Murdoch Wish for Modernity Drives Ingels’s Tower Design

Bjarke Ingels
Architect Bjarke Ingels. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Top executives for 21st Century Fox Inc. and News Corp. wanted a headquarters that would embrace the latest concepts in collaborative offices. A new office tower wasn’t the first choice, said architect Bjarke Ingels.

Before working with Ingels to build what would be New York’s third-tallest skyscraper at the World Trade Center, the media companies explored converting an existing building, the architect said. James Murdoch, Fox’s co-chief operating officer and the person spearheading the headquarters initiative, favored the wide floors and open design pioneered by technology firms and not often found in soaring towers, Ingels said.

“He was almost quite certain that he didn’t want to build a big skyscraper,” Ingels, 40, said in an interview at his lower Manhattan studio, sitting in front of a model of 2 World Trade Center and the surrounding site.

It was the concept of interactivity in design incorporated into 2 World Trade Center that helped lead Murdoch to embrace the new tower, Ingels said. The architect incorporated some of what Murdoch liked in the Starrett Lehigh Building, a former freight terminal that covers a full city block in Chelsea, where Ingels’s own studio was located at the time.

“He wanted a more raw creative work environment,” said Ingels, who’s also working on Google Inc.’s new Googleplex campus in Silicon Valley. “He wanted to break down the vertical segregation that comes from being a multistory tenant.”

Fourth Tower

Fox and News Corp. signed a letter of intent two weeks ago to be the anchor tenants at 2 World Trade Center, with Ingels taking over the design from Norman Foster, in a deal that would pave the way for developer Larry Silverstein to build the last of the four towers at the lower Manhattan site. The companies have left open the option of remaining where they are now, at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Midtown.

James Murdoch, who is poised to succeed his father, Rupert, as chief executive officer of Fox, is leading the effort to move to the new tower, along with Fox Chief Financial Officer John Nallen, a person with knowledge of the process said last week. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of both companies, is reserving the final decision for himself.

Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for Fox, declined to comment on the headquarters process. In a memo to employees last week, the companies said the building is “being designed with the future needs of our organization and people in mind. We believe it would facilitate idea sharing, connectivity and collaboration among colleagues and departments.”

Football Field

The bottom of the building, the biggest of seven sections that will climb ziggurat-style to about 1,340 feet (408 meters), will support Fox’s broadcast operations, including television studios, Ingels said. The floors would be about 56,000 square feet (5,200 square meters), about the size of a football field.

The concept of floors in the tower, however, is a bit inexact. The design features wide stairs between different levels, so people will be encouraged to move around and interact with others in different work groups, Ingels said. Robert Thomson, the CEO of News Corp. and one of the collaborators in the headquarters decision, pushed for such a design, Ingels said.

Ingels’s renderings include what appears to be the main Fox News newsroom, before a ground-floor window that looks out at the arches of architect Santiago Calatrava’s trade center transit hub. Another of Fox’s studios would be able to take advantage of the views the tower will offer of the East River, with the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges in the background.

As the project is currently conceived, News Corp. would be in the third section, which would include the Wall Street Journal and New York Post newspapers, Ingels said. Each section is to be 12 to 15 stories, according to Daria Pahhota, a spokeswoman for the architect’s Bjarke Ingels Group firm.

Fox and News Corp., which split in 2013, would have executive offices in the fourth section, somewhere between 36 and 48 stories above the street, according to Ingels.

Screening Room

The rest of the 2.8 million-square-foot tower would be Silverstein’s to lease to other tenants, except possibly for what Ingels called a “fantasy” idea for “an epic screening room” on the upper floors, where Fox-produced films will compete with views of the city for oohs and ahhs.

Bjarke Ingels Group is aiming to complete its schematic drawings by the fourth quarter, when he expects the final decision on the companies’ move to be made. One party that still must sign off on the design is the New York Police Department, which oversees security for the site and forced a redesign of the tower’s neighbor, 1 World Trade Center, in 2005.

The 2 World Trade tower would be built at the corner of Church and Vesey streets, two local streets where Ingels said it’s easier for police to monitor traffic than at 1 World Trade, which sits next to West Street, a wide thoroughfare that is more akin to a highway than a city street.

“It would be very very hard to prevent a truck full of explosives from getting off the highway,” he said. “Two World Trade is in a somewhat more controlled area.”

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