- Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes
While residential suburbanization has been elaborately researched, the exodus of businesses to the edge of the city is hardly investigated. Scholars only recently have begun to study this crucial move. For example, Michael Ryckewaert recently scrutinized the new infrastructural and business backbone that supported the urban sprawl in postwar Belgium, in which the British industrial park and American corporate architecture, along with the satellite town, the neighborhood unit, the linear industrial city, and Le Corbusier’s “usine verte” all served as models. Louise A. Mozingo’s Pastoral Capitalism will become an authoritative reference on the suburbanization of corporate workplaces. In investigating the suburban places of business of big corporations such as Bell Labs, General Motors, Deere & Company, and Microsoft, landscape architect Mozingo directs attention to a blind spot in the history of suburbanization in America.
She distinguishes three phases in the development of the new landscape of corporate work. First, the “corporate campus,” modeled on the American university campus, was created in the 1940s in order to house the corporate research division, a new part of middle management (p. 12). The location—in a suburban residential area of the white middle-to-upper class—and the urban form—an unmistakable homage to the university environment—were successful bids to attract white-collar workers, especially white skilled women, who were cheaper in comparison to men and who lived in those suburban areas.
Second, the “corporate estate” (p. 12) emerged in the early 1950s as offices for the crown of the corporation, the top executives and their staffs. The corporate estate was a kind of “American Versailles,” consisting of an impressive, modernist “palace” accessed via a majestic, meandering drive-way [End Page 942] “through a scenically constructed landscape of 200 acres or more” (p. 12). The idea behind the luxuriant settings with verdant vistas of broad lawns and leafy trees was not to be efficient, but to gain status and prestige from employees, local residents, stockholders, competitors, and bankers. Such suburban palaces needed to be status equivalents for the skyscraper office in the city center.
Finally, in the late 1950s the office park was invented. As the park housed several smaller offices for lower-level regional management, corporate back-office functions, start-up companies, and corporate service providers, prices could be lowered and uses could be more flexible. When growing, additional extensions could be built or bought, while in times of recession parts of the buildings could be sold to other firms. The business park in particular was exported abroad and now can be found in many developments worldwide. Indeed, after discussing each landscape type at length in a separate chapter, the author focuses on their development outside the United States, especially in the undeveloped countries where their presence is very problematic, reinforcing a strong segregation between rich and poor.
Interestingly, Mozingo not only analyzes the morphological processes but also the underlying motives for pastoral modernism. Initially, the green settings were made to attract the intended working force. At the same time, the green landscape was also used to convince neighboring communities that the firm would be a good neighbor. Eventually, it became a way to mask the negative sides of globalization, brought about by the corporations themselves: environmental degradation, material inequities, unethical business practices, transportation problems, and more.
Pastoral capitalism became popular for the same reasons that people flocked to suburban residences: modern comforts inside with a rustic, restful environment outside. The suburban buildings are the expression of an aversion toward the busy city center and are a way to avoid the disadvantages of urbanization, globalization, and modernization. But starkly opposed to residential suburbanization, pastoral capitalism is never promoted by designers or reformers. It is (mis)used by corporations in order to avoid confrontations with the unpleasant realities the companies produce. As such, they withdraw from their responsibility to contribute to the quality of public spaces. Moreover, Mozingo shows very convincingly how corporate suburbanization was a fundamental part of residential suburbanization processes. This timely book...