A hilltop fortress for IBM

Marching across the crest of a wooded hillside in Don Mills, the former IBM Canada headquarters at 1150 Eglinton Avenue East was completed in 1967  for what was then the world’s dominant computer company and an icon of postwar America. The selection of John B. Parkin Associates as architect exemplified IBM’s commitment to modern design to communicate its corporate prestige, social progressiveness and technological leadership.

IMG_9909 IBM HQ V3

From Eglinton Avenue, the IBM building reads as a sprawling, ground-hugging megastructure of Louis Kahn-ish cubic modules, overlapping and interlocking as they step down the hillside. The influences of Kahn and Alvar Aalto are also apparent in the solid walls of reddish brick, a sharp divergence from Parkin’s glassy transparency of a few years earlier; the fortress-like impenetrability is only partially relieved by narrow vertical slits of bronze-toned glass in black anodized frames. Most interior spaces are oriented to the southern light, a benefit in Toronto’s often grey and wintry environment, and to views over the ravine of Ernest Thompson Seton Park. A private cloverleaf access road winds uphill to the west, leading to a secluded entrance court at the rear of the complex. Given the social context—the upheavals of the 1960s—the building’s defensive mien could be interpreted as the reaction of the famously buttoned-down IBM culture to an environment perceived as increasingly unpredictable and potentially threatening.

Presently, the IBM building seems to be facing an uncertain future: following a period as the head office of Celestica, a former subsidiary of IBM Canada, it now sits empty, awaiting new occupants or redevelopment.


IMG_9994 IBM HQ V1

4 Responses to “A hilltop fortress for IBM”

  1. 1 Gregory Sokoloff October 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I used to work in this building when it was an IBM Development Lab back in the 1980s. I’m afraid that the design was extremely depressing for those who had to labour within its walls because the large floorplate and paucity of windows meant that the vast majority of offices had no natural light whatsoever. I always found the exterior a pleasing and harmonious example of modern design in contrast to the failure of its interior. In later buildings, IBM incorporated more consideration of its employees needs, and build radically different structures that brought much more light and exterior awareness to the offices.

  2. 2 stephan April 3, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    I used to work there in the 80s as a coop student. Worked on the ISDN protocol for the AS400. Anyways, I liked the exterior in the peaceful setting but the interior did lack natural lighting. I remember that it had coloured zones and I think I was in the “Blue Zone”. SW

  3. 3 Scott Burgess January 19, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Enjoy it while you can. Most of it is proposed to be demolished for a new development.

  1. 1 Then and Now: Places (and things) of Toronto « IBM Future Blue Canada Trackback on August 30, 2012 at 10:29 am

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