Paul Atkinson

Room with a VDU


Output: Journal Article

The research for this journal article explores the design history of a relatively short-lived phenomenon—the glass-walled secure rooms in which mainframe computers were housed within corporate workplaces in the 1960s and 1970s.

The hypothesis explored is that the ways in which emerging computing technology was displayed to the public had a causal effect on the reception of computing technology by the public and influenced the ways in which computers were designed to look. It is argued that the secure rooms housing computers were not only built for very valid technical reasons around climate-control and secure access to specialist staff, but were glazed in part to fulfil the corporate desire to conspicuously display their investments in technology as a status symbol to clients and customers. Moreover, a side effect of isolating the specialist computing staff from the rest of the workforce reinforced an attitude of separation between IT workers and office workers which persists to this day.

Secondary research conducted by Atkinson revealed little previous research or references to the research topic, either in design history, the history of science and technology, or economic histories of computing.

The primary research conducted included archival research, interviews with entrepreneurs, inventors and computer scientists (including Gardner Hendrie, inventor of the 16-bit minicomputer), business people, industrial designers and manufacturers (including Tom Hardy, ex World Head of Design at IBM), combined with visual analysis of published advertising material and secondary research using published texts along with archival research at institutions in the UK (National Archive for the History of Computing, University of Manchester) and USA (IBM Archives and The Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota).

The key aim was to source primary material that had not been published before, and that would add to new insights in the field.

Research Output

This collection of images displays the outputs from this project. Find out more details in the full case study below.

Research Method

The historical research methodology employed in the preparation of Room with a VDU was developed over a long period of time, and involved a mixture of primary archival research at various institutions in the UK and USA.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

To learn more about the output, methods and dissemination of this work, explore the full project submission.

Other Projects By

Paul Atkinson