Martin’s last, and perhaps most original, laboratory, the North American Aviation Science Center (1966) seamlessly inserted an ‘aero’ space into an upscale suburban landscape. The Science Center aspired to be nothing less than a smaller version of Eero Saarinen’s Bell Laboratories, with a west coast vibe. Its location in Thousand Oaks, in the Conejo Valley twenty miles west of Canoga Park, promised its prospective staff a “’campus-near-home’ adjacent to desirable residential sites”. Martin perched his building on the lip of the 350-foot cliff above the arroyo. To blend into the landscape, Martin kept it one story, with tapered concrete stilts in soft white with exposed brown aggregate from a nearby quarry. In place of his signature ledge and eye-lids he set back the tinted glass curtain wall under a simple overhang, then enclosed the exterior corridor with a low, bush-hammered concrete wall trimmed with aluminum. He placed the offices on the exterior and around the perimeter of the two matching rectangular courtyards, with the laboratories set back-to-back along the spine of the building, arranged so the scientists would have their laboratories adjacent to their offices. To give the courtyard offices an instant view, the landscape architect brought in mature trees and lowered them into place with a helicopter. Off to one side of the entrance and its terraced stairway, Martin designed a modest auditorium that mimicked in form and texture the natural boulders surrounding it. Nestled into the hillside behind it, the Science Center could only be seen and appreciated close up. Architecturally, Martin’s boldest idea was setting the building atop an open ‘basement’. Conceptually identical to the interstitial spaces in Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, which broke ground the same year, the Science Center’s 9-foot high ‘servant’ space ran below rather than above the laboratories, and cost far less. Scientists could run service lines right through the floor to virtually anywhere they chose. Equipment too cumbersome, noisy, or otherwise intrusive, could be placed beneath the labs, while specialized instruments demanding extreme insulation from vibration could be anchored by pillars drilled directly from the labs into bedrock.
Fittingly, Pereira’s last, largest, and most visually arresting ‘aero’ space, Autonetics in Laguna Niguel (1971), with a million square feet within a single building, marked the beginning of the end for space age California. Here Pereira abandoned his transparent campuses of high modernism for the pre-cast, textured concrete of neo-Babylonian brutalism. Where General Atomic and Aeronutronic looked to open a window on a bright future, Autonetics hunkered down behind a façade that provided a visual metaphor for the Vietnam War era bunker mentality of the military-industrial complex.
Do Pereira and Martin’s space-age classics have a future? The end of the Cold War put many of these iconic buildings at risk. Household names like Convair, Douglas, TRW, North American Aviation and Northrop disappeared in a wave of mergers, and with them entire aerospace complexes. Many are already gone, including Pereira’s Convair Astronautics and his Aeronutronic complex, Martin’s Space Technology Laboratories, and Luckman’s Nortronics campus. Others have been altered beyond recognition (Martin’s TRW campus in Canoga Park) or lost in an endless suburban sprawl they helped spawn. Preserving corporate and industrial buildings is always challenging, especially in a place where real estate can be a better investment than R&D. Companies like Nortronics often decided that “skyrocketing home values have made it difficult to recruit engineers,” sold off their properties to developers of gated communities and moved to more prosaic buildings. The survivors are now old enough to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Martin’s Space Park and Pereira’s General Atomic being obvious candidates. Though often honored for their technical contributions, some of these aerospace headquarters also deserve recognition as modernist masterpieces that remind us of an era when even the sky was not the limit.
About the Author
Bill Leslie teaches the history of science and technology at The Johns Hopkins University. His architectural writing include studies of Eero Saarinen’s corporate laboratories, the healthcare designs of Bertrand Goldberg and Eberhard Zeidler, laboratories by I.M. Pei and Louis Kahn, Edward Durell Stone’s “Nuclear Taj Mahal” for Pakistan, and the aerospace modernism of William Periera and A.C. Martin Jr. in Southern California. He recently served as the Charles Lindbergh Chair at the National Air and Space Museum.
 David Beers, “The Crash of Blue Sky California” Harper’s Magazine (July 1993): 68.
 Stuart W. Leslie, “William Peirera’s Aerospace Modernism” in Peter Westwick (ed.) Blue Sky Metropolis (University of California Press, 2012).
 Louise Mozingo, Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes (MIT Press, 2011.)
 Stuart W. Leslie, “Aerospaces: Southern California Architecture in a Cold War World” History and Technology (2014):