for $32 million. It is awaiting redevelopment and is gated, closed, and mostly empty at the moment.
 
5241 Closed entrance of empty Somers site. CLUI photo
 
5237 IBM East Fishkill, NY. Google image
IBM East Fishkill, NY
While IBM’s executive and office campuses are in Westchester, up-river things get more industrial. 17 miles northwest of Somers, at East Fishkill, is a former IBM manufacturing site, where several thousand people once worked. When it opened in 1963, it was IBM’s primary semiconductor plant. Severely downsized in the 1990s, now much of the plant has been taken over by Global Foundries, which purchased IBM’s semiconductor business in 2015. They operate three chip plants in the USA, at IBM’s former plant in Burlington, Vermont; at a massive new plant in Malta, New York, north of Albany; and here, where more than 2,000 people work still, making microchips. 
 
National Resources, a firm that specializes in the redevelopment of former industrial sites, recently purchased 300 acres of the 460-acre site from Global Foundries. National Resources is expected to turn their portion of the property into an iPark, with a “branded, mixed-use, tech/flex redevelopment, with retail, hotel and residential components,” as well as distribution and fulfillment facilities. IBM still leases space at the site too, as does Pentagon Technologies, eMagin, the New York Blood Center, and Greystone Programs, which operates an autism and developmental disabilities support center. The west side of the campus is a major hazardous clean-up area. 
 
5244 Part of the semiconductor plant at East Fishkill. CLUI photo
 
5243 IBM Poughkeepsie, NY. Google image
IBM Poughkeepsie, NY
While East Fishkill made semiconductors and other components, IBM in Poughkeepsie, ten miles further northwest, assembled computers, including the 700/7000 series, and many later famous mainframes. The Poughkeepsie plant is one of the company’s largest and most historically important manufacturing sites. 
 
The first part of the sprawling main plant was built in 1948, with wings added in 1952. With several more additions over the years, the plant grew to more than 50 buildings on 423 acres. Today though, many of the buildings are unused. Employment here is less than half of what it once was, and is now less than 3,000.
 
5248 IBM Poughkeepsie, NY. CLUI photo
 
5251 IBM North Kingston, NY. Google image
IBM North Kingston, NY
20 miles further up-river, the North Kingston plant was one of the three IBM manufacturing centers in the mid-Hudson, where more than 25,000 people were once employed overall. Unlike the other two, which stayed at least somewhat functional, IBM closed its North Kingston plant completely in 1995. Developers bought the 256-acre site, with 2.5 million square feet of empty indoor space, and starting in 1998 promoted it as Tech City. Now, after nearly 20 years, much of the site remains vacant and is being torn down.
 
Piles of bricks, blocks, and rubble of different textures are all over the former giant slab that was the floor of the main part of the plant, and are being ground up into aggregates of different composition and textures. This IBM plant has been reduced to its origins as earthen material, to be spread out across the region. Ashes to ashes, bytes to bits.
5253 IBM North Kingston, NY. CLUI photo