November 1, 2005
Brand Central Station: Inside Bloomberg’s HQ
Bloomberg’s new offices weave information, technology, and space into a seamless display of interior urban planning.
When most Manhattan media companies lease a headquarters, you know they are there. Whether it is the sidewalk studios, the morning chats with the anchors, or the news zippers wrapping the base, they make themselves part of the street scene and hence part of the story. Bloomberg’s New York headquarters—multiple floors of the new building occupying the full block from Lexington to Third Avenues between 58th and 59th Streets—has the zipper, the anchors, and the studios, but they, like much of the information the company sells, are accessible only to the initiated.
At street level “Bloomberg” is written in just two places. But if you know where to look—duck down 58th Street and turn into the building’s capacious courtyard—you can see the whole operation. Lofted above 59th Street in a three-story glass bridge, the Bloombergians are at work and on display. They crisscross the bridge via escalators, meet in the stack of orange conference rooms next to the 58th Street entrance, and congregate in their own piazza six stories above the public one below. It is a hive cut open, bracketed by one fifty-four-story and one ten-story tower, tucked up into the block next to Bloomingdale’s. The company calls this bridge the Link, and it embodies the energy, corporate structure, and emerging sense of style of the company it houses. Bloomberg’s business is information—financial data, news, and analytics via the company’s trademarked Professional service, commonly referred to as the Bloomberg Terminal, and its broadcast operations including TV, radio, and the Internet—and their space vibrates with urgency.
“We don’t advertise, but our offices are part of our branding,” says Paul Darrah, Bloomberg’s director of global real estate and design, and the architect who served as client for the HQ. The push-pull nature of this statement—pride in product combined with market-leader hauteur—is perfectly encapsulated in the Bloomberg visitor experience.
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On bustling Lexington Avenue one is just as likely to end up in H&M as in the Bloomberg lobby. From quiet 58th Street the courtyard dwarfs the tiny doors to Bloomberg and the condos. “They were moving from 499 and 500 Park Avenue—those are pretty sedate locations,” says Todd DeGarmo, of Studios Architecture, who did the company’s interior design (Tom Krizmanic was the project design principal). The new lobby “became a decompression space from the movement of Lexington.” The elegant sepulchral lobby acts as a funnel—a space to shoot through on the way to your Bloomberg destination—down to the company’s subterranean training center, up into the tower for support departments, or for most of the New York office’s more than 3,600 employees, up to the sixth floor and the Link.
Outside the sixth-floor elevator there’s no desk but instead a podium; a greeter comes up and welcomes you by name—courtesy combined with security. “We wanted you to have a series of experiences, as opposed to walking out and seeing the whole event,” Darrah says. “The initial entry point is an intimate space.” The Bloomberg screens (which are everywhere) are set back, and the eye is drawn toward a more subtle evocation of the brand: a glass-sided koi pond set into the base of a staircase that leads to floors seven through ten. It is the first of many fish tanks—a Bloomberg signature—integrated into the architecture, the little fish aping the circulation of their masters.
To your right there is a glow and buzz much like that you’ve left behind on Lexington. Walking toward the light you pass under the edge of the western tower, and a multistory scene opens up before you. Daylit from three sides, you are in the Link, passing from the building’s western to its eastern half. It’s a tiny twenty-first-century city—swift-moving people taking packaged food from orange acrylic bins, perching on curving sofas, pausing at chrome countertops, typing at Bloomberg Terminals. On three sides oversize news zippers scroll the latest events. On the fourth, to the west, a three-story stack of red conference rooms glows through multiple layers of glass. You’re seeing outside and then back in, checking on the activities of the news department on the third and fourth floors. Everywhere you look something is moving.
“We’re having the visitor led into that experience,” Darrah says. “It is manipulative, but it is also immersing them as opposed to watching from the sidelines. You’re walking across with all the employees, you’re getting food where the employees are getting food—you’re in the middle of it.” Darrah can always tell a visitor’s first time—“There’s that deer-in-the-headlights reaction”—from their second or third, when they immediately help themselves to the free food in the pantries.
This is the first time Bloomberg architects have participated in the design of the base building housing the office, so it is a showcase; but what it displays are longtime aspects of Bloomberg corporate policy. All Bloomberg offices have a central pantry, with free food for breakfasts, snacks, or a collegiate lunch; all have floors grouped around a single elevator stop, with intracompany movement by staircase and escalator; all have “break-out spaces,” where a chance encounter can turn into a quick business meeting; and all have glass conference rooms for private meetings, a necessity because Bloomberg employees work in open rows. Company founder (and New York City mayor) Michael Bloomberg adapted this layout from the trading floors on which he spent his early career (city hall is now fitted out with open-plan offices).
The point of all this manipulation is to compress one’s introduction to Bloomberg, to the terminals and the network, into a single designed path. That’s important for the visitor, who is probably headed to the adjacent sales or broadcast departments, but equally so for the Bloomberg employee. The company’s old offices were spread out across four different buildings and had expanded floor by floor. It wasn’t clear quite how big they had gotten until they leased 700,000 square feet in a single building. “The point of this circulation path is to very quickly remind you every day of the breadth of the business and all its parts,” DeGarmo says.
News and broadcast fill the short eastern floors, while on the west side sales and research and development are closest to the center on six, with their supporting departments vertically adjacent. Conference rooms (there are ninety) are also organized vertically and close to circulation, so that they can always be easily found and accessed quickly. One is rarely out of sight of either the Link or a means of egress. The floor numbers are made for dummies: freestanding, nine feet tall, and brightly colored.
On the east side a two-story glassed-in broadcast center is designed to draw visitors across the Link from the reception area. You can watch news in the making from the spiral escalator, which mimics the courtyard’s curve and gives you a nice slow look at the news readers. The green room is housed in a similarly idiosyncratic space, notched like a kidney bean and clad in glass that is transparent only when you are standing directly in front of it. “It is slightly private,” Darrah says, “but it is more about guests having a window out to Bloomberg so that they get to see what’s going on here.”
Bloomberg’s taste was personified by Darrah. When I ask, very politely, whether he is channeling the taste of the company’s namesake, he laughs. “In early years,” Darrah says, “Mike knew two colors: burgundy and gray, and wood. We didn’t want to be a dot-com company, so it was a little bit more traditional back then.” As the company grew and expanded globally it introduced a consistent “Bloomberg look.” Since then Darrah has been bringing “Mike” and the company along, suggesting that the look of their offices should be as constantly updated as their product design and information.
“As an organization Bloomberg doesn’t like superfluous design,” Studios Architecture’s Todd DeGarmo says. “So we took all of the elements in the space that are there for a functional reason—the stairs, the pantries—and changed people’s perceptions of what those things can be so that they were more memorable as place makers.” So the glass conference-room walls are in every artificial color of the rainbow. Above the elevators, rather than tiny arrows there are big light boxes that shade green from bottom to top, to indicate up, and trend red for down.
The typical employee would take one of those elevators to the sixth floor, grab a bagel, and then climb those koi-pond stairs up or ride that spiral escalator down. More escalators centered on the Link ferry employees to lower floors. Express elevators take tower employees from the sixth-floor Link directly to the ninth floor and provide access to tower floors; another express stop will be added on fifteen when Bloomberg fills more floors.
On the east side the floors above the Link hold mechanical systems, except for seven, which has a multipurpose room with a killer view of the 59th Street Bridge, reached by a spectacular run of white terrazzo stairs with red accent lighting. On the west side the intermediate floors are accessed via staircases, also white terrazzo, with built-in blue lighting. “Part of the choice of terrazzo is practical,” DeGarmo says. “You’re moving a lot of people up and down, but you want them to be much more cognizant of where they are walking when they hit the stairs.” In a space flooded with information and daylight, sometimes you have got to focus. Studios made the core elements as clean as possible in general: walls are white, stairs are white, and floors are gray stone or carpet. “There are three colors of paint and about twenty colors of glass,” DeGarmo says. “Almost every place there’s color, it’s integral in the material.”
The colored-glass conference rooms add the first layer of ornament, and the oh-so-casual groupings of furniture the second. The final layer is in the technology, which is usually close to the circulation and tailored to the department. One is never far from a Bloomberg screen, and they often travel in threes. The colors of the newsroom sets and those on the individual computer screen savers are all coordinated with the decor. “It’s not about the fact that Bloomberg has six plasmas hanging from the ceiling,” Bloomberg’s Keith Barr says. “It’s about the content.”
This omnipresent flow of information is explicitly nonhierarchical, reinforcing the attitude displayed in the open desk areas, the democratic snack displays, and the deployment of the most stylish furniture in the most public zones. In this building everyone has the same level of access to information and the same quality of finish—there’s no executive floor where they break out the mahogany. That meant they could spend more money on the basic desk and more time on adding visual drama to the most mundane errand. “We were able to locate a lot of openings vertically, some of which are circulation,” Darrah says, pausing on the escalator from five to six and pointing up to seven, where a curvaceous purple couch is visible through a transparent partition. Next door a meeting is going on. “It is not only the horizontal floor-to-ceiling glass but the ability to look up and be connected.”