In the former home of Silicon Graphics Inc., located steps from Google’s sprawling Mountain View, CA compound, a neighbour to Microsoft’s service buildings, and down the road from NASA’s wind tunnel, is the Computer History Museum. Recently, the home of “history in progress” (where computing technology’s past is on display, even as its future continues to be written beyond its walls) got a facelift.
San Francisco firm MH/A recently completed a sweeping renovation of the building’s first floor, reconstructing the entrance hall and adding a theatre, café and bookstore. Most importantly, the firm added 2322 square meters of exhibition space. Although the current exhibit, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing, looks backwards, it’s in a space as forward-thinking as its neighbours.
Mirroring the sheer-white aesthetic of companies like nearby Apple, the atrium’s brilliant floors and walls are punctuated with rectangles recalling the punchcards from the early days of electronic computing. Diagonal beams pierce the entranceway, forming an arch that hints at the metal skeleton beneath the glossy surface.
Inside the exhibit space, coloured lights cast dramatic shadows through the darkened white-finished industrial interior that displays relics any true computer nerd would appreciate: UNIVAC and ENIAC computers, an example of the Enigma machines so pivotal to the outcome of World War II. You can also see one of only two existing Babbage Difference Engines: a series of geared columns capable of making complex calculations, designed in 1821 but not realised until just a few years ago. Visitors can also see more recent artefacts like an early wooden computer mouse, an Apple 1 and Palm Pilot.
It’s a fitting place for these antiques. Modern tech is built on the innovations of historic devices like these and now they’re on display in a modern space that was once home to one of Silicon Valley’s tech titans.