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Research Triangle Park: Back to the future of office design?

Posting in Architecture

"It's a strange moment for the architecture of technology," Lydia DePillis wrote in a post on The New Republic's site late last week. Her point is that our most-admired companies, Apple, Google, and Facebook, may be creating "single-use corporate playgrounds." In other words, are they just hipper updates of the traditional office park? Perhaps counter-intuitively, the real future of office design may lie in an old-school bastion of invention: Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, she argues.

That's not because the 7,000  acre area, home to more than 170 companies, is already the model of contemporary innovation-center design. Sure, it was a half-century ago, when Research Triangle Park was first conceived and created. But titans like IBM moved jobs away, and other companies went bankrupt. While the number of workers grew in the 1980s and 1990s, in the 2000s, the area is not as attractive as it was in the past, according to The New Republic--and it is currently facing a remake. Today, as DePillis reports,

"According to a source with knowledge of the redevelopment process, attendance rates at the Park’s companies had declined significantly in recent years, as more and more employees decided to telecommute and skip coming into the office at all."

So Bob Geolas, president (since last year) of the non-profit foundation that runs the park, is working on updating it to make it more attractive to today's workers who live in a world very different from that of their parents and grandparents. It should be fascinating to see what types of features will be put into place--and if Silicon Valley and other areas take notice, too.

While the details seem fuzzy right now, here are some:

  • There will be residences added; laws had to be changed so that future residents will pay "normal" residential taxes
  • An international panel of architects and designers will be recruited to develop a remake; Geolas has already retained the firm HR&A Advisors, which worked on Manhattan's successful High Line development, which turned an abandoned elevated train track into a thriving park
  • The idea is to provide a location where workers can easily work or bike to work, and have amenities such as great coffee or entertainment venues nearby to improve their daily quality of life

As DePillis analyzes, it's unlikely that Research Triangle Park will be transformed suddenly into the Meatpacking District, the cool area in Manhattan where the High Line is located (along with Google's New York offices and countless chic eating places and shopping venues, I might add). But she adds a good point: as Silicon Valley's traffic intensifies and rents and home prices in the Bay Area remain astonishingly high, perhaps today's--and tomorrow's--innovative minds, especially those launching start-ups, just might consider relocating to the new Research Triangle Park.

Image: Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC/Flickr

— By on October 17, 2012, 1:24 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure