In 1969, the British pharmaceuticals corporation Burroughs Wellcome closed its Tuckahoe, New York, laboratory to move to the newly established suburban Research Triangle Park (RTP) in North Carolina.1 The relocation allowed the corporation to replace its original nineteenth-century campus with a distinctive architectural complex designed by Paul Rudolph. This was a high-stakes experiment for many of those involved, including Rudolph, who was intent on introducing new designs and new materials to illustrate the promise of corporate industrial research; Burroughs Wellcome, which aspired to highlight a new stage of the company's growth through a unique architectural aesthetic; and RTP itself, which was keen to generate broad public appeal through innovative architecture that could define the new phenomenon of global research parks. The futuristic structure that Rudolph designed, with its protruding octagonal volumes, was unlike any other building in the nation (Figure 1). While neighboring RTP structures in suburban Durham lacked architectural distinction, more prestigious national projects, such as I. M. Pei's design for the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado (1964–67), usually relied on costly and labor-intensive construction methods. Rudolph's headquarters for Burroughs Wellcome promised to strike a balance between these two extremes, delivering an impressive architectural design at low cost.
Like the architects of other recent laboratory projects, including I. M. Pei, Eero Saarinen, and Gordon Bunshaft, Rudolph embraced innovative construction in his design, employing his signature A-frame system both to orchestrate the interior spaces and to channel mechanical systems through columns and the building's apex to provide for greater flexibility and anticipate future expansion. This article examines how the design of Rudolph's headquarters complex and the history of its alterations offer insights into the changing needs of the building's occupants and their experience of its frame-driven structure. Equally important to consider is the architect's selection of construction materials and their coating, intended to reduce the building's overall cost and to speed up its completion. Such strategies illustrate Rudolph's goal of developing an innovative prototype for suburban industrial research laboratories and corporate headquarters that could meet the demands of functionality and cost without compromising aesthetics.
Although both Burroughs Wellcome and RTP are well known to historians, economists, and urban planners, Rudolph's design has received little historical coverage despite the fact that it was one of the architect's few laboratory projects.2 Moreover, other than the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth (1963–72), Burroughs Wellcome was the only project to which Rudolph returned to direct later expansion phases. In exploring the history of Burroughs Welcome, this article sheds light on the complexities of designing laboratory spaces for different audiences, given that architects and scientists often have competing and contrasting ideas about what constitute ideal solutions. By focusing on the designer's responsibility to balance innovation with convention, we can better understand the aspirations and challenges that Rudolph faced in developing a new typology for this suburban corporate headquarters and its laboratory buildings.
The Emergence of the Research Park
The origin of the research park can be traced to the first purpose-built physics laboratories constructed for nineteenth-century British institutions of higher learning, such as the Clarendon Laboratory of Oxford University (1868–72). Wealthy Victorians also dedicated parts of their residential interiors to scientific pursuits, expressing an aristocratic interest in science motivated by local agricultural concerns as well as by growing interest in industrialization.3 Country houses offered ideal settings for laboratory work, not only providing privacy but also reinforcing social hierarchies through their spatial organization, allowing budding scientists to perform research in seclusion supported by modern technologies, including gas, electric, and hydraulic power. At the same time, scores of new publications encouraged the identification of local plants and insects and the collection of specimens to study at home. The rural foundations of nineteenth-century scientific research gave men like Charles Darwin and John William Strutt access to valuable social networks and important knowledge communities, as many of their wealthy neighbors were engaged in similar activities.4
The first research parks to be established in the United States included Nela Park in Cleveland, Ohio, founded by members of the National Electric Lamp Association in 1911, and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research Park (the future Carnegie Mellon University), founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by Andrew W. Mellon and Richard B. Mellon in 1913.5 The most famous and influential development, however, originated some years later in a public–private partnership between Stanford University and the city of Palo Alto, California. Developed initially in 1951 to boost the university's endowment, the Stanford Research Park soon became a prototype for research parks across the globe. There, research became a business of its own, divorced from polluting industrial processes. Both Stanford and local real estate and financial institutions supported this venture to ensure community cooperation. At the heart of the park was the Stanford Research Institute, which fostered practical applications of research in areas not covered by the university's curriculum. The Stanford Research Park controlled the nature of research by supporting industries that met its criteria and banning those that did not. Some of the companies located within the park remained tenants for as long as ninety years.6
By the 1950s, federal research funding prompted the creation of research parks across the United States.7 Much like Stanford, the Research Triangle Institute, founded in 1958, followed by the founding of RTP in 1959, brought private and government sectors into a cooperative relationship with the academic community. Three educational institutions provided critical support for the foundation of RTP: Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Figure 2).8 At the same time, North Carolina officials, in conformity with contemporary ideas about the potential of business to transform communities, argued that RTP would have educational benefits not only for scientists but also for the state's marginalized African American population. Officials claimed that education would help to resolve the state's notorious racial tensions, asserting that “in the changing South the Negro must be an integral, normal, and continuing factor.”9 Leaders of RTP understood equal employment opportunity to be essential to the project's success, since northern companies and their employees would not relocate to a southern state riven with political tensions. As North Carolina governor Luther H. Hodges affirmed, “All other things being equal, industry is going to go where there's racial peace.”10 With increasing competition between North and South for industrial businesses, southern states had to reassure incoming (and usually white) residents that life in their adopted home would be financially, emotionally, and socially rewarding. And yet, despite the push for improved educational conditions in the South, RTP quickly became an isolated enclave of wealth in an otherwise struggling state, a striking juxtaposition described by contemporary media as “PhDs among the possums.”11 As scholars have noted, this was not an accidental outcome—on the contrary, segregation was fundamental to the concept of the research park itself.12
To attract northern companies to the South, North Carolina mounted aggressive marketing and education campaigns, placing advertisements in prominent national publications—including Science, National Geographic, Business Week, and the New York Times—to address northerners’ concerns about living in the region. The ads sought to convince readers that North Carolina's low cost of living would yield new comforts, with illustrations featuring unspoiled beaches, abundant golf courses, and even romantic visions of plantation life with African American servants (Figure 3). These messages supported the then-current vision of research parks that presented laboratory work not as work but as creative and productive play.13 Historian Richard Florida has given a fitting name to the workers who engaged in such laboratory “play”—the “creative class.”14
To attract Burroughs Wellcome to Dixie, North Carolina's development board invited forty of the company's employees to visit RTP, hoping to dispel common stereotypes about southern backwardness.15 These efforts paid off in 1969 when Burroughs Wellcome announced its relocation. Governor Bob Scott anticipated that the company's cancer research program would contribute to North Carolina's reputation as a leader in scientific progress: “I am proud that as Burroughs Wellcome continues its efforts to curb and remove disease, North Carolina will now be associated with that effort.”16 And Burroughs Wellcome also brought money—within only a few years after moving to North Carolina, the company accumulated $80 million in sales, and a study of pharmaceutical companies in the United States awarded Burroughs Wellcome top marks for developing cancer-treating drugs.17 Other companies also contributed to RTP's success, including the Chemstrand Corporation, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists, Technitrol, and IBM. North Carolina's extraordinary ability to lure business to the region made northerners begin to think that the South had won the Civil War. New York's Daily News nicknamed North Carolina governor Terry Sanford and other state officials “Terry and the Pirates” for their “prowess at bagging runaway Northern companies.”18
Burroughs Wellcome had its roots in 1880s England, where two American pharmacists, Silas Mainville Burroughs (1846–95) and Henry Wellcome (1853–1936), discovered a way to profit from the mass production and distribution of “compressed” medicines, or pills.19 Their enterprise grew rapidly into an international network with subsidiaries on several continents, including North America. Burroughs Wellcome began American operations in New York City in 1908, and in 1919 opened a manufacturing facility in a converted rubber factory in Tuckahoe, New York. The company's scientists developed antitoxins for tetanus, diphtheria, and gas gangrene; isolated histamine (leading to antihistamine production); and standardized insulin as well as other medicines. By the 1960s, the company's continued growth required more space and resources.
With its move to North Carolina, Burroughs Wellcome wanted to affirm that the business had an educational mission at its core. This message was especially important given the prominent role of nearby universities in establishing RTP. The creation of the Wellcome Trust in 1936 and its American extension, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, in 1955, inaugurated this educational drive, supporting medical research as well as museums and libraries dedicated to medicine and allied sciences.20 To showcase its support for research efforts in North Carolina, Burroughs Wellcome awarded its $125,000 fellowship in clinical pharmacology for an associate professorship at the UNC School of Medicine. In addition to sharing financial resources, Burroughs Wellcome created Medix, a thirty-minute educational television program that discussed topics such as sports injuries, cryosurgery, and the effects of alcohol on driving (Figure 4). Local television stations across the United States could receive the program free of charge in exchange for screening Burroughs Wellcome commercials, and by 1975 at least seventy had signed up. Although clearly a marketing scheme, the show nevertheless helped to shape public opinion regarding the beneficial role of private business in public education.21
While archival sources do not reveal how or why Burroughs Wellcome commissioned Rudolph to design the company's headquarters, it is possible the decision was influenced by the fact that Rudolph had just designed the laboratories for Endo Pharmaceuticals as well as a residence for that corporation's former chief executive, Maurice A. Deane (1969–70). The latter building, with its overall form defined by a regular wood frame, displayed some similarities to the building that Rudolph would design for Burroughs Wellcome. Significantly, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Burroughs Wellcome worked alongside one another, manufacturing a range of drugs for the market and funding research on opioid addiction. Burroughs Wellcome president Fred A. Coe undoubtedly knew about the distinctive laboratory architecture at Endo Pharmaceuticals. Together with local partners Governor Hodges and vice president of the RTP Foundation Pearson Stewart, Coe was involved in the planning of Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters (Figure 5). Rudolph's charismatic personality also played a role. Originally from Alabama, Rudolph understood southern sensibilities and traditions, but he also dared to embrace new forms and materials: his career encompassed all types of architectural design and building practices, ranging from environmentally sensitive houses in Florida to mammoth concrete structures in New England. Rudolph's communication style charmed Burroughs Wellcome executives who had limited experience with design and construction matters. As one of them noted, Rudolph managed to “cushion [the company] against the shock-waves of certain mundane realities that have a habit of looming larger and larger.”22
The Architecture of Research Parks
The emergence of a new type of suburban corporate headquarters had a major impact on mid-twentieth-century research park design. Louise A. Mozingo identifies three defining features of these developments. First was the idea of the corporate campus as a university-style setting that would appeal to both male and female workers, and that would in turn boost research capacity. Next was the landscaped corporate estate as a kind of “American Versailles” meant to impress employees, neighbors, stockholders, competitors, and financiers. Finally, the emergence of the office park in the late 1950s included a broad range of business ventures, from start-up companies to corporate back-office functions. This model was especially important as it enabled young businesses to expand their offices during periods of economic growth and to sell excess spaces when the economy slowed.23 Research parks integrated aspects of these trends, at times promoting distinctive architectural styles in a sort of suburban variation on the urban skyscraper. In other cases, the parks’ principal purpose was to accommodate fluctuations in the growth of particular research sectors.
Some corporations seized upon their relocation to the suburbs as an opportunity to fundamentally reinvent their businesses and management techniques. As John Harwood notes, IBM set out to create a new aesthetic that would signal the transformation of work and its management, enlisting a design “dream team” that included Eliot Noyes, Paul Rand, Eero Saarinen, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., and Charles and Ray Eames.24 Indeed, the resulting Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York (Eero Saarinen, 1957–61), enabled IBM to understand the “spatiality of information” as well as its control, organization, and redistribution (Figure 6). As Harwood argues, architects shaped not only businesses but also business products. Noyes, for example, underscored the need for simplicity in the design of IBM 305 RAMAC computers, stating that they “should not be like a ranch house. They should be like a Mies house.”25 Meanwhile, the Eameses’ focus on user experience informed IBM's desire to disassociate computers from the image of diabolical “thinking machines” and depict them instead as friendly, manageable, and fun.
Saarinen not only helped to reinvent the IBM architectural aesthetic and function but also pioneered other laboratory designs, including the precedent-setting Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel Township, New Jersey (1959–62). According to Saarinen, the new scientific age demanded a novel architectural expression. With the introduction of air-conditioning and fluorescent lighting, building design no longer depended on access to natural light and air. Saarinen sited his glass-wrapped laboratories in remote suburban locales surrounded by expansive lawns and parking lots. His design for Bell Laboratories, for example, rose at the center of an egg-shaped landscape, a contained research campus encircled by vehicular roads and isolated from activities beyond its boundaries. The center of the building featured an expansive atrium flooded with natural light and filled with 3,600 shrubs and trees. Its modular design ensured that building expansion could be easily accomplished as corporate priorities changed over time. Saarinen described the simplicity of his architecture as a response to the lack of visual cohesion in the postwar American landscape: “I have come to the point where I would welcome more dullness and monotony in our cityscapes instead of all the visual clashes typical of our time.”26 In 1967, Bell Laboratories received the Laboratory of the Year Award from the trade journal Industrial Research.27
Rudolph knew Saarinen's Bell Laboratories well, having worked with Saarinen on his IBM corporate campuses in the 1950s. Yet Rudolph's Endo Laboratories and Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters departed from Saarinen's model. The former, for example, featured poured-in-place concrete construction with distinctive fluted walls that were chipped to expose the interior aggregate of quartz stones (Figure 7). Although rectangular in plan, Endo Laboratories also included protruding towers for circulation and concrete cylinders, or turrets, with skylights positioned over individual work spaces. Rudolph likewise disrupted Saarinen's ribbon window aesthetic at Burroughs Wellcome by breaking the building's envelope into an exciting façade of projecting and recessed volumes, in sharp contrast to the uniformity of reflective “wallpaper” architecture. As architectural historian Timothy Rohan has shown, Rudolph's rejection of the glass curtain wall characterized his designs for other building types as well, including office towers (where, as Rudolph famously quipped, there were “too many goldfish bowls, too few caves”).28 For his Blue Cross and Blue Shield office building in Boston (1957–60), the architect used a structural concrete screen to negotiate new and old elements as well as to enrich the experience of moving through the urban environment.
Burroughs Wellcome as Organic Architecture
In 1969, Burroughs Wellcome acquired 66 acres of rolling hills south of Durham as the site for its new headquarters. Centrally located in RTP, the site was conveniently accessible via Highway 147. The generous acreage suited the needs of a sizable office complex while also abiding by the development's policy of maintaining 70 percent green space per individual site. With no urban context to draw on, Rudolph turned to the natural surroundings for inspiration. His section drawings show a structure emerging from a slight incline, thereby accentuating the natural slope of the ridge (Figure 8). This was not the first time that Rudolph had married his design and nature; for example, his 1966 master plan for a resort community in Stafford Harbor, Virginia (never built), showcased apartment towers, schools, and other structures emerging like a stony ridge from a forested landscape (Figure 9). According to Rudolph, creating the harbor project from scratch gave him the opportunity to imagine how architecture might intensify the experience of the valley: “You not only increase the height of the hill and magnify the relationship of the building to the sky, but when you come to the really large buildings, such as schools, you use them to emphasize the valleys by building into the hill…. You don't fill in the valley; you make it more of a valley.”29
The notion that architecture could draw forth the most mesmerizing forms of the natural landscape also defined Frank Lloyd Wright's (1867–1959) philosophy of organic architecture. In line with Kantian philosophy as well as the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, the concept of organic architecture articulated a system of organization in which individual components were both reflected by and seamlessly integrated into a unifying whole. Frank Lloyd Wright explained the term as follows: “The word ‘Organic’ … applies to ‘living’ structure—a structure or concept wherein features or parts are so organized in forms and substance as to be, applied to purpose, integral.”30 Wright argued that a building ought to establish harmony with all of its components, including walls, floors, ceilings, furniture, and ornament, as well as with the environment at large. Unlike other modernist architects of the period who privileged dramatic contrasts of form, Wright believed that buildings should grow from within, adjusting to different contexts and needs as if they were plants. As Wright stated, “It is in [Nature] that the architect may develop that sense of reality that translated to his own field in terms of his own work will lift him far above the realistic in his art.”31 Following the principles of nature, the architect could tap into an underlying logic shared by all things.
Wright's ideas undoubtedly informed Rudolph's thinking about architecture and its relation to the natural surroundings. In 1970, Rudolph published a close reading of Wright's Fallingwater (1936–39) in which he examined its impressive balance of forces and counterforces, circulation, the symbolism of materials, and organic form, where “the whole is suggested in the parts, and the parts suggest the whole” (Figure 10).32 Rudolph concluded that the design was “a realized dream” and “architecture of the highest order; that is to say, architecture which goes beyond itself and becomes a pebble in one's consciousness, never to be dislodged.” Fallingwater remained ever present in Rudolph's thinking and teaching: for one of his architectural survey courses, he produced analytical drawings showing how Wright conceptualized Fallingwater as a series of stylized viewing platforms extending outward horizontally and vertically (Figure 11). In this way, Fallingwater became an extension of the rocky landscape rather than merely an addition to it, channeling the flow of water through its structure. For Rudolph, Fallingwater demonstrated the ideal relationship between the natural landscape and built structures.
In 1970, Rudolph produced several schemes to explore how the large complex of the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters might relate organically to the existing environment. He wanted the complex to create “an impression not unlike a growing tree—angles, light, and shadow, flexibility. The building will impart a sense of being a living organism, rather than a box-like form.”33 However, in contrast to the Stafford Harbor site, the comparatively flat site in RTP featured only subtle changes in topography. Photographs of models reveal the significance of the siting for Rudolph, as indicated by his positioning of the structure into a much larger landscape (Figure 12). Other images of the design from a distant perspective suggest the low-lying form of the complex, despite its massive presence in the landscape. The detailed representation of topography in these images demonstrates Rudolph's efforts to connect the building with its surroundings, including through a long processional staircase that followed the site's natural slope and drew visitors up into the lobby (Figure 13). To further integrate the large structure into the environment, Rudolph dispersed parking throughout the site rather than locating it around the building, as Saarinen had done with his Thomas J. Watson Research Center for IBM. Rudolph also disguised parking near the headquarters below platforms that connected to the main structure. Finally, Rudolph integrated vegetation into his design, much as he had done at Endo Laboratories—in both cases, cascading plants softened the hard edges of the structures’ angular forms.
Early models for Burroughs Wellcome likewise underscore the impact that Wright's Fallingwater had on Rudolph's thinking about his design (Figure 14). Images of Rudolph's second scheme showcase the project as little more than a series of platforms that shift and expand to generate interior and exterior spaces. This is perhaps the most literal example of Wright's influence on Rudolph's thinking. It was Wright's balancing of platforms, and the serenity this harmony brought to the project, that Rudolph most admired about Fallingwater.34 Wright's masterpiece did not merely emerge from the natural context but hovered above it like a spaceship. Hoping to elicit the same effect at Burroughs Wellcome, Rudolph produced images of the headquarters that sometimes suggested an artificial mountain, or even a strange alien form.
Rudolph's contemporaries also experimented with introducing laboratories into natural landscapes. At Mesa Laboratory, I. M. Pei showed how architecture could blend into its natural surroundings while also standing out as a novel contribution (Figure 15). Inspired by the Anasazi cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, Pei's distinctive design featured five bush-hammered concrete towers built using local pink aggregate to blend with the surrounding Flatirons. The structure not only gave the National Center for Atmospheric Research new prominence but also enhanced the prestige of atmospheric science as a discipline.35 Rudolph and Burroughs Wellcome, surely familiar with Pei's widely publicized accomplishments, hoped the new RTP headquarters would elicit similar enthusiasm.
Burroughs Wellcome intended its new headquarters to redefine not only the organization but also the shape of scientific research, and Rudolph aspired to integrate these ambitions into his design for the complex. Rather than the poured-in-place concrete construction method he had used at Endo Laboratories, Rudolph employed a structural frame (Figure 16). He noted that “an ‘A frame’ allows the greatest volume to be housed on the lower floors and yet connected to the smaller mechanical system at the apex of the building…. Anticipation of growth and change is implicit in the concept.”36 The architect's experience with framing originated in his early 1950s residential designs in Florida, with their extensive use of steel frames, cables, and adjustable planes.37 In many ways, Burroughs Wellcome was a continued exploration of the A-frame on a much larger scale. However, while in his earlier projects Rudolph employed the modular frame to accommodate natural ventilation, at Burroughs Wellcome he used the frame because it promised greater flexibility, faster construction, and lower overall cost. As in other contemporary projects, extensive HVAC systems controlled the building's interior climate. Above all, the frame enabled Rudolph to apply the concept of organic design to laboratory architecture, seamlessly integrating diverse functions and practical requirements.
A comparison of Burroughs Wellcome with Endo Laboratories reveals the advantages that Rudolph's framing offered. In the latter project, the use of heavy, rigid formwork cut into the work space and forced Rudolph to push internal circulation to the exterior. In contrast, the use of a massive steel A-frame at Burroughs Wellcome allowed Rudolph to integrate numerous stairways into the structure without compromising work space while also enriching the overall shape of the building. Further, this design did not have to follow a predictable treatment for the ease of pouring concrete. The A-frame accommodated a more unusual building profile, creating an impression of organicism with its varying emergent forms. The frame also enabled Rudolph to address what he considered to be “one of modern architecture's greatest failings … its lack of interest in the relationship of the building to the sky.”38 With its irregular roofline, the building echoed the irregular clouds above, and a monumental freestanding sculpture of a unicorn (never actually installed), the corporate symbol of Burroughs Wellcome, dramatically pierced the sky (Figure 17).
Rudolph employed industrial manufacturing and construction techniques to erect Burroughs Wellcome: a horizontal system of beams at the roofline connected the A-frame members, each sloped at a 22.5-degree angle (a solution perhaps dictated by the chemical treatment of the exterior surface panels). Burroughs Wellcome closely resembled Rudolph's proposal for the Lower Manhattan Expressway (1967–72), a megastructure integrating highway infrastructure and housing into a flexible A-shaped system (Figure 18). Rudolph argued that this new type of structure would reduce the traffic, noise, and exhaust that plagued metropolitan areas. While the urban conditions of a place like New York City were less relevant for North Carolina, the organizational model of the A-shaped structural system ordered the many different functions that Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters needed to accommodate, including administration, laboratory research, libraries, dining, and storage. Rudolph's consolidation of mechanical equipment in horizontal and vertical components in his design for the Lower Manhattan Expressway, as well as his use of prefabricated residence capsules, provided useful prototypes. Rudolph imagined housing components could be trucked to Manhattan and then lifted by cranes onto the superstructure.
Rudolph also gained experience with prefabricated components in his work on Oriental Masonic Gardens in New Haven, Connecticut (1968–70), a project built in response to that city's housing shortage (Figure 19). Rudolph envisioned that the mobile home could become the “brick of the twentieth century.”39 At Oriental Masonic Gardens, he stacked boxlike structures on top of each other at right angles to create new spatial combinations. Despite the eventual demolition of this complex—driven, at least in part, by the American public's entrenched hostility toward mobile homes—it gave Rudolph the opportunity to experiment with designs for affordable and efficient architecture. He reported that industrial construction methods transformed his practice: “As an architect, I have become more interested in finding other ways of making buildings, partially due to cost.”40 Indeed, the idea that new technologies should be used to transform and democratize architecture was one of Rudolph's core design principles.41
Rudolph's enthusiasm for prefabricated components also coincided with the growing international phenomenon of the megastructure.42 Avant-garde groups like the Metabolists and Archigram believed that the megastructure, containing residences, shops, transportation, and leisure spaces, could solve new urban challenges. Kenzo Tange's 1959 Boston Harbor project, designed with his students at MIT, represented one of the earliest examples of this kind of construction, using an A-frame to contain a three-dimensional circulation system.43 Rudolph also experimented with megastructures in his 1967 design for the Graphic Arts Center in New York City, where he married the megastructure concept with mobile housing. Here, vertical circulation cores containing elevators, staircases, and other utilities supported individual units suspended from trusses. Rudolph anticipated that megastructures would transform cities by allowing architects to take advantage of both air rights and space below grade to increase urban density. Despite popular enthusiasm, however, the megastructure phenomenon was short-lived. One of the earliest skeptics, the historian and critic Reyner Banham, predicted the end of the megastructure in 1976, in large part because of its disregard for the environment.44
At Burroughs Wellcome, Rudolph's move away from the poured-in-place concrete Brutalist vocabulary of his earlier work underscored his sustained interest in experimental design. Seeking to mitigate the typical costs and delays associated with concrete construction, the architect selected prefabricated concrete panels for cladding because they were light enough and did not require extensive foundations. The building's unconventional shape limited his choices, and weight concerns ruled out more typical surface cladding, such as brick or stone. Rudolph considered using tempered glass, but this did not fit his desired aesthetic and also posed insulation problems. The use of concrete panels thus satisfied both practical and aesthetic requirements.
Rudolph carefully selected his concrete aggregates to imply the organic emergence of the complex from its surroundings. Following Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in La Jolla, California (1959–65), Rudolph devoted special attention to the use of aggregates for exterior pavements—what Kahn described as the “fifth façade”—to better relate the building to its context.45 Concrete panels covered many vertical, horizontal, and tilted elements at Burroughs Wellcome, while the texture of the aggregate softened sharp edges. This made an especially dramatic effect in the three-tiered lobby, where natural and artificial lighting rippling across the aggregate walls suggested a mysterious and ever-expanding cave (Figure 20).
Rudolph's design made use of both traditional and innovative construction techniques. Concrete panels, in extensive use for commercial and public buildings since the 1950s, were relatively inexpensive to produce.46 To protect the concrete components from weather and fire, Rudolph selected a special system of exposed aggregate finishes called Bon Coat, which was made of magnesium oxychloride cement. The architect learned about this new finish, manufactured by the MD Corporation of Springfield, Missouri, while he was developing his unbuilt 1966 Fort Lincoln housing project in Washington, D.C. Prior to making the final selection, Rudolph's team investigated Bon Coat's performance at approximately forty other structures. MD Corporation claimed its product had been applied successfully in locations with climates similar to North Carolina's.47 Despite the novelty of Bon Coat, Rudolph clearly believed this new product represented an ideal surface treatment for the Burroughs Wellcome panels. As he stated in a later court examination, “I did not feel that we were dealing in any way with an experimental material.”48
Yet soon after the initial application of Bon Coat at Burroughs Wellcome, the concrete panels began to exhibit significant warping, and some had to be completely removed. Testing by several independent research firms determined that Bon Coat had caused a chemical imbalance in the concrete.49 This meant that the panels were not watertight, which led to the expansion and cracking of surfaces and irreparable zinc corrosion. Other researchers reported that improper hydration caused further damage: the application of Bon Coat during periods of rain or humidity prevented the concrete from curing properly.
Burroughs Wellcome initiated legal proceedings against Rudolph, the construction company, and other subcontractors, claiming damages of $1.5 million.50 Rudolph rejected the claim, arguing that it was the manufacturer's responsibility to alert the architect and builders to any material vulnerabilities, including problems relating to particle size, expansion limits, and delayed hydration. He stated that it was the manufacturer's duty to ensure the consistency and quality of the product.51 Rudolph also argued that the trademark status of Bon Coat compelled his office to rely on the manufacturer's publicity literature to assess the product's performance. Finally, he claimed he had hired an experienced contractor recommended by the manufacturer to ensure the correct application of Bon Coat.
According to materials scientists, the sloping walls of Rudolph's design presented special problems.52 Bon Coat was not meant for use on horizontal surfaces, where water accumulation could cause its disintegration. Rudolph had confirmed that walls sloping at 22.5 degrees could resist water infiltration if a sealer was applied. When specifying the application, however, Rudolph reduced the density of the sealer by 50 percent to eliminate an unattractive reflective shine. Equally significant was the architect's failure to test the sealer on-site before its application. Typically, designers were expected to draft specifications for the application of unconventional materials, but in this case Rudolph did not do so. During the court examination, he confessed that his office did not maintain engineers on staff and that, despite the complexity of the project, he had not hired a materials analysis specialist.
Rudolph worked quickly to remove the damaged panels before the material could corrode the steel superstructure, and he developed a detailed step-by-step procedure to resurface the building and protect its structural elements. While he managed to resolve the conundrum and avoid financial ruin, the incident caused Rudolph significant “personal embarrassment,” as one of his lawyers later noted.53
The Relationship between Interior and Exterior
Wright's philosophy of organicism also permeated Rudolph's design for the interior of the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters. Like Wright, Rudolph carefully choreographed the entrance experience. After squeezing through a simple set of doors into the compact foyer, visitors followed a series of progressively expanding geometric volumes toward a prominent reception desk. Undoubtedly the most ostentatious interior of the research complex, the monumental void of the three-tiered lobby symbolized the future-driven laboratory research taking place just beyond. Dimmed windows and ceiling fixtures further dramatized the alien forms, echoing the light tent roofs, thick masonry walls, and heavy timber frames of Wright's Taliesin West (1937), which Rudolph greatly admired.54 A carefully selected red-and-orange carpet offered striking contrast to the otherwise natural palette of the lobby, and a bench encouraged visitors to linger and marvel.
Rudolph's design offered a welcome contrast to the “fishbowl” aesthetic of glass corporate headquarters filled with vegetation, such as Saarinen's Bell Laboratories, Kevin Roche's Ford Foundation Headquarters in New York City (1963–68), and Saarinen's John Deere World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois (1961–64). As Rudolph stated, his spaces “arouse one's curiosity, give a sense of anticipation, beckon and impel us to rush forward to find that releasing space which dominates, which promises a climax and therefore gives direction.”55 And yet the design of the Burroughs Wellcome lobby seemed to follow a logic that was different from that of the exterior of the complex, in terms of both the arrangement of its forms and its shape and orientation.
The rest of the building followed an S-shaped plan, one side enclosing the main entry and the other a service court (Figure 21). In this way, Rudolph separated the two functions of the headquarters—laboratory research and administration—into separate wings connected by the lobby. The research wing on the southwestern end occupied two-thirds of the entire structure, accommodating 300 researchers in 140 laboratories, while the administration wing housed only half as many staff members.
The simple design sought to foster collaboration in the workforce by encouraging the sharing of ideas across departmental and disciplinary divides. To this end, Rudolph sited three-fourths of all the offices in the immediate vicinity of the lobby and placed the library and auditorium in a central position to encourage spontaneous gatherings. Since the late nineteenth century, architects and scientists had long located laboratories near each other to encourage interdisciplinary work; in designing Bell Laboratories and the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Eero Saarinen considered the strategic placement of elevators and hallways to encourage collegial exchange.56
Rudolph also paid careful attention to the design of private office spaces. By providing uninterrupted visual access to the rolling greenery outside, he hoped to encourage researchers to take breaks from their microscopic investigations and relax their minds. One illustration of a typical corner office highlighted the building's function as a device for viewing the outdoors (Figure 22). Sketched from a bird's-eye perspective, the drawing dedicated as much space to the representation of coniferous trees as it did to office furniture. Unlike traditional inward-facing cubicles, the partitioned offices at Burroughs Wellcome extended outward into the world. Staff also enjoyed access to the outdoors through multiple terraces. According to Rudolph, such southern architectural features could animate modern design: “The patio and courtyard is another device used widely in varying scales in the South which probably has more potentiality than any other device, for implicit in the patio is the concept of the space between buildings.”57
These privileged views of nature echoed Louis Kahn's design for the laboratories of the Salk Institute, where researchers gazed out across the Pacific. As Kahn explained, “The scientist, snugly isolated from all other mentalities, needed more than anything the presence of the immeasurable, which is the realm of the artist.”58 Rudolph's emphasis on the natural landscape suggests that he intended to offer a similarly inspiring and transformative experience at Burroughs Wellcome. Beyond work and productivity, access to the surrounding environment suggested the arrival of a new age of labor, marked by a concern for work–life balance and access to leisure. Indeed, the concept of the research park itself aimed to redefine rigorous intellectual labor in terms of endless pleasure.59
Reception and Expansion
The general public expressed enthusiasm for the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters when it opened for business. One visitor, for example, described it as a “sweeping gigantic sculptural form…. [It] delights the eye yet it is very colorful and inside is functional. Within the skylighted laboratories, occupying two-thirds of the building, research is taking place that may one day affect the lives of millions of human beings.”60 The headquarters soon came to represent the ambitions not only of Burroughs Wellcome but also of other businesses and RTP at large, and articles and advertisements promoting corporate innovation often featured the complex. The corporation showcased the building as a symbol of its bold intellectual creativity when advertising its products. The complex served as background for public-facing events, with exterior patios acting as amphitheaters and a portion of the grounds providing a softball field. Several images displayed staff and researchers sitting on the carport and other overhangs (Figure 23). Rudolph's innovative architecture communicated scientific innovation, daring, and the willingness to take risks. Rudolph certainly approved of these interpretations: his own space-saving office featured two tiers of carrels that encouraged draftsmen to climb and walk over desks and other surfaces. Less than ten years after the opening of Burroughs Wellcome, the 1983 film Brainstorm presented a less favorable view, using the structure as a backdrop for a science fiction narrative about the dangers of pushing nature to its limits.61
In 1987, Burroughs Wellcome hired Rudolph as consulting architect for a proposed expansion of the headquarters complex. The expansion resulted in a significant increase in interior research space, but it also saw the abandonment of the A-frame system, with its 22.5-degree angle. Researchers in particular had grumbled for years about the diagonal beams that interfered with their work: giving a tour of the facility in 1989 to New York Times reporters, scientist Gertrude B. Elion complained “as if from habit about Rudolph's large slanting beams, which jut into the lab spaces.”62 Thus, the new addition followed a more conventional design (Figure 24). In collaboration with landscape designers, Rudolph also reconfigured the exterior surroundings, adding a 56,000-square-foot reflecting pool traversed by three paths across the surface that mediated between old and new structures and offered a contemplative space for employees. Soon after, two company scientists, Gertrude B. Elion and George H. Hitchings, received the 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their invention of the “rational drug design,” a mode of drug development that successfully interfered with cell growth and thereby slowed the rate of cancer.
The Future of Rudolph's Design
In 1995, Glaxo, another pharmaceutical corporation, acquired Burroughs Wellcome. In 2011, following another merger with SmithKline Beecham to form GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, the world's largest corporation after General Electric, GSK decided to divest itself of its RTP real estate holdings. These changes signaled the broader transformation of research parks occurring across the country—if employees of the 1960s wished to move to the suburbs, those of the 2000s, many of them millennials, aspired to enjoy urban conveniences, including public transportation, restaurants, and mixed-use housing. Research parks located in dense metropolitan regions, such as Stanford, remained financially successful, but those on the urban periphery, like RTP, struggled to lure corporate tenants. It comes as no surprise that RTP's latest master plan aims to create a more distinctly urban experience, replete with skywalks, a bike-sharing system, and shopping.63
Rather than signaling a high-tech future, Burroughs Wellcome now appears hopelessly out of date. Its sealed interior and high energy consumption rates contradict today's concerns regarding environmental sustainability, and its enormous scale conflicts with the current preference of many institutions to assume a low profile, achieved by spreading out or building underground. When United Therapeutics, a biotechnology company, bought the complex in 2012, it promptly demolished 400,000 square feet, including the 1987 addition and a portion of the 1972 research wing. Initially, the company proposed to bring Rudolph's design into the present by renovating the building as a carbon-neutral structure replete with solar panels and other cutting-edge technologies. However, in 2020, United Therapeutics applied for and received a permit to demolish the structure, generating great outrage from the design and historic preservation communities.64
The Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters represented Rudolph's attempt to move beyond the research laboratory as a glass prism and evoke instead the suspense and mystery of the natural environment. Rudolph also aspired to create a signature architectural form that would define the company itself, as Frank Lloyd Wright had done with his Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin (1936–39). Yet, although Rudolph's use of the A-frame as an organizing matrix created awe-inspiring spaces, his design generated practical challenges for use and maintenance. At the same time, while Rudolph's efforts to engage industrial techniques and experimental materials facilitated construction and lowered costs, his approach entailed significant risks. The use of Bon Coat put the entire project in jeopardy and even threatened to undermine the architect's reputation. The challenges that Rudolph experienced in erecting the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters remind us that architects must strike a delicate balance between innovation and convention. Despite the allure of a romanticized aesthetics of discovery, it is evident that scientists prefer practicality and efficiency in laboratory design. While Rudolph sought to open a new low-cost direction for science architecture with his imaginative solutions, his design ultimately failed to come to terms with corporate commitments to efficiency, production, and profit.
I am grateful to Lisa Davidson and the SAH/HABS Sally Kress Tompkins Fellowship for facilitating foundational research at the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters; to United Therapeutics for granting access to the building; to Stuart W. Leslie for generously sharing his Welcome Trust research; to Mari Nakahara at the Library of Congress for research assistance; to Richard Longstreth and Joe Siry for guidance in the development of an earlier draft of this article; to Judy Selhorst for expert copyediting; and to former JSAH editor Keith Eggener, current JSAH editor David Karmon, and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback.
Other laboratory buildings designed by Paul Rudolph include the Greeley Memorial Laboratory at Yale University (1957–59) and the Endo Pharmaceuticals Laboratories in Long Island, New York (1962–64).
Donald L. Opitz, “‘This House Is a Temple of Research’: Country-House Centres for Late Victorian Science,” in Repositioning Victorian Sciences: Shifting Centres in Nineteenth-Century Scientific Thinking, ed. David Clifford, Elisabeth Wadge, Alex Warwick, and Marin Willis (London: Anthem Press, 2006), 143–56.
Simon Schaffer, “Physics Laboratories and the Victorian Country House,” in Making Space for Science: Territorial Themes in the Shaping of Knowledge, ed. Crosbie Smith and Jon Agar (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1998), 149–180; Opitz, “‘This House Is a Temple of Research,’” esp. 148.
Michael I. Luger and Harvey A. Goldstein, Technology in the Garden: Research Parks and Regional Economic Development (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).
Luger and Goldstein, 12.
For more on the development of Cold War–era science communities and urbanism, see Margaret Pugh O'Mara, Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015).
For a discussion of RTP's relationship to the emergence of the high-tech economy, see Alex Sayf Cummings, Brain Magnet: Research Triangle Park and the Idea of the Idea Economy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020).
“The South in the Sixties,” New York Times, 24 Apr. 1960.
Quoted in J. W. Davis, “More Than Luck Is Needed to Acquire a New Industry,” High Point Enterprise, 4 July 1965.
“PhDs among the Possums,” Economist, 1970s, box 194, folder 3448, Collection 5081, Research Triangle Foundation Papers, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Doreen Massey, Paul Quintas, and David Wield, High-Tech Fantasies: Science Parks in Society, Science and Space (London: Routledge, 1993).
See R. C. Linstromberg, “The Challenge of Leisure to the Cult of Work,” Midcontinent American Studies Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 1967), 20–33.
Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited (New York: Basic Books, 2014).
One report suggested that Burroughs Wellcome employees thought “Southerners didn't wear shoes” and that “we were all one big swamp.” Wayne King, “North Carolina's Research Triangle Is Now the Biggest and Brightest,” Dispatch, 7 Feb. 1977, box 194, folder 3448, Collection 5081, Research Triangle Foundation Papers, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Quoted in Alvin Taylor, “It's Official: Burroughs Wellcome Is Coming,” Daily Reflector, 5 Feb. 1969, box 194, folder 3448, Collection 5081, Research Triangle Foundation Papers, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Survey of Drug Firms Reveals Differences in Quality,” Press and Sun-Bulletin, 4 Nov. 1973.
George Nobbe, “Has the South Won?,” Daily News, 6 Apr. 1969.
E. M. Tansey, “Medicines and Men: Burroughs, Wellcome & Co, and the British Drug Industry before the Second World War,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 95, no. 8 (2002), 411–16.
“Burroughs Wellcome Fund History,” Burroughs Wellcome Fund, https://www.bwfund.org/history (accessed 25 Mar. 2020).
Jay Sharbutt, “Commercial TV Takes ‘Healthy’ Step,” High Point Enterprise, 13 May 1975.
Burroughs Wellcome Co., press release, 21 Aug. 1969, PMR-3003-1, box 13, folder 8, Paul Marvin Rudolph Archive, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (hereafter Rudolph Archive).
Louise A. Mozingo, Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011).
John Harwood, The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).
Quoted in Harwood, 77.
Quoted in Peter Papademetriou, “Coming of Age: Eero Saarinen and Modern American Architecture,” Perspecta 21 (1984), 129.
Scott G. Knowles and Stuart W. Leslie, “‘Industrial Versailles’: Eero Saarinen's Corporate Campuses for GM, IBM, and AT&T,” Isis 92, no. 1 (Mar. 2001), 1–33. See also John Walsh, “Bell Labs: A Systems Approach to Innovation Is the Main Thing,” Science 153, no. 3734 (22 July 1966), 393–96.
Quoted in Timothy M. Rohan, “Challenging the Curtain Wall: Paul Rudolph's Blue Cross and Blue Shield Building,” JSAH 66, no. 1 (Mar. 2007), 89.
Quoted in Nan R. Piene, “Paul Rudolph Designs a Town,” Art in America 55 (July/Aug. 1967), 59.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1931), 27.
Frank Lloyd Wright, “In the Cause of Architecture,” Architectural Record 23 (May 1908), 4.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Yukio Futagawa, and Paul Rudolph, Kaufmann House: Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1936 (Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita Tokyo, 1970).
“Architect's Description: Extemporaneous Remarks of Paul Rudolph,” Burroughs Wellcome Co., press release, 1970, 2, PMR-3063-3, container 13, folder 8, Rudolph Archive.
Rudolph noted: “Fallingwater is that rare work which is composed of such delicate balancing of forces and counterforces, transformed into spaces thrusting horizontally, vertically, and diagonally, that the whole achieves the serenity which marks all great works of art. This calmness, with its underlying tensions, forces and counterforces, permeates the whole, inside and out, including furnishings and fittings.” Rudolph, in Wright et al., Kaufmann House, 2.
Stuart W. Leslie, “‘A Different Kind of Beauty’: Scientific and Architectural Style in I. M. Pei's Mesa Laboratory and Louis Kahn's Salk Institute,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38, no. 2 (Spring 2008), 173–221.
Quoted in Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, The Architecture of Paul Rudolph (New York: Praeger, 1970), 233.
Christopher Domin and Joseph King, Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002).
Paul Rudolph, “The Six Determinants of Architectural Form,” Architectural Record 120 (Oct. 1956), 188.
Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen, Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008), 154.
Examination of Paul M. Rudolph, PMR-3015-1, Rudolph Archive.
Rudolph stated that “utilization of advanced techniques to benefit the most people is every twentieth-century architect's responsibility. Techniques are only a means to an end; our modern expression should arise from the demands of society and the solutions to new problems.” Paul Rudolph, “Paul Rudolph,” Perspecta 1 (Summer 1952), 22.
In 1964, Fumihiko Maki defined a megastructure as “a large frame in which all the functions of a city or part of a city are housed.” Fumihiko Maki, Investigations in Collective Form (St. Louis: Washington University School of Architecture, 1964), 8.
Agnes Nyilas, “On MIT Boston Harbor Project, 1959: Re-evaluation of ‘Megastructure’ Proposals by Kenzo Tange,” Journal of Architecture and Planning 71, no. 608 (2006), 181–88.
Reyner Banham, Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).
Marc Treib, “To End a Continent: The Courtyard of the Salk Institute,” JSAH 65, no. 3 (Sept. 2006), 414.
The production of concrete panels involved the following steps: first, the washed aggregate was placed on canvas liners that were coated with a water-resistant adhesive; next, the material was distributed with a hopper tool, and then the liners were vibrated horizontally to ensure evenness; finally, after the liners were dried, they were positioned inside concrete forms and concrete was poured over them. Portland Cement Association, Color and Texture in Architectural Concrete by Aggregate Transfer (Skokie: PCA, 1956), Smithsonian National American History Museum.
MD Research Manufacturing Design, Boncoat Jobs, 1965–1971, box 10, folder 4, Rudolph Archive.
Examination of Paul M. Rudolph.
According to court documents, the problem was interphase ionic diffusion, a chemical potential difference created by higher chloride ion concentration in the Bon Coat and lower water concentration in the cement. BMRI Laboratory, letter to Grattan Gill of Paul Rudolph's office, 16 Aug. 1971, PMR-3003-6, folder 2, Rudolph Archive.
Smith, Anderson, Dorsett, Blount and Ragsdale Lawyers, letter to Paul Rudolph, 20 Jan. 1972, PMR-3003-6, folder 3, Rudolph Archive.
Paul Rudolph, in meeting minutes, 2 Dec. 1971, PMR-3003-6, folder 2, Rudolph Archive.
Young, Moore, and Henderson, letter to Paul Rudolph, 28 Apr. 1975, PMR-3003-6, folder 5, Rudolph Archive.
Young, Moore, and Henderson, letter to Paul Rudolph, 13 May 1975, PMR-3003-6, folder 4, Rudolph Archive.
Paul Rudolph, “Excerpts from a Conversation,” Perspecta 22 (1986), 106.
Rudolph, “Six Determinants of Architectural Form,” 186.
Historian Paul Israel has discussed at length Thomas Edison's blending of the traditional machine shop innovation model with that of the research laboratory to invent an altogether new type of industrial research laboratory. See Paul Israel, Edison: A Life of Invention (New York: John Wiley, 2000). For more on Saarinen's corporate design, see Reinhold Martin, The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005).
Paul Rudolph, “Regionalism in Architecture,” Perspecta 4 (1957), 17.
Louis Kahn, Louis Kahn: Conversations with Students (Houston: Rice University Press, 1998), 26.
Linstromberg, “Challenge of Leisure to the Cult of Work.”
Mildred Huskins, “Sir Walter Cabinet Tours Triangle Park,” Statesville Record and Landmark, 21 Feb. 1974.
Douglas Trumbull, dir., Brainstorm, 1983, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Katherine Bouton, “The Nobel Pair,” New York Times, 29 Jan. 1989.
In 2012, advertisements for the reconfiguration of RTP sought to project a more urban image by featuring activities such as skateboarding. See Lydia Depillis, “Dinosaur Makeover: Can Research Triangle Park Pull Itself Out of the 1950s?,” New Republic, 12 Oct. 2012, https://newrepublic.com/article/108527/can-research-triangle-park-pull-itself-out-1950s (accessed 17 July 2019); “New Master Plan for North Carolina's Research Triangle Park Will Stress Sustainable Development,” Inhabitat, 8 Nov. 2012, https://inhabitat.com/new-master-plan-for-north-carolinas-research-triangle-park-will-stress-sustainable-development (accessed 17 July 2019).
Matt Hickman, “Say It Ain't So: Paul Rudolph's Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters Building in North Carolina Threatened with Demolition,” Architect's Newspaper, 11 Sept. 2020, https://www.archpaper.com/2020/09/paul-rudolphs-burroughs-wellcome-headquarters-building-in-north-carolina-threatened-with-demolition (accessed 30 Oct. 2020).