Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal HQ Environmental Graphics

Taking Stock

Environmental graphics for the sleek new Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal headquarters celebrate journalism’s brave new world, but nod respectfully to its past. 

The new offices of Dow Jones, best known for publishing The Wall Street Journal, are a far cry from the typically cluttered, chaotic newsrooms where journalists hustle to meet their deadlines. The interiors are sleek, orderly, and well designed, from blue-tempered glass walls and polished terrazzo floors to crisp nameplates on each desk. More unusual still, large-scale digital displays animate the space and reflect the ongoing changes in the news business as it expands from print to online delivery. 

Studios Architecture and Design360 (both of New York) began work on the offices soon after Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News Corporation acquired Dow Jones in 2007. The architects consolidated the news and financial information company on five floors of the Midtown Manhattan high-rise where The New York Post, Fox News, and other News Corp. operations are headquartered.  

Before the move, Dow Jones employees worked in far less commodious offices in Lower Manhattan and New Jersey. “We used to be in two buildings separated by the Hudson River,” recalls Howard Hoffman, Dow Jones’ vice president of corporate affairs. “We moved because we needed to unify our news operations and work together more collaboratively and efficiently.” 

Branding the news, past and present

In response to this mandate, Studios designed unencumbered offices with few partitions and floors connected by staggered staircases that provide views to several levels simultaneously. “The spaces have so many open sightlines that we didn’t need to create much wayfinding,” says Jill Ayers, Design360’s creative director. 

Instead, the designers concentrated on enlivening the 270,000 sq. ft. of offices with environmental graphics that celebrate today’s news culture. “Our challenge was to getting up to speed on newer technologies to create a consistent brand across several platforms, from static displays to digital media,” says Ayers. 

She based typeface selections on the HelShe based typeface selectionsthe Helvetica Neue of the 1990s Dow Jones logo, while using materials inspired by traditional printing processes for signage and static elements. 

“Jill wanted to play to the heritage of Dow Jones with an inked look,” says Chuck Plockmeyer, account executive for sign fabricator Xibitz (Grand Rapids, Mich.). In a nod to traditional newspaper production, he suggested the nameplates and signs for the newsroom incorporate zinc, which suggests the characteristics of magnesium printing plates. For directional signage and display cases, Plockmeyer used blued steel to recreate the look of ink-saturated metal type. Framing and accenting the signage is Richlite, a sustainable paper product symbolic of recycled newspapers. 

At the heart of the space, the fast pace of the news business is represented in LCD media walls imparting a sense of dynamism. Rising through the space’s two stair halls, the 35- by 14-ft. and 20- by 14-ft. displays are scrolling bulletins on the stock market, weather, and latest news. When market data and temperatures rise, the type travels upward; when they decrease, it moves down. “The concept was to connect the holes through the spaces with sign boards that project immediate information,” says Tom Krizmanic, a Studios principal. “They animate the space with a real-time feel.”

Digital drama

While such two- and three-story digital billboards are common features of rock concerts and political conventions, they are rarely installed as permanent fixtures in office interiors. “In corporate environments, this type of display has usually been accomplished through plasma and LCD screens or projectors,” says Gary Madura, project manager and technician for XL Video Lab (New York), the media wall supplier. “Doing such large plasma displays [at Dow Jones] would have taken a lot more structure and work.” 

Instead of incorporating video screens, the media walls are assembled from open-work aluminum panels supporting a system of computer-programmed LED Spider lights. “They were built like Legos, one row at a time,” recalls Ayers, who spent several months testing the design. 

In collaborating with Madura, Ayers ensured the displays reflected the same elegant design as the static signage throughout the offices. “We did elaborate story boards and went through a series of animations,” she says. “The information had to be legible and easy to understand from an angle as well as straight on. The media walls needed to be airy so they wouldn’t block light into the adjacent office areas.” 

Back to the past 

Off the kinetic displays in the stairways are more subdued lounges and coffee bars framed with reminders of newsrooms past. “We could have left the history of Dow Jones in the dust by simply focusing on the future, but instead we decided to bring some of its history into these spaces,” says Ayers. On the walls, archival newsroom photomurals are applied to glazing in colors corresponding to finishes and furnishings on each level. “The graphics are screened onto the glass like ink applied to a printing plate,” she explains. “They have the feel of a newspaper page.” 

The company’s more recent accomplishments are celebrated in quiet hallways connecting its different publications. One showcases the Pulitzer Prizes and awards given to The Wall Street Journal within a gridded framework of Richlite and blued steel, with captions sandblasted into the metal. This treatment is repeated for Barron’s in another corridor, where the magazine’s covers are arranged in 52 illuminated niches (one for each week of the year) fronted by acrylic doors so employees can update them. Xibitz ensured the covers were evenly lit from all sides by using an LED system to flood the cavities of the display case.

Wrapping the walls opposite the display cases, polyester fabric wallpaper called JetTex is printed with front-page coverage of major events, including the tragedies of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. 

Wallpaper sounds easy to apply, but the hallways’ tilted walls and ceilings complicated the installation. As visual counterpoint to the gridded display walls, the opposite walls are a series of folding drywall planes interrupted by vertical light coves that cross to the folded ceiling planes. 

“The angles and facets made it tricky,” says Plockmeyer. “We had to do a lot of layout work with Jill’s team so the final print of the reproduced publications looked correct on the wall.” 

Design for change

Back in the Dow Jones newsrooms, modular workstations allow desks to be quickly reconfigured in response to staff changes without demounting cubicle partitions. “The news organizations are constantly restructuring and moving so we tried to create a completely flexible space,” says project architect Erin Ruby of Studios. Accenting the open areas are digital clocks and video projections of headlines from Dow Jones’ newswire services. Ayers made sure these graphics were consistent with designs throughout the offices by setting up templates on the software provided for the displays. 

“Our firm had never done such an intense design package of digital and static signage before,” notes Ayers. “This project opened the door for us to be comfortable with doing more dynamic environments. We now think about graphics in a fresher, less static way.”

--By Deborah K. Dietsch, segdDESIGN No. 30, 2010

Editor's note: Washington, DC-based writer Deborah Dietsch covers art, architecture, and design for numerous publications. Her latest book is Live/Work: Working at Home, Living at Work.



Location:  New York

Client:  News Corporation Dow Jones

Design:  Design360

Design Team:  Jill Ayers (creative director), Rachel Einsidler (senior designer), Christine Giberson (designer)

Fabrication:  Xibitz (signage, exhibits, glass panels), XL Video Lab (media wall), Scala (software)

Architecture:  Studios Architecture

Consultants:  Benchmark (construction), POD Digital Promotions (programming), AV Services (media consultants)

Photos:  © Albert Vecerka/Esto, Jeffrey Kilmer (as noted)

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