A black and white photo of a woman with chin-length hair in a 3/4 pose, in front of a window.Brittany Reilly has served on the Board of Directors of Preservation Pittsburgh since 2018 to contribute toward the awareness and appreciation of our region’s historic, architectural, and cultural resources.  She is the founder and chair of the Pittsburgh Modern Committee, focused on bringing perspective to mid-20th-century modern and postmodern architecture, public art and design.

Brittany has worked extensively with contemporary artists and institutions throughout her 20-year career in the visual arts. As Executive Director of the deRoy Gruber Foundation, she manages a collection of artwork and archives by the late Pittsburgh-based artist Aaronel deRoy Gruber (1918-2011).

Modernism makes her heart go pitter-pat. You can learn more about Westinghouse history and modernism from Brittany in our webinar “Centers for Innovation,” a look at the adaptive reuse of New Jersey’s Bell Labs and the potential future of the Westinghouse R&D complex (listed on PA at Risk in 2022) in Western Pennsylvania, located near the Tele-Computer Center.

Dear Westinghouse Tele-Computer Center in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
Will You Be My Valentine?
Y / N 

“…a near-opaque exterior of tinted glass walls accentuated by laminated white quartz panels, enveloping a maximally open interior of partition walls organized around a central, glass-walled room filled with computers and their bustling attendants…the site of the dynamic interface between humans and machines…the architectural logic linking and organizing the corporate body, computers, and design…”

-The White Room: Eliot Noyes and the Logic of the Information Age Interior (MIT Press, 2003)

A black and white image of a modern building at twilight.

I’ve traveled the world over to experience sites by architects that intrigue me – yet few compare to my major crush on a structure designed in 1964 by Eliot Noyes & Associates along Interstate 376, Parkway East approaching Monroeville, just miles from home.  Not exactly everyone’s type, I struggle to convey my feelings for this austere, mysterious fellow as we drive by with friends. “IIIBM… Eliot Noyes!…Westinghouse…” I blurt out.  A two-building complex on 20 acres at 1001 Brinton Road flashes by. It’s not easy to turn around, and no one seems convinced.

Describing the property as a “former Westinghouse communications facility” as recent real estate listings have, is a bit of an understatement regarding what was the ‘World’s First Tele-Computer Center,’ (for business anyway, US Air Force preceded) connecting, via computer system and a nationwide teletype network, hundreds of Westinghouse Electric Corporation plants, factories, warehouses and sales offices across the United States in real-time.  Executives in Pittsburgh watched a screen in awe as UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) devices processed customer orders, controlled inventory, computed payroll, processed sales stats, detailed manufacturing costs, and relayed teletype messages across the company – all with employed computer programmers and technician-specialists supervising.

What kind of structure might house such contraptions and critical work in 1964?  The purpose-built, low-lying, 35,000 square foot glass and concrete building (with subterranean level about half the size) was the work of Eliot Noyes (1910-1977), an architect-industrial designer by then praised as a “curator of corporate culture” for IBM, one of his key clients and for whom he designed everything from typewriters to headquarter settings. Three years after the Tele-Computer Center Noyes and his firm would develop the spacesuit controls and space shuttle interiors for Stanley Kubrick’s film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Click here to watch 1964 video of the Westinghouse Tele-Computer Center.

In The White Room: Eliot Noyes and the Logic of the Information Age Interior (MIT Press, 2003), historian John Hartwood explores characteristics of Noyes’ structures and spaces designed for corporate computing. A signature expressed in the Tele-Computer Center is that of the interior glass-enclosed courtyard, what Hartwood calls a “monastic…introverted courtyard,” housing not live greenery – but computers and Saarinen chairs.  An exterior and distinguishing feature is the strong geometric white-quartz panel detail along the structure’s perimeter paired with heavily tinted glass.  While the interior glass computer cloister – an immaculate space of control – brings the focus, even reverence inward to the workings of Westinghouse, the markedly opaque exterior protects it all from the wild wonderful world outside. Indeed, Noyes’ often left the surrounding acreage and landscaping as is. The adjacent five-story office building was an existing Westinghouse structure and is unremarkable by comparison.

Top half shows the building view, bottom half shows a site map of the building and the surrounding landscape and elevation

Still, as Hartwood suggests, “The Tele-Computer Center’s opaque, and perhaps banal, exterior may be read as an indication of its actual radical, albeit invisible, connections to other such spaces through the spatial and temporal mechanics of real-time management.”

Currently the complex sits vacant and has for some time, much like the nearby Westinghouse Research & Development Center, the Skidmore Owings & Merrill designed campus where the company’s research scientists conducted no less fascinating work. The Tele-Computer buildings were last occupied by United Healthcare when they underwent extensive interior renovations.

Centers for Innovation

In 2023, Brittany Reilly and the Pittsburgh Modern Committee co-hosted a webinar with Preservation Pennsylvania looking at the history and design of the Westinghouse R&D Center. (Located not far from the Westinghouse Tele-Computer Center you’ve read about above. The Westinghouse R&D Center was listed on the 2022 Pennsylvania At Risk.

If you’re interested in modernism, you’ll enjoy this webinar about potential reuse of the Westinghouse R&D Center and, as an example of what is possible, a look at the adaptive reuse of the Bell Labs in New Jersey that made use of the federal historic preservation tax credit.