George A. Greene, 94, a mechanical engineer who pioneered semiconductor and biotechnology facility clean room and related facility design, died on Jan. 4 in Los Osos, Calif., his family confirmed to ENR on Mar 14. Green also launched a highly successful consulting firm later sold to Ireland's largest engineer and project manager.

Lockheed Aircraft hired Greene to design the high-bay clean room at its new campus in Sunnyvale, Calif., in 1957, one month after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite, with the facility becoming the main assembly area for company satellites for both military and civilian clients during the Cold War, according to a family-provided obituary.

Greene’s work “became known to the engineers and scientists developing a new set of electronic components of increasingly sophisticated design,” says the obituary, and he was hired to design clean rooms for Fairchild Semiconductor and other manufacturers that were being launched at the time, including National Semiconductor, Intel and Hewlett-Packard. He designed “hundreds of projects for Hewlett-Packard, including new campuses across the western U.S.," says the account, “and some of the earliest semiconductor facilities in Europe.” 

Greene also branched into the rising biotechnology sector in Silicon Valley in the 1960s and 1970s, designing early clean and aseptic facilities for pioneer firms such as Genentech, Chiron and Gilead.

In the mid-1980s, Greene designed what the obituary terms “one of his signature projects,” IBM’s cutting-edge Almaden Research Center in San Jose, one of the tech giant's leading global research facilities. IBM describes Almaden on its website as "the birthplace of the world's first hard-disk drive, the relational database, nanotechnology, DVD, Blu-ray encryption technology, brain-inspired supercomputing chips, the first data-mining algorithms and the world’s smallest disk drive." 

Greene "used a creative design of a full-height wide corridor plenum between backing rows of laboratories to maximize functionality while allowing flexibility to accommodate the constantly changing needs of IBM scientists with minimal disturbance to ongoing research projects,” says the obituary.

After earning a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Santa Clara University, Greene worked for General Electric as a test engineer for fighter jet engines during the Korean War, and founded consulting firm George A. Greene Co. in 1954, running it until 1990 when his son Christopher Greene became president and CEO. 

The firm was acquired in 2010 by Dublin-based PM Group, as part of its entry into the U.S. market. "We believe that we found the right company in Greene Engineers," said Pat McGrath, its CEO at the time. "Their team is exceptional and their business strategy complements ours." Christopher Greene was president and CEO of PM Greene Engineers until 2013. PM Group now ranks at No. 115 on the latest ENR Top 225 Global Design Firms list, reporting $353.6 million in global revenue in 2022.

“My father truly was brilliant in his work. It is hard to describe why someone is so highly respected in a field that is abstract and conceptual yet unforgiving in its details such as engineering the mechanical utilities of a large high-tech campus,” Christopher Greene told ENR. “He had an ability to look at a complex problem and see a simple and elegant solution that others did not see that improved the performance and lowered the cost of the entire project." 

Added Greene: "He took special care to design systems that performed well over time and were easy to maintain, and saw mechanical systems not as something primarily to look good on opening day and to function well under the original specifications, but as having a long, useful life" that adapted to "the ever-changing needs of high-tech companies with minimal disruption.” 

Greene says his father’s accolades “are perhaps surprisingly modest for his achievements and his reputation, but … he not only did not seek titles and awards, he actively avoided them. This was true even when it would advance the interests of our firm for him to be recognized.”