When Research Triangle Park was built in the 1950s and ’60s—large, somber buildings veiled by noble stands of pine trees, on the frontier then known as suburban Durham—it reflected the way scientists and engineers often worked during that time: Free of distractions, office doors shut, in isolation, they could get down to the orderly business of ground-breaking work.
Nearly 60 years later, that model is outdated. People work collaboratively, nimbly, in mobile workspaces in urban centers. And RTP, saddled with blocky, corporate mausoleums (to be fair, there are a few modern buildings) must reinvent itself.
That reincarnation is driving the The Frontier, a key part of a 100-acre redevelopment on the very 1950s-sounding Park Office Drive, near N.C. 54 and Davis Drive. The concept, though, sounds similar to that of the American Underground: the convergence of technology, science, entrepreneurship and the arts, a modern way of working in a modern environment.
Though a trip through RTP always feels Orwellian, once I arrived at yesterday’s Frontier unveiling at 800 Park Office Drive, the vibe inside was much more welcoming. The 140,000-square-foot space is airy, open, like an aviary for free-wheeling ideas.
“We’re breaking constraints,” said Bob Geolas, CEO of RTP. “It’s time to be bold and reject limitations. This a place beyond boundaries.”
When fully repurposed and built out, the entire 100-acre site will have 200,000-square-feet of retail, 250 apartments, a full-service hotel and additional office space. But that is still years away, and G’s speech conveyed a sense of urgency. Several large RTP companies, such as Cisco and Sony Ericsson laid off workers during the recession, but even in the recovery, IBM cut its workforce and GlaxoSmithKline announced last month it would let go 900 workers. The RTP workforce has declined from 11,000 in 2006 to about 7,200 today, according to The News & Observer.
“We can’t wait,” Geolas said, referring to the build out of the entire project. “This is a transition zone between order and opportunity.”
Triangle ArtWorks, a major tenant, which will hold an open house next Wednesday, is part of an international movement that unites the arts, engineering, science and technology—a “seemingly unlikely interaction of paintbrush and test tube.” (This quote is from a interesting paper presented in Prague in 2005; read it if you’re turned on by this sort of thing.)
“If you’re struggling with a problem,” Beth Yerxa, said. “this can help you take it in new ways.”
The Frontier also offers free meeting space, private offices for lease starting at $300 a month, plus event space for rent.
Here is a list of tenants at the Frontier and their specialities:
The Army Research Office, which specializes in science and technology for the military
Aten, an educational company
CraZBrain Science Track Out & Summer Camps, science-based and problem-solving camps for kids
EntreDot, which mentors entrepreneurs
Institute of Play, an organization that partners with companies to develop games (digital and good ole’ fashioned paper) with learning and critical thinking components
International Services Assistance Fund, which researches family planning and contraception
National Inclusion Project, which helps integrate kids with disabilities and their communities
Triangle ArtWorks, a nonprofit that provides services and resources to artists
US2020 RTP, an organization to promote STEM education