You’re a programmer, or you’re an accountant, and you’re told the office is moving out to Route 1 to a brand new four-story building in the Carnegie Center. What’s not to like?
Potentially, plenty, if you are ensconced in the middle of the Princeton University campus, with your own closed-door office and downtown is just a five-minute walk away. What, move out of town? What, lose my privacy?
So Princeton University officials were more than a little concerned about the employees’ reactions when they decided to move 280 people from two departments, information technology and finance/treasury, to a four-story building, 701 Carnegie Center, between Alexander Road and MarketFair. Yes, it would be spiffy and new, purpose-built by Boston Properties. Yes, with 120,000 square feet, it would assemble people from many disparate offices. Yes, it would be beautifully designed by KSS Architects and KlingStubbins, with a ceremonial staircase and natural light pouring into the interior. It would even be environmentally friendly, engineered to qualify for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certificate.
But the workers would be giving up their cozy ivy-covered enclaves for the sleek modernity of Corporate America. Some would move from Prospect Avenue, beyond the eating clubs. Some would move from New South, the tall building by the Dinky Station. Some from three buildings on Alexander Street, some from Nassau Hall.
And for those accustomed to working in small buildings, the concept of 30,000 square feet of space on one floor can be daunting. (One floor at the 250-year-old Nassau Hall, for instance, has 10,000 square feet.) If your old office has a door, and you are being told your new space will have five-foot or seven-foot walls, you realize you are losing some privacy. If, because of the emphasis on natural light, your walls are going to be glass, you might worry about prying eyes invading your work space.
Of course the workers weren’t really going to have any choice, and in this job market who’s going to quit? Still, their bosses were a bit worried.
The stakes were high, admits Mark Burstein, executive vice president. Moving administrators off campus to preserve academic and residential space does make sense, and other universities have made similar moves, but this represented a lot of firsts. The first university-occupied building in West Windsor. The first deal with a commercial landlord in a commercial office park. It was also crucial to get this one right, he says, because setting foot in West Windsor changes “the mental map” of the institution.
The university hired its own experts to work alongside the landlord’s. Boston Properties assigned KlingStubbins to design the building and Torcon to do both construction and tenant fit-out. BP hired T&M Associates to do site engineering, and Alexander Road-based AKF for the mechanical engineering. David Stewart was BP’s project manager, with Peter Clark and Ed McDonald the construction managers. In turn, the university hired the Witherspoon Street-based KSS Architects for the interior design, Vanderweil for its engineering, and Bob Rittenhouse of Aegis Properties as construction manager. Jeremiah Stoldt was the project manager.
Says Edmund Klimek of KSS Architects: “We pushed the envelope of what is a standard office building through our design approach and our work with the people who are to use the space. Natural light was a high priority for this client. You couldn’t create a continuous light filled space in a central campus environment.”
To entice the workers off campus, the university and the designers offered a lot more handholding than even the most employee-centric commercial company is likely to provide. “Princeton was more sensitive than many corporate users in getting buy-in from their staff,” says Micky Landis, senior vice president and regional manager of Boston Properties. “They have been all-inclusive about accepting input. Some companies that we work with don’t have as much sensitivity, but it pays off in staff satisfaction and makes people productive at work, when they are part of the decision for what their environment looks like.”
In the first year of planning the IT department trouped off to New York City to take a peek at how “the other half” works in an open floor plan. They inspected the Hearst, New York Times, Google and JWT offices and also went to the showrooms of the furnishings supplier, Teknion. Later, when it was determined that the finance and treasury group would also move to 701, representatives from that group were invited to visit Teknion in New York or Philadelphia plus some Princeton offices: Novo Nordisk at 100 College Road, Saul Ewing at 750 College Road, Ironbound Capital at 902 Carnegie Center, and Princeton University Press.
The meetings continued during the eight month period for design and documentation, and even during the two-plus years of construction. “I met with every single person,” says Betty Leydon, CIO and vice president for information technology. She held “Coffee Talks with Betty,” to talk about potential improvements in the work environment, about the process of the move, and about any apprehensions. Meanwhile Sheila Nall, the interior designer for KSS, also did one on one consulting.
Overall the KSS architects did many more renderings than are usually required, and they even constructed a prototype, in the empty building at 693 Alexander, to show what an office would look like, with the furniture, panels, ceiling, and lighting. Each person got to choose a new high-end chair (Herman Miller Aeron or Humanscale Liberty), and the departments voted on their desk configurations — different for finance and IT. Almost all of it was agreeable to everyone, except for the privacy issue. “There was a lot of buy-in from the users when they saw it in the flesh, but there was some real tension about how much light to use versus how much privacy was needed,” says Klimek.
So Klimek and Nall tried various versions of a film called “obscure glazing.” As seen in the finished building, it is applied in foot-wide stripes on the outside glass walls of the offices. The interior offices have three seven-foot opaque walls plus two feet of glass wall on top. The fourth wall, opening to the walkway, is all glass. But if you are seated in an interior office, the stripes hide your head and shoulders, and, from your viewpoint, they also hide the faces of those going by. Passersby can know your office is occupied, but they see only your hands. You can probably tell who is passing, but you can’t see the face.
Many office buildings have reflective glass to keep out the glare, but this building’s windows use glass that encourages the entrance of natural light that penetrates to the inner offices. Semi-transparent shades on the exterior windows will cut the glare, yet not cut off the view.
The move-in process starts Monday, November 2, when Bohren’s moving vans pull up to 87 Prospect and load the personal furnishings for the first 20 emigrees from the IT department. They will take only the boxes they have packed — no furniture, not even their favorite chair (unless someone has a medical excuse). Yes, they can take plants and paintings. No to personal refrigerators, fans, heaters, coffeemakers, microwaves, or personal printers. Every thing has been provided, every detail micromanaged, down to whether the individual coat closets contain a hook or a bar.
The space will not be totally open (as it is in the NRG and Bloomberg buildings) but will be more open than, say, a law office. It will have training rooms, 17 conference rooms, and a testing area, consisting of back to back computers where internal clients can test their new programs on “clean” computers. There is a quiet room, kitchens, a library, and a “phone room” for personal calls, plus a score of consulting areas — spaces between workstations equipped with rolling tables and chairs, so that two half-circle tables can roll together in a jiffy for quick meetings. Soon a first-floor cafeteria and a gym, with lockers and showers, will be installed.
Princeton put the computer moving contract out to bid, and the bid was won by a division from its own IT department. By Thanksgiving, when the move is finished, 162 people or just over half of the IT department will be at 701 Carnegie.
Meanwhile, starting on Thursday, November 5, a total of 123 finance and treasury people — from payroll and accounts payable to asset administration and risk management — will move from five floors in New South to the fourth floor of Carnegie 701, says Matthew Kent, associate treasurer, who reports to Carolyn Ainslie, vice president for finance and treasurer. Though the main bursar’s office will be on the first floor, a mini bursar’s office will stay on campus so students won’t have to take a shuttle to pay a bill.
“For some people,” says Kent, “the space is increasing. For some it is slightly smaller, but it is more efficient. There is so much wasted space in New South.”
Just off the lobby is an office where the university’s external auditors, from Deloitte, will be housed for about half of each year. (Compared to the rest of the building, this is a Plain Jane space, perhaps because no organization wants its auditors to get too comfortable.)
On the first and fourth floors are dedicated file rooms, says Brandon Gaines, who was in charge of organizing all the finance and treasury files — everything from student accounts to procurement records — for the move. That’s a mammoth amount of files — four rooms worth — to be coordinated, and it represents a paradigm shift from keeping files within the department in a university-controlled building to putting them in an off campus building open to all.
Gaines introduced the concept of “high density filing” (rolling units that squeeze into smaller spaces), standardized the labeling systems, and required everyone to decide which are “working files” versus those that need to be locked away separately under tight security. “Each department customized its labels,” says Gaines, “so they can get in and out of the file room as quickly as possible.”
So what does the building look like? It’s possible to get there via a sharp turn off Route 1 South, but the best entrance is from Alexander Road to Canal Pointe Boulevard. Drive past 100 Overlook and the Mormon Church and turn into the parking lot. The building’s exterior is of ornamental metal and real brick with insulated glass windows.
Inside, even on a gloomy day the lobby is filled with light. Against the paneled walls, four giant etched-glass paintings depict university scenes and symbols. The light shines down from a skylight through the central stair, “an open, light-filled connection that unifies the building’s four floors and fulfills the desire for natural light throughout the interior space,” according to Klimek. There is so much glass that the stair seems to float in space; light and movement can be seen through it. At the base, notes Klimek, the stair also has stone finishes. “It appears to emerge out of the ground floor, bringing up with it a public, interactive space. The spacious stair landings are designed to create opportunities for people to meet, stop and chat with other people.”
Deciding on, and then building Carnegie 701 was one of the first big projects at Princeton for Burstein, who came here five years ago from Columbia University, where real estate is measured vertically. It is not only the first building that the university will occupy in West Windsor, but will also be the first LEED-designed building in the township. The developer, Boston Properties, will apply for the certification.
Burstein is proud of the “firsts” involved with this project and points to a trend for institutions to put more than one function in an office building, Service functions, like IT and finance, “are becoming more sophisticated and more complex, and we need to make sure their space really supports what they do,” he says.
The “gleam in the eye” for bringing some administrative functions together started about four years ago when the campus planning process began. “We went into the real estate market to decide what would be the best way to do that. We looked at new construction on campus, other existing buildings, and other developers,” says Burstein. “It’s a pretty large building for us, and there aren’t many square feet on campus. We could have built it, but our expertise is developing research, undergraduate, and academic buildings, which are unique in many ways.”
The consensus: Lease rather than build. The normal allowance for tenant fit-out would not have covered everything; the university would have had to pay an additional amount for the extras. According to the Aegis Property Group website, the university signed a 15-year lease.
“At a time when the university, like other institutions, has taken a significant hit to its endowment and other capital funds, the question becomes how do you deploy your relative resources,” says BP’s Landis. “Do you want to put your money in bricks and mortar or keep your powder dry for needs that are more relative to your business? It’s the same decision that Novo Nordisk had to make. They chose, I think appropriately, to use their capital to develop their business as opposed to putting it in bricks and mortar. I hope that they are not just happy with the location but the quality of the building itself.”
Even though 701 will be occupied by the university, the developer will have to pay real estate taxes on it. Won’t that add additional expense to the lease? No one involved will reveal the dollar value of the lease arrangement, but if you think how Boston Properties did not have to build to the same level the university does (on a 50-year plan, as if the building will never ever be torn down) and that it also achieved economies of scale in the actual construction, you can imagine that the final cost will probably be lower than if the university had built on its own.
“We established a relationship with a developer,” summarizes Burstein. “It is not something we do frequently, and maybe there will be an opportunity again. We tested ideas about using expertise to support us as an institution. It allowed us to think about the functions that are moving into the building in a different way, and hopefully it will benefit the employees as well as the university in enhanced services that they provide.”
Best of all, Carnegie 701 adds West Windsor and Canal Pointe Boulevard to the university’s mental map. “That can only be a good thing,” says Burstein, noting that the university and the seminary have merged shuttle services, and that Carnegie 701 has been added to the shuttle that continues to MarketFair and seminary housing.
As 701 Carnegie is almost ready for move in, a half-dozen people from the university gather to have their photos taken. It is the first look for IT’s Leydon, known for her collaborative-style conferences. Her office at 250-year-old Nassau Hall has a pillar in the middle of it, and the conference table was designed around that pillar. She seemed delighted with her new, modern conference table in her new corner office, with its view over the D&R Canal to Cleveland Tower. Said Leydon: “It makes you feel you can start fresh.”