Rocket launched @ Historic IBM Campus

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Hubert Grace Phipps (American, born 1957). Rocket, 2020. Polished stainless steel. Historic IBM-Boca Raton Innovation Campus (1968-1974), Marcel Breuer & Robert Gatje, Architects. Boca Raton. [Photo Augustus Mayhew]

Rocket, a dazzling 21st-century monolithic rocket-shaped installation, created by sculptor and aviator Hubert Phipps was recently dedicated at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRiC), the landmark Midcentury Modern IBM tech complex designed by Marcel Breuer & Robert Gatje, Architects (1968- 1974) where the first IBM commercial PC was invented and produced.

Although last Monday night’s dedication did not attract the 3,500 who attended IBM’s ceremonial dedication on March 31, 1970, a tent filled with guests was spared September’s late afternoon rain as temperatures plunged to 90 degrees for the sculpture’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Phipps-designed work was selected as part of a new public art program, a cultural partnership between the Boca Raton Museum of Art and CP Group, formerly Crocker Partners, the owner of the 1.7 million square-foot office complex, known as Florida’s largest single-office facility.

3 … 2 … 1 Red ribbon cut; Rocket launched. Sculptor Hubert Phipps, fifth from left, was joined by supporters from BRiC, Boca Raton Museum of Art, and Palm Beach County’s Art in Public Places program.
Blast off!

I must admit an inherent skepticism about “public art projects,” regarding them the antithesis of Art. Late Friday afternoon I thought I would drive down to Boca Raton and take a look at Rocket. If I wasn’t swept away, I would take a walkaround the Marcel Breuer magnum opus, reminiscent of the ensemble of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Glad I did. Rocket? Simply sensational!

Harvest Moon rising in the eastern sky. Could that be Venus just above it?
Rocket, 2020.

Informed as much by aeronautic engineering and “sci-fi retro futurism,” Rocket stands 30 feet, weighs nearly 10 tons, and is composed of more than 2,000 square-feet of stainless steel. After all, steel was once the Phipps family business. Having studied at New York’s Art Students League and San Francisco’s Art Institute, Hubert’s art career was interrupted by several years as a pro racing car driver.

Since his first show in 2016 at New York’s Studio School, Phipps has shown in solo and group exhibitions in Florida, New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Massachusetts. Based in Middleburg, Virginia, Phipps is a frequent seasonal Palm Beach resident, commuting in his Airbus Helicopter H-120. Phipps is a recent appointment to the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Hubert Phipps with Irvin Lippman, executive director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
Giana Pacinelli, BRiC Marketing Director, hosted the event.
Jody Harrison Grass, chairman Boca Raton Museum of Art Board of Trustees.
Bill Spring & Jose Lima, principals of the News Travels Fast PR company that represent the artist.
Rocket, view toward IBM buildings. After developing the model from sketches and clay, Phipps crafted Rocket’s sculptural design with the aid of Maya-3D software program. The finished installation is an edition of three available works, each measuring 30’ x 24.8’ x 9.5’ (9.1 x 7.5 x 2.8 meters).
Rocket, view southwest across lake to IBM buildings. “A great admirer of Marcel Breuer, Hubert Phipps’ work brings us full circle to the idea of forms levitating into space. The monumental Rocket boldly captures that heroic lift-off with a sense of awe and wonderment,” adds Irvin Lippman, executive director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
IBM Boca Raton, cornerstone and original Master Plan. [Marcel Breuer Papers, Smithsonian Archives of American Art]
IBM Boca Raton campus, view south from Rocket, toward the southeast across the lake.
Breuer’s Y-shaped lakefront buildings with Y-shaped columns provide the backdrop for Rocket, approximately the same height as the buildings, installed at the complex’s entrance.
Rocket’s polished surface further enlivens the sculpture reflecting the sky, lawns, lights, and the people moving around the park, welcoming interaction with visitors — perfectly encapsulating the experience of art in public places.” — Irvin Lippman, Boca Raton Museum of Art
Rocket, view northwest toward the parkland buffering the campus from Yamato Road.

From fabrication to dedication

Rocket was fabricated from sheet-grade, AISI-316 stainless steel at the Tany Foundry in Hangzhou, China. The armature was constructed from AISI-304 steel. This high-quality corrosive-resistant grade stainless steel is conducive to harsh subtropical environments. {Courtesy Hubert Phipps]
Rocket, view north onto T Rex Avenue leading to Yamato Road.
Rocket and the Harvest Moon.
Rocket, east profile.
Clockwise from above: Katie Young; Pete and Veronica Martinez; Bill Hawkins and Irvin Lippman.
Jan Engoren and April Krebs.

“I like things that are different. That is what fascinates me about abstract art; the mystery of it. For the most part I think I know what I am looking at as I go about my daily routine, and that is reassuring. Especially when I am out navigating the byways and the skyways. Yet I yearn to discover new worlds, otherworldly type worlds that are lurking in the deeper recesses of the mind.” — Hubert Phipps, 2021.

Rocket, view afar, from the lakefront looking north toward the entrance of BRiC on T Rex Avenue off Yamato Road.

IBM Boca Raton, 1968-1974
Marcel Breuer & Robert Gatje, Architects
Boca Raton Innovation Campus
CP Group – Boca Raton

When IBM announced in 1967 their purchase of 550 acres near Florida Atlantic University and the Boca Raton Executive Airport for a new 620,000 square-foot manufacturing/development complex, architects Marcel Breuer and Robert Gatje had already accepted the commission for the design. For the Boca Raton project, Breuer adapted his 1961 design for the IBM Research Center in France, reworking the Y-shaped buildings supported by Y-shaped columns into a much larger configuration for a far different climate.

The Boca Raton site was planned to house a three-story administration and product test building, a three-story development laboratory building, a manufacturing building, cafeteria, a materials distribution center, and a utility plant, leaving areas for further expansion as IBM continued its worldwide. The ground floor was designed for offices, punctuated by Breuer’s signature tree-like columns, accommodating a covered walkway that connected the full length of the buildings. These first-floor offices were composed with aluminum and glass. The columns were the only poured-in-place concrete on site besides the staircases. The upper-level floors were composed of pre-cast panels, similar to what IBM implemented at the French Research Center.

IBM Research Center. La Gaude, France. 1961. In Boca Raton, three similar “Y” shaped buildings were arranged opposite each other, placing a lake in the center as a focal point, creating a shared courtyard for the adjacent buildings. [Marcel Breuer Papers, Smithsonian Archives of American Art]
A precast stone model of first IBM PC Keyboard is set in the west building’s central patio overlooking the lake. At the same time IBM announced the new Boca Raton facility it announced its intention to develop the System/360, Model 20 Computer, the most cost-effective and user accessible computer model at the time. BRiC is where the first IBM personal computer was invented, the first smartphone, early robotics technology, and other tech marvels.

Pre-cast stone sculpture model of first IBM PC Keyboard invented in 1981.

Lakeside arcades connect the buildings

Arcade, to the west.
View from café patio, to the southeast.
Arcade, view of hall connecting office spaces.
Nightfall at BRiC.
The brick panels indicate entry points between the buildings.
In France, the Y-columns were hollow and functional, containing wiring and piping; at Boca Raton, the columns are supportive, poured concrete. The buildings are advertised as capable of withstanding a Category Five hurricane.
The east building contains one of the facility’s few covered parking areas.
East building, view south and west.
Bird in Space.
West building view from arcade looking southeast into the courtyard overlooking the lake.
Everglades University has a branch campus at BRiC, East building.
Marcel Breuer at the Whitney Museum of Art, 1964.
Marcel Brewer’s Café, BRiC. Breuer was awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 1968. [Marcel Breuer Papers, Smithsonian Archives of American Art]
— Marcel Breuer.
Rocket, view northwest parkland and T Rex Avenue.
September 20,2021. 6 pm. Rocket launched.
Sculptor Hubert Phipps in his element.

Photography Augustus Mayhew.

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