|Work flow- Staff, task, and technology converge in New York at the Associated Press’s new world headquarters, designed by GHK
The news doesn’t wait. No one understands this better than the staff of the Associated Press (AP), the world’s oldest and largest news organization. AP’s around-the-clock mission is to provide state, national, and international news including text, photos, graphics, broadcast and online service of the highest quality, objectivity, and reliability to its subscribers around the world. When AP moved its headquarters to Manhattan’s West Side at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, Griswold, Heckel & Kelly Associates (GHK) received straightforward, if unusual, design directive. Don’t focus too much on design. Instead, emphasize the news itself and the AP people involved in capturing and delivering it. The result is an energetic and energizing workplace where technology and staff converge.
“The space looks fabulous, and it has all the latest and greatest in “wi-fi,” says Frances C. Pionegro, director of real estate and construction for AP. Pionegro adds that an important objective was to consolidate AP’s news operation, previously scattered on four different floors at 50 Rockefelller Center. According to Jim Ryan, vice president at GHK in New York, the client specifically, AP’s deputy manager of news services-was eager to see all the news functions on one floor and in a single newsroom. “ Tom Kent’s vision was to have a totally open space from one end of the room to the other, so everyone could communicate,” says Ryan. “Tom’s idea was for total visibility with everyone being able to enjoy a free flow of information and communication,” adds Lisa Novatney, an associate at GHK. “He got it.”
Measuring in at 87,000 square feet, the new 14th floor newsroom is undeniably huge, but it has its merits. “Editors who would have to phone each other can now see each other,” says Kent. “They can call out or slide their chairs over. The unit that prepares digital photography for the web is right next to the editors who edit international news,” he adds. Likewise, the sports department that used to be on a separate floor is now accessibly by the editors handling Latin American news, who also cover their share of sports. “Reporters and editors are becoming curious about the work of other departments,” says Kent who is pleased the design emphasizes the urgency of AP news, the global nature of the company, and its multimedia talents.
The sprawling project encompasses four floors plus the concourse level of the building, and includes AP’s photo archives, television and radio studios, services and technology, data and conference centers, fitness facilities, executive dining room, and ample roof garden. One of the challenges for GHK was what to do with certain features of the existing architecture- like the double-height spaces on the 16th floor-created by The Phillips Group for a previous tenant, media agency DoubleClick, which abandoned the space after the dot-com bubble burst. “We decided to work with what was there instead of tearing it out.” says Ryan.
Another issue involved space planning on the 14th floor. To the outside, the plan might appear chaotic, but it actually functions exactly how Kent had envisioned it. “A lot of the workstations are in a zig-zag shape or U-shaped configuration; others are all in a row. That’s predominately the way their paper flows,” explains Novatney. “ It’s how they look at each other to get the news and how they communicate. There are 15 departments in the newsroom, and each one communicates a little differently.” From any point on the floor you can look up and know where you are in relation to the center of the newsroom thanks to an oversized circular lighting element created from back-lit 3Form panels. The dramatic light cover identifies the heart of the newsroom, organizes the floor plan, and assists with wayfinding.
Achieving the desired lighting level on the ceiling-which suggests the feeling of an atrium space-was no small feat. “We were able to engineer it with fewer lights and still get the consistent nice glow we wanted.” Says Ryan, adding that the use of 3Form was critical to the design. Another atypical planning element developed by GHK with KI is the patio office. It comprises a private area as well as an open area in a standard-sized footprint. In another context this approach might seem redundant, but the solution works exceedingly well for this client, which embraces the idea of transparency. Overall AP has very few solid walled offices-most are clear glass-fronted rather than frosted. Wherever possible, the walls are demountable and departments are undefined, allowing for more flexible growth.
The very first AP newswire was delivered in Morse Code. In a nod to the history of the company, the carpeting and flooring patterns spell out Associated Press in Morse Code. The dot and dash vocabulary replays itself in horizontal lighting elements in the stairwell and on the ceiling over some of the conference rooms and executive dining rooms.” It was an early concept we began presenting even before the project was won,” says Ryan. Another challenge was nailing down a color direction since the client wanted the palette to be news-related. “ Color wasn’t added arbitrarily, but for wayfinding and to organize the layout,” he adds. The very neutral palette of diluted greens, blues, and reds are technology colors that have been modified so that they’re not overwhelming. The result is a soft energy.” And the perfect backdrop for an art program that lets the staff and news be the main focus of the space-AP’s award-winning photography.