Well before AT&T cemented its acquisition of Time Warner in June 2018 to form WarnerMedia, the decision to combine all divisions under a single roof already had been made. The strategy to execute a decidedly egalitarian approach soon followed. “This was a very different process than most companies use, where a small cadre of people make decisions behind closed doors,” says Thomas Santiago, senior vp global real estate at WarnerMedia. “What we did was consensus-driven and we cast a wide net,” he says of the midtown design lab set up to allow staffers to provide feedback on every element of furniture and design in the new offices that landed at New York’s mini-city Hudson Yards. “We paraded hundreds of employees through to see and touch and cycled through different finishes, screening-room seating, desks, even ceiling fixtures. We went for the chair that hundreds of employees preferred, not one a guy picked out of a catalog. It proved to be an effective process.”
The decision to co-locate at the new Hudson Yards not only gave the company the ability to build its new headquarters from the ground up, but it also had financial advantages as well for the media conglomerate that sold the space for $2 billion earlier this year and then leased it back. “Developers need anchor tenants, so we enjoyed some early adopter prices,” says Santiago.
The space the company took is massive, encompassing 1.4 million square feet and 25 floors stacked like a wedding cake, with the larger and taller ones occupied by CNN, truTV and Warner Bros. at the base, and the other divisions, including HBO, in a tower above. Two main architectural design firms were hired to tackle the job: Gensler to oversee the whole project and Meridian to focus specifically on CNN.
“A number of the elements that make up the style of our new home give a nod to both our history and our future, in unique combinations,” says Jeff Zucker, WarnerMedia chairman, news and sports, and CNN president, referring to the decorative photos of reporters on assignment as well as the new, more transparent configuration of the network’s news desk. Monitors and other equipment stack visibly behind the correspondents instead of being housed in a control room, while a raised platform was created for the anchors in an open newsroom. Antonio Argibay, who led Meridian’s design team, points out: “When they moved into Time Warner [Center, off Central Park] around 2001, there was no Facebook — the process of newsgathering has changed. You are getting a lot more information from digital means and more people are participating in the news cycle, so we made a 24-hour live newsroom that becomes more important as a content capture space than a black-box studio.”
For CNN Tonight With Don Lemon and the Town Hall shows, more traditional soundproof studios were created. “We have the capacity to accommodate much larger studio audiences than we did before,” says Zucker.
Like many companies today, WarnerMedia opted for fluid work conditions. Most employees have sit-or-stand desks and laptops, so they can move freely to cafes and communal hubs, with couches, lounge chairs and farm tables set up throughout the building. An architectural feature called the “Prow” showcases stairs and a dramatic hanging sculpture and is earmarked for events and parties. “We thought about how we would use this unique design’s levels in a way that is architecturally significant,” says Rocco Giannetti, who spearheaded the Gensler work. Lights in the sculpture connect to a digital branding system, so a promotion by Warner Bros. might pipe through colors of Joker. Colors also are used to signify each division, with CNN identified by red and HBO blue.
Wellness also is a priority, with a gym, yoga and Pilates rooms, and massage, physical therapy, chiropractic and health services for employees. A 35th-floor sky lobby was built as a crossover space to encourage cross-pollination among divisions.
Window and corner sanctums for executives are scarce: On most floors, offices are glass-walled and placed at the center rather than on the perimeters. “Corners of the core would normally be closed, but we made them open spaces,” says Giannetti. Sweeping views of the Hudson and Manhattan’s West Side along with spectacular sunsets grace every floor. “When we put all those buildings into one, we felt a need to eliminate walls and have fewer private offices,” says Santiago. “There was a notion that light should belong to everybody.”
This story first appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.