Bringing NPR’s Signature Sound to a New Headquarters
National Public Radio (NPR) has grown larger from its 1970 Washington, D.C. radio broadcasting roots into a worldwide 24/7 multimedia organization with the mission of serving the public wherever they are. In 2010, they tasked Balfour Beatty to help them build a new world-class headquarters that would set the tone of NPR for generations to come — while preserving what’s most important: NPR’s signature sound.
Building Around NPR’s Signature Sound
Balfour Beatty’s major challenge was to move NPR’s signature sound from its original headquarters to its new location a few blocks away. At the beginning of the partnership, NPR made it clear the preservation of this signature sound would make or break the project. Every wall, ceiling, window and detail around how equipment would be laid out was critical. The building’s design was centered around an open, two-story newsroom surrounded by broadcast and production studios which needed to completely block the noise and vibration of the bustling newsroom where NPR News, NPR Music, programming and digital staff work together. To accomplish this, Balfour Beatty integrated a number of innovative sound dampening systems: isolation floors, sound rated doors and window construction, dissipative insulation panels, and floating cloud sound disruption ceilings.
Balfour Beatty is familiar with hard materials such as wood, concrete, steel, and stone. But for this project, they had to work with something as ethereal as sound itself. When the challenge came to move the sound of NPR to a new location a few blocks away from its original headquarters, Balfour Beatty—pulling from its national resources—enlisted two experts from North Carolina to focus on this part of the project exclusively.
“The studios were a priority,” said Art Malacarne, project executive at Balfour Beatty. “The sound is NPR’s bread and butter. The biggest thing was isolating it — shaping the acoustic material to avoid echoes. No sound can hit back at the same time.”
Relentlessly Overcoming Challenges
Besides moving NPR’s sound to a new location, Balfour Beatty and NPR worked together to overcome the challenges associated with transforming an existing 1920s art deco warehouse into a sophisticated news center and office building. The process required selective demolition and restoration of the four-story warehouse and tying it to a new adjoining, seven-story structure.
As if transforming and blending new and old structures was not in itself a major challenge to aesthetics, safety and schedule, subcontractor challenges, custom architectural fabrications and a 5.8-magnitude earthquake also threatened to stall Balfour Beatty and NPR’s efforts. However, due to meticulous coordination, collaboration, clear communication, and strong scaffolding, Balfour Beatty was able to overcome the potential setbacks and help NPR make a smooth transition into its new headquarters under budget and ahead of schedule.
“Our team is how we make these things happen,” said Malacarne. “We had a great team, a great team mentality; whatever it takes to get the job done.”
The open, flexible, cost-efficient, collaborative, 330,000-square-foot space was designed to meet public radio's needs for generations to come. When NPR moved into its new headquarters, Balfour Beatty proved to be its relentless ally; successfully responding to the client's ambitious plans for the future, coming in as crisp and as clear as NPR's signature sound.
Integrated new structure with a historic one including features such as a 10,000-square-foot data center and technology core, a 100,000-square-foot, two-story, open-concept newsroom, a 1,300-square-foot theater/production venue, and three levels of below-grade parking
Audio moves around the 1111 building on a fiber network, and a central data center manages all things tech, including power, HVAC and security
There are modern production studios, and video screens throughout the building, including 18 screens in the newsroom; a live HD TV camera at NPR can connect NPR reporters and experts to television media via a fiber or satellite link