New Books in Architecture interviews John Harwood
In his new book, The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945-1976 (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), architectural historian John Harwood writes the first history of IBM’s corporate Design Program and, at the same time, totally rewrites our understanding of the modern corporation and its cultural and material practices. Originally conceived as a project about Harvard-trained architect Eliot Noyes, Harwood followed his sources and discovered a different and truly fascinating history of IBM and Noyes’s role as a corporate consultant. Noyes led a large and talented team hired to remake IBM’s image at every scale from its logo, to its computer interface, to its architectural building standards. In just a few decades, IBM hired some of the most famous designers of the twentieth century including Paul Rand, Charles Eames, George Nelson, Marcel Breuer, Egon Eiermann, Harrison and Abramovitz, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Paul Rudolph, and Eero Saarinen.
As you will hear in my interview with Harwood, he sees IBM and “its self-articulated corporate character” as a “determining case,” rather than an exemplary case study for the history of modern capitalism. In this well-crafted study, compiled with extensive archival research and interviews with some of the story’s protagonists, postwar design takes on huge significance for our own contemporary world where the computer and its interface are a seamless and natural part of our lives in every respect. The IBM leadership and the designers chronicled in this book could not have known what was to come, but Harwood convinces us that our environment would look very different without their intervention. So enjoy learning more about IBM, a company who thought of itself as “a business whose business was how other businesses do business,” a slogan that will make much more sense after you hear what Harwood has to say.