The internet, new media, and -hour news channels may have changed the way we receive national and international news, but the new headquarters office for the Associated Press (AP) has dramatically transformed the environment in which its editors and reporters gather and deliver it. After operating for 66 years in disparate offices at 50 Rockefeller Center and two other buildings in New York City, the 153-year-old news agency has consolidated its 950-person New York staff at a more expansive single location on Manhattan's West Side. One of the ingredients that makes the new space a news-maker is a state-of-the-art lighting system-employed for the first time in New York City-that substantially improves the quality of the organization's workspace and promises to inspire lighting upgrades in other New York offices, too.
Over the course of its history, AP, the world's oldest news organization, has occupied three other headquarters buildings in New York, and went from transmitting news via Morse code and typewriters, to disseminating it through the digital-technology age. Although AP's offices at Rockefeller Center served as the heart of its worldwide operations for more than six decades, the space no longer adequately accommodated the organization's ever-expanding staff and technological needs. Furthermore, its separate locations made interaction among its various news departments difficult. So when its lease recently came up for renewal, AP opted to relocate to a newer building with lower rent and floor plates the size of two football fields. Here, all of its news divisions now operate on a single floor and function in a context that is geared toward the future.
'When AP made the decision to move from a prestigious building in a prime location at the center of town to a 1960s structure on 10th Avenue and 33rd Street, the human resources aspect of that transition was very much in the forethought of AP's management,' says Bob Heizler, the lead architect on the project. 'AP took the initiative to make the design as palatable as possible to the staff.' Enhancing the work life for AP employees, the new 291,000-square-foot facility, designed by Griswold, Heckel & Kelly Associates (GHK), includes an array of amenities on three floors, including an in-house cafeteria, a fitness center, expanded work spaces that address the specific needs of each division, and an advanced lighting system that allows for unprecedented illumination control, says Heizler, who is a senior principal of New York-based Applied Design Initiative. (Heizler was a vice president at GHK at the time the headquarters was designed.)
AP's new lighting system, developed by the New York office of Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design (HLB), was actually on AP's employee wish list long before the technology to execute it existed. 'We worked on another AP project nine years ago,' says HLB principal Barbara Horton. 'They were very dedicated to their employees and keen on keeping them happy, so they wanted the ability to give all employees individual control of their lighting,' she says. 'But we had to laugh, since at the time this was impossible to do.'
By the time AP was planning its move to the new building, however, lighting technology had changed, says Horton, and a lighting control system based on the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface, or DALI, had been developed and employed in Europe. 'It is an industry protocol that allows various DALI-compliant components like ballasts, controls, and sensors to communicate together on a lighting network,' says project manager and lighting designer Lee Brandt. The lighting designers employed an intelligent lighting system created by Lightolier called IGEN, which utilizes the DALI ballasts in the fixtures with controls. This new lighting control system could now provide the organization the flexibility and control it wanted for its employees. 'Every ballast for a fluorescent or compact fluorescent fixture is given an IP address during commissioning,' says Brandt. 'The software program groups single fixtures or zones of fixtures.' That way, items-such as time of day, load shedding, scenes, or dimming levels-can be predetermined and addressed automatically. Other types of loads are controlled via a relay, which would also have an address and which can turn a group of fixtures on or off. According to Frances Pionegro, director of administrative services for AP, 'DALI was important to us so that we could address the creativity of our employees. Photo editors will depend on a softer light, while others may need additional light,' she says. 'DALI allows us to work within these individual requirements.'
In addition to benefiting employees with precisely calibrated light levels suited to their individual division's needs, AP's new lighting system also allows the organization to conserve energy and simplify reconfiguration, which will enable it to save a significant sum over the long haul. 'Although there was an up-charge involved in installing the system, we did a cost analysis during the course of value-engineering the entire project, and we determined that savings on the client's use of kilowatts of energy per hour in New York, where electrical costs are high, would allow the payback period to occur within a year,' says Brandt. According to Heizler, whose firm Applied Design Initiative is continuing with ongoing work for AP, the lighting system will also save on costs associated with any future interoffice relocations. 'If, say, the photo group, which works under reduced lighting conditions, moves to a new location on the floor, the costs associated with changing the lighting levels will be virtually nil,' he says.
The DALI system was primarily employed on AP's newsroom floor, which spans two city blocks and includes work zones for all 17 of its news divisions, such as reporting and editing teams ranging from sports and business to local and international news. Since each division has unique needs, AP employees were involved in creating workspaces that would serve their own interests, including determining light levels that ideally support the nature of their work as a division. The dimming over the photo area, for example, is always at 20 percent output. The system also allowed the lighting designers to precisely control light levels in different zones throughout the day and night. While the office operates 24/7, only certain divisions require graveyard shifts, explains Horton. 'There are large areas surrounding people working the night shift that don't need illumination after normal working hours,' she says. 'We brought the light levels of the adjacent areas down to 25 percent so they wouldn't feel like they were surrounded by darkness.'
Because workspaces on the newsroom floor were customized to employee adjacency requirements, 'the floor looks chaotic,' says Heizler. Interestingly, the lighting design-which, over the work areas, are indirect fluorescent fixtures with a CRI of 85 and color temperature of 3500K-actually gives the space its sense of order. 'It's a huge floor plate with miles of furniture, so it's the secondary ceiling plane that draws your eye,' says Horton. The indirect fixtures also enhance the employees' work environment by eliminating glare on computer screens, and by softening the overall ambient illumination. A faux skylight, made of translucent acrylic panels covering a mix of fluorescent sources, creates a visual focal point over the center of the newsroom floor, where the data stream area and supervisors' desks for each division are located; the support staff expand out around it.
Just after AP moved into its new space last August, the lighting designers urged the employees to 'live in the space' for a while and provide them with feedback for fine-tuning. It was a 'slow go with the DALI system,' says Pionegro. 'It is not all that user friendly and we have had to reprogram it several times. However, once we worked out the kinks, it meets our requirements and has exceeded our expectations.' According to Horton, AP management was 'much more oriented toward keeping their employees happy than they were energy conscious. But within the first week they could already see how much they were saving.' Since then, people from other news organizations have come to see the new offices to learn more about the lighting system, reports Horton. 'AP is leading the industry,' she says, 'which is important in such a competitive business.' jean nayar