The Washington Post
The commission to design a new headquarters for The Washington Post is a heady task, given the paper’s storied history, its more than 60 Pulitzer Prizes, and its position as the leading source for news in our nation’s capital. Gensler took on this role, which was even more challenging given that the work of journalists in content creation and distribution is rapidly evolving.
“There really is no paradigm for media today. The whole workflow is changing drastically,” says Sumita Arora, principal and media practice area leader at Gensler, who oversaw the project with John McKinney, design director. “At the heart of this project was the idea of helping a legendary newspaper company evolve into a media and technology enterprise. We did not take that lightly.”
Founded in 1877, The Washington Post had moved into its previous home on 15th Street in 1972, the same year that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate story under the leadership of Executive Editor Ben Bradlee. The 1976 film “All the President’s Men,” based on the book by Woodward and Bernstein, portrayed the Post newsroom as a bright, fluorescent-lit office filled with big metal desks and clanging typewriters. In reality, that old newsroom was nothing special, with inefficient interiors cobbled together within three connected buildings, but it was home to superb journalists who were often breaking the important stories in government and politics. So any move was a big deal for employees. While the Post owned that building, it had set its sights on leasing its next home, resulting in the move becoming a hot real estate deal in the District. Every office building owner wanted the Post as a tenant.
Gensler assisted the Post in the exhaustive search for a new office location, narrowing down from 32 locations. As this process continued, the long-time owners, the Graham family, announced the paper’s sale to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, for $250 million in August 2013. Gensler proceeded with the project, now with a client who would push the brand to become a digital media company with a global reach.
The Post selected 1301 K Street, NW, also known as One Franklin Square, just blocks from the White House. With nearly block-long, linear floor plates, the building allows the Post to fit its 700-person newsroom onto two floors. Overall, the Post has about 1,600 employees on 238,000 square feet between floors four through nine, with the newsroom on seven and eight.
Rethinking the model newsroom
Arora and McKinney went about designing a newsroom to reflect the interdisciplinary convergence of the work of journalists today: writers and editors next to videographers, photo editors, designers, social media writers, and technology engineers. Their goal was to create a workspace that is flexible, connected, and energized. Tracy Grant, the Post’s deputy managing editor (read her first-person account here), oversees the newsroom, and she worked closely with Gensler, marking up 17 versions of the floor plans. “We tried to be completely radical,” Grant says. “We wanted to hit the reset button and have a real opportunity to reconsider what the newsroom should be 5 or 10 years down the line. We broke down some silos, with attention to improving communication.”
Both newsroom floors feature extremely open plans. An estimated 92 percent of the space is open plan with workstations in rows that alternate orientation over the length of each floor. Designed for modularity and flexibility, desks can be reconfigured as needed, and employees were given the option of sit-stand add-ons. “We gave the Post ways to remake the spaces as the business of media continues to change,” McKinney says.
The extremely open office layout was also important symbolically to Publisher Fred Ryan, who wanted to look across the length of the newsroom to have a sense of “a vast engine for newsgathering and collaboration,” according to Grant.
The interior palette is light, neutral, and monochromatic, with shades of gray and tan against black and white, and blue is used as a highlight color. Flooring in corridors and public areas is white oak. Meetings can be held in open lounge areas, four-person huddle rooms, six-person team rooms, and larger conference rooms. More than 1,000 quotations overlay meeting room glass walls, and the text density allows for either transparency or needed opacity.
An open, transparent focal point
Central to the newsroom is the Hub, a double-height space containing multiple flat-screen television monitors, with one showing the live analytics of online stories and social media engagement. For the top news or breaking stories, a six-person team can gather here to synthesize and produce coverage. Next to the Hub, top editors meet twice daily to strategize in the Ben Bradlee Story Conference Room. Intentionally glass-enclosed to convey a high sense a transparency, the Bradlee room is adjacent to an area with sofas and soft seating for more casual conversations within view of a wall that recognizes all of the Post’s Pulitzer Prizes.
At this confluence of the Hub and the Bradlee room, an open stair connects the two newsroom floors. On the wall next to the stairs, the backdrop is composed of multiple historic Post front pages printed tone-on-tone on vinyl. D-Day, Nixon’s resignation, and the 2000 presidential election, among many other headlines, are shown. Arora calls this “a moment of quiet analog.”
Considering news dissemination broadly, the office enables video production, whether a quick setup within the newsroom or a planned segment in a sophisticated video studio on the seventh floor. Podcast recordings can take place in two audio booths. And a fully-equipped residential-like test kitchen allows for recipes to be both tested and photographed.
The Post also engages with the public in its new home. A large open space on the fourth floor called Washington Post Live—complete with studio lighting, AV equipment, and sky-fold partitions—can be arranged for 400-person events and guest speakers.
Lessons from tech in a connected workplace
In the overall Post design, multiple facets—from the newsroom layout to video production capabilities—needed to sync with an iconic brand. “There were so many elements that we needed to bring together to create a coherent statement,” McKinney says. “On one hand, we needed to honor the paper’s history—its Pulitzers, its legendary reporters and editors, and its impact on national conversations. On the other, we had to show that this is a progressive media company.”
Arora and McKinney considered lessons from Gensler’s experience with designing the latest tech workspaces. “There’s a certain kind of rapid prototyping that happens in tech, and many of those workflows are now applicable in media,” Arora says. “For both, the spaces have to allow people to easily interact.”
Grant concurs with the importance of interaction. In the end, for the Post, it is the two-level newsroom that is vital to its mission as a news operation. Grant likens the newsroom to “where the magic happens,” where connectivity is valued at multiple levels. “The space, when used well, enables conversation,” Grant says. “It is in the serendipitous ones where genius happens.”
Click here to read the first-person account of the headquarters move by Tracy Grant, deputy managing editor of The Washington Post.
who Architect: Gensler. Project team: Lisa Amster; Sumita Arora; Tim Wright; Benjamin Holsinger; Laura Huacuja; Mayre Perez; Melanie Kwon. John McKinney; Carol Schneider; Ann Gottlieb; Steven Joswick; Hannah Olin; Lee Lindhal. Contractor: Rand Construction. Lighting: SBLD Studios. Engineering: WSP USA; SK&A Associates. Kitchen: Woodburn & Associates. Graphics: Gensler; Photoworks Group; Patricia Hord. Acoustician: CMS Audio Visual. Broadcast: Severn Integrated Systems. Set Design: Clickspring Design. Food Service: Woodburn & Associates. Audiovisual: CMS Audio Visual. Fire/Life Safety: Aon Fire Protection Engineering. Signage: Patricia Hord Graphic Design. Project Manager: JM Zell.
what Wallcoverings: Knoll; Maharam. Paint: Benjamin Moore; Sherwin Williams; Pratt & Lambert. Laminate: Pionite; Formica; Lamin-Art; Chemmetal; Abet Laminati. Dry wall: National Gypsum. Movable wall: NanaWall; Skyfold. Office Fronts & Team Rooms: Transwall. Hard flooring: Mountain Lumber Company; Datile; Stone Source; Architectural Ceramics; Daltile. Concrete Flooring: Hyde. Resilient flooring: Forbo Marmoleum Graphic; Copy Zones; Lan Rooms; Studios. Carpet/carpet tile: Tandus Centivia; Shaw; J+J Invision. Ceiling: 9-wood. Interior lighting: Cooperlighting; Zumtobel; Mark Architectural Lighting; USAI Lighting; Guzzini; Soratane; Edge Lighting; Selux; Tech Lighting; Lindsley Lighting; Bartco; Sistemalux; Vibia; Vario LED; Tech Lighting; Traxon LED. Doors: Transwall Doors & Hardware; Patella; Overly; Eggers. Hardware: ABH; Dorma; LCN; Rockwood; Schlage; Von Duprin; Hafele; Glynn Johnson; Ives; Rixon. Architectural glass/glazing: Transwall; KGA. Decorative glass panels/partitions: McGrory Glass. Window treatments: Mechoshade. Workstations: Herman Miller. Seating: Davis; Arper; Geiger; Coalesse; HBF; Hightower; Keilhauer; Buzzispace; Vitra; Steelcase; Andreu World. Tables: Nucraft; Datesweiser; Nucraft; Hightower; Andreu World; Modloft; Patella Wordworking. Storage systems: Herman Miller. Lockers/cubbies: Hollman. Architectural/custom woodworking: Patella Woodworking; IBS Millwork. Millwork Countertops: Patella Woodworking; IBS Millwork. Signage: Gelberg Signs. Plumbing fixtures/fittings: Kohler; Bobrick. Upholstery: Herman Miller; Spinneybeck; Edlemann; Maharam; Knoll; DesignTex; Buzzispace; Vitra; Andreu World.