It’s not that unusual, at this point, to see a green roof sprouting up on a new office building in Washington, D.C., since the city as a whole boasts about 2 million square feet of vegetated roofing. What is unusual is to see two working beehives also installed on that roof, boosting biodiversity in the district and eventually providing honey that will sweeten the deal for the human worker bees inside.
But this is no ordinary office building; this is the new headquarters and main broadcasting center for NPR, which reaches 27 million listeners each week on public radio, not counting podcasts and other digital platforms. Doing something for the public good is NPR’s stock in trade. After all, “Public” was also once its middle name; in 2010 the organization formally changed its name from “National Public Radio” to NPR.
NPR has been headquartered in the nation’s capital since its founding in 1970, but it has changed buildings several times as staffing and broadcasting needs outgrew its allocated space. Most recently, NPR’s 850 D.C.-based employees were spread out among three buildings in downtown D.C. (NPR also has 17 foreign and 17 domestic bureaus.) Designed by Hickok Cole Architects, also based in D.C., the new building at 1111 North Capitol Street N.E., features 330,000 square feet of occupied space in a 400,000-square-foot building, bringing all the D.C. staff under one roof. The space includes top-of-the-line audio and multimedia equipment, 10 production studios, and three on-air studios, where some of NPR’s most popular shows, such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered, are broadcast. NPR officials say they hope the building will play a role in the ongoing revitalization of the city’s emerging NOMA neighborhood (a nickname for North of Massachusetts Avenue).
The design incorporates the bones of a four-story, circa-1927 concrete warehouse into a new seven-story office block that was designed with LEED Gold benchmarks in mind (certification is forthcoming). Sustainable features include daylighting, third party–certified wood, recycled and recyclable materials, and a bike room to encourage cycling as a commuting option. The primary reporting and broadcasting areas are centered on two floors in a bright atrium space, with the upper floor balconied over the lower one, a move that maintains the feel of a classic, open newsroom (one almost expects to hear the clackety-clack of typewriters). Yet the feeling is immediately modernized by the multiple video monitors that keep everyone up-to-date—both in-house and in satellite bureaus—on scheduled broadcasts and breaking news.
“Physically being able to see someone that you normally wouldn’t see is game-changing,” said Maury Schlesinger, NPR’s director of real estate and administrative services, on a recent tour. “We’ve given people lots of different types of venues for collaboration.” Susan Stamberg, a longtime broadcaster for NPR whose voice was used to announce the floors in the new elevators, echoed this sentiment. “Part of the plan was good interaction between departments,” she said on the same tour. “We’re in Oz here. It’s really, really working.”
The new office tower is wrapped in glass and cantilevered over the older building, with a clerestory level that brings light into the space while setting apart the new section. Circulation corridors run along the perimeter of the workspace, with almost no exterior offices. This allows natural light to further penetrate the interior, according to Robert Holzbach, AIA, senior project designer for Hickok Cole.
“The entrance to the building is set back 65 feet from North Capitol Street, and the office block is lifted above the roof of the historic structure and also set back,” he says. “Rather than just do this glass box, we used prefab concrete on the entry block to mimic the old warehouse, which was entirely cast-in-place concrete and had these solid Art Deco tower elements. It’s inspired by the historic structure.”
The windows on the office block are outfitted with a series of exterior vertical glass fins, which are an abstraction of FM sound waves and interpreted in six shades of transparent blue, Holzbach says. This wavelength theme is further incorporated as stripes on walls and floors throughout the interior (which incidentally mimics the building’s street number—1111).
Stormwater management and water conservation were primary concerns for NPR and the designers, says project architect Bryan Chun, AIA. Designed by the Washington, D.C.–based landscape architecture firm Oculus, the 32,500-square-foot green roof is located on the existing structure and visible from the taller office tower. In addition, the streetscape along North Capitol Street includes a series of sunken tree planters that act as biofilters for runoff. Condensate water is further collected in a 3,600-cubic-foot cistern for reuse in on-site irrigation.
High-performance glazing, the cooling effects of the green roof, and other systems combine to reduce the building’s energy use by 34 percent over the baseline expectation for a building this size. A waterside economizer system allows free cooling in the building with the chillers turned off during the winter and partially operating during off-peak heating seasons in the fall and spring.
In addition, an air-to-air enthalpy heat recovery wheel was installed to precondition the outside air at the penthouse level before it enters the building. In the summer, the wheel lowers the temperature and moisture level of entering air, which allowed for the central plant size to be reduced by approximately 15 percent from baseline, according to the design team. In the winter, the enthalpy wheel preheats the outside air before delivering it to the mechanical rooms, further reducing the energy load.
Employee health and fitness was another major part of the sustainability program. The building was chosen in part because of its proximity to the NOMA–Gallaudet University stop on the D.C. metro line, and it also has a bike room that can hold up to 72 bicycles and is “maxed-out on a daily basis,” according to Holzbach. An on-site wellness center allows employees to get checkups or first aid when needed, too.
Wherever possible, the Hickok Cole team reused elements from the old building, most notably by integrating the warehouse’s original 14-foot-tall, mushroom-shaped columns into the new space, and even reusing brick from the warehouse’s old smokestack for a wall in the café, called Sound Bites.
“I’m really happy with the balance between old and new,” says Yolanda Cole, AIA, the project’s principal-in-charge. “The whole space hangs together in a wonderful way.”
Architect, interior designer, green consultant: Hickok Cole Architects, hickokcole.com--Yolanda Cole, AIA, principal-in-charge; Stephen J. Baker, AIA, project director; Robert Holzbach, AIA, senior project designer, architecture; John Murray, AIA, senior project architect; Bryan Chun, AIA, project architect; Elba Morales, Assoc. AIA, project architect; Guilherme Almeida, Assoc. AIA, staff architect; Sean P. Wayne, AIA, senior project designer, interiors; Jessica Maples, project interior designer; Lori Geftic, interior designer
Studio and theater architect: Bloomfield & Associates bloomfieldandassociates.com
Client, owner: NPR npr.org
Mechanical engineer, electrical engineer: Dewberry dewberry.com
Structural engineer: Thornton Tomasetti thorntontomasetti.com
Civil engineer: VIKA vika.com
Geotechnical engineer: ECS ecslimited.com
Development Manager: Boston Properties bostonproperties.com
General contractor: Balfour Beatty Construction balfourbeattyus.com
Landscape architect: Oculus oculus-dc.com
Lighting designer: Bliss Fasman Lighting Design blissfasman.com
Commissioning: Sustainable Building Partners sustainbldgs.com
Graphics, branding: Poulin + Morris poulinmorris.com
Acoustics: Shen Milsom & Wilke smwinc.com
Furnishings: Herman Miller hermanmiller.com; American Office americanoffice.com
Building envelope: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger sgh.com
Acoustical system: Northwest Wood Reflections; Kinetics; RPG; Whisper Walls; Topakustik
Air, moisture, and vapor barriers: BASF
Appliance s: GE; Asko; Hoshizaki
Building management systems and services: Johnson Controls
Carpet: Shaw; Bentley; Julie Industries
Curtain walls: Custom System by CBO
Exterior wall systems: Arban and Carosi Precast Concrete
Flooring: Roman Mosaic Terrazzo; Kaswell; Haworth; Johnsonite
Furniture: Herman Miller
Glass: Viracon; Old Castle
HVAC: Temtrol Fanwall Units
Insulation: Johns Manville
Interior walls: USG
Lighting control systems: Lutron
Lighting: Kurt Versen; Selux; A&L Lighting; Winona; Boca Flasher; Design Plan; Bega; Erco; Hubbell; Vode; Focal Point; Edison Price; RSA Lighting; Columbia; Lithonia; Beta Lighting
Masonry, concrete and stone: SMC Concrete; EMCO
Metal: Berlin Steel
Millwork: Gaithersburg Millwork
Paints and finishes: Benjamin Moore
Pavers: Hanover Architectural Products
Plumbing and water systems: American Standard; Zurn; Sloan; Halsey Taylor
Roofing: American Hydro Tech; Sarnafil
Signage: Boyd Sign Systems
Site and landscape products: Saris Bike Racks
Structural systems: Post Tension Structural Concrete Slabs by SMC Concrete
Wallcoverings: Wolf Gordon; Lanark Wall Coverings; Walltalker Erase-rite
Windows and doors: CBO Glass; Safti First; VT Industries; IAC; Custom Windows