Communication Excellence

Oct. 1, 2002
Collaboration Yields an Image-enhancing Headquarters That Works
Open your mind to the possibilities. Then, connect with the world around you. For members of the project team involved in the design and construction of the 880,000-square-foot headquarters for Gannett Co. Inc./USA TODAY, creativity, heightened by a collaborative spirit of communication, has produced a world-class facility that is beyond distinctive – in looks and in function.The all-glass structure, situated on a high-visibility, 25-acre parcel at the intersection of I-495 and Dulles Toll Road in McLean, VA, is “truly a project that’s driven from the inside out,” explains Debra Lehman-Smith, partner at Washington, D.C.-based Lehman-Smith + McLeish Associates, the interior architect firm that initiated the project via a four-month programming process to help define Gannett’s business and image goals and the way in which the organization worked. “Buildings always do better when they have a true program and true rationale,” she notes.Her partner, Jim McLeish, concurs. “The project was conceived in a systematic approach … and standardized in a way that could change over time. Tom Curley [senior vice president, Administration, and president and publisher, USA TODAY] said, ‘All we know is we’re going to change.’ Our goal was to build a professional platform that could accommodate change in the work environment. [We accomplished this by] integrating everything, regardless of the discipline – the architecture, interior design, landscaping, building systems, technology, furniture, art, etc. The result is one consolidated project that appears to be from one hand.”Beauty and CommunityThe headquarters is divided into two sloping linear buildings – a 12-story tower, which houses parent company Gannett, and a nine-story block for USA TODAY’s newsrooms and offices. (Rooftop recreational areas, including tennis and basketball courts, are atop a low parking structure, located behind the towers, bringing the entire complex size to 1.5 million square feet.) These towers flank a beautifully designed plaza and landscaped terraces with cascading water features – “a central courtyard where employees can see one another and recognize it as the center of their community, a town square,” explains Jerri Smith, senior associate principal, at base building architect Kohn Pedersen Fox, New York City. The dramatic focal point of the complex revolves around two exterior glass elevator shafts that rise the entire height of the towers and stand illuminated at night. Connecting the two structures is a three-story podium, containing a sunlit atrium, conference and training facilities, a cafeteria, coffee shop, fitness center, and other amenities.“Angularity and animation” are two of the terms Smith uses to describe the magnificent curtainwall – a combination of reflective glass and clear low-e glass – further accentuated by a series of projecting vertical glass fins whose beveled edges catch the light and act as a prism. “You get rainbows inside and marvelous colors outside,” says Nancy Houser, director of Corporate Administration for Gannett. “Everyday is different.”The façade, which weighs nearly 2.2 million pounds, includes 17,380 glass panels made in 870 different sizes. Perimeter circulation corridors face the courtyard and each other, continuing the sense of community. “It’s a big complex,” notes Smith, “but when looking across one building to the other you realize that the central space is really very intimately scaled.”The interior space is as impressive as the outside of the building. One of the most notable features is the grand staircase in the atrium lobby.This intricate structure, which requires no lateral support, incorporates 132 stainless steel rods that stretch from floor to ceiling, giving the stairway a look similar to strings on a harp. Granite steps, each weighing more than 500 pounds, complete this “piece of art,” which is as functional as it is beautiful.In contrast, nearly 16,000 square feet of cherry veneer millwork mask the walls of Gannett’s lobby and adjacent corridors – a perfect balance to the headquarters’ steel-and-glass exterior. Hand-selected and imported from Europe, the wood was plain cut into strips 1⁄2-millimeter-thick, then shipped to the United States for panel construction. An aluminum leaf ceiling in the atrium, as well as substantial use of interior stone and marble – including an absolute black cubic and paving stone reflection pool below the Harp Stairs – complement the rich interiors. Five commissioned art pieces, playing on appropriate themes of journalism and communication, punctuate the spaces as an expression and extension of Gannett’s and USA TODAY’s dynamic businesses.Communication and CoordinationCompleted in October 2001, the project was both a challenge and an opportunity. Most important to its success was “the coordination of more than 400 construction, contracting, and supplier companies,” recalls Bob Arndt, senior project manager at The Clark Construction Group Inc., the Bethesda, MD-based general contractor. “It was thousands of people,” he says, noting the tolerances required for various systems (the elevator towers, the harp stairs, etc.)    were extremely tight as were the measurements, delivery, and assembly of others (the curtainwall, the paneling, etc.).Most rewarding, says Arndt, was “the level of quality throughout the building. Materials selected are of the type and quality that required craftsmanship at the highest level. So many details had to be drawn and set up separately. It speaks highly of the coordination process and the efforts of all involved.“Creativity, communication, and a cohesive team prove what is truly possible.”Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.

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