How Facebook's Corporate Campus Is Tied to General Motors in 1956

1956: Eero Saarinen builds General Motors a compound in the suburbs.
Few expenses were spared by GM CEO Alfred Sloan, as seen in this spiral staircase Courtesy General Motors

1956 Eero Saarinen builds General Motors a compound in the suburbs.

Credit the knowledge worker with the rise of the corporate campus. Beginning in the 1940s, enterprising companies such as General Motors, Bell Labs, and General Electric began building separate complexes for their R&D departments away from their urban headquarters. Modeled on the college campus, these labs were set on manicured quads. Moving researchers and scientists away from blue-collar factories, Louise Mozingo writes in Pastoral Capitalism, elevated their stature as innovators who could create new sources of profit. Soon, with more workers living in suburbs, companies relocated their entire operations to these campuses, leaving city skyscrapers behind. The General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich., created in 1956 by Eero Saarinen (who would also design iconic buildings for IBM, Deere, and other giants), is considered the earliest and most influential corporate estate and was named a National Historic Landmark in October 2014.

Not every company could afford a starchitect, and the trend also yielded bland, boxy eyesores just off highway exits. Decades later, Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook supercharged the approach, creating small cities with so many amenities—free meals, gyms, dry cleaning—that workers resist ever going home.

The center of Facebook’s campus in Menlo Park, Calif., built in 2012, is called Hacker Square.

Photograph by Herb Lingl/Aerial Archives