Changes: Inside Time Inc.’s New Sunset Park Offices

Photos by Jane Bruce

Time Inc. is one of the oldest and largest media companies in the world, founded by two Yale graduates in 1923. Famously headquartered at Rockefeller Center’s Time & Life Building since 1959, it now has a new home. Well, two of them, technically. One is located at 225 Liberty Street in the Financial District, and is the new company headquarters, housing the majority of Time Inc.’s employees, including staff from the company’s most widely circulated magazines (of which there are 90 in total), like Time, People, InStyle and Sports Illustrated.

While the move to the Financial District is big (both literally and symbolically), perhaps the company’s bigger move is to its second new home in Brooklyn. There, Time Inc.’s 55,000-square-foot satellite campus will be spread throughout two floors of Building One in Sunset Park’s enormous commercial complex, Industry City. Created as an incubator of ideas for the future of the company, Joe Ripp, Time Inc’s CEO, explained that the Industry City spot will be “an ideal space for building new products, reimagining content creation and developing advertising solutions.”

In late December, after a break-neck construction period (which began, unbelievably, only in September), the first of the company’s 330 Industry City employees began trickling into their new home. At the time, there was a still-considerable construction crew presence on site, busy installing finishes.

It was in the midst of this that Matt Bean, Time Inc.’s new senior vice president of editorial innovation (and formerly editor at Entertainment Weekly, another Time Inc. brand) walked me through the space, which is home to Bean’s spacious new office as well. At the time, none of the hundreds of desks designed by Red Hook-based furniture maker Uhuru had been installed, nor any of the nine custom-designed neon lights from Gowanus-based light designers Light Bright Studio, nor the show-stopper chandelier from Brooklyn Navy Yards-based James Dieter, whose nifty geometric constructions can be reconfigured into several forms. When ready, the chandelier will hang above the office’s central staircase—a sleeker industrial version of the Mad Men stairwell located inside the fictional offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, which were located in the very building the very real Time Inc. has just vacated.

Actually, speaking of the staircase, that hadn’t been finished either; a four-foot precipice separated the last step from the ground (which, incidentally, didn’t stop Bean from leading me to jump straight off it). For the most part, though, the bones were in place, accompanied by a lot of hammering and sawing and wiring from a frantically working construction crew. Bean was like a kid in a candy store—if that kid were able to geek out on design materials—and was visibly excited about the new space, as well as the kind of work that would happen inside of it.

“The point here was to bring a whole bunch of people together to create an idea incubator,” says Bean, standing by the wood-and-iron central staircase. Bean himself heads up a brand new company vertical called the Drive, which focuses on cars—the kind that drive themselves and run on things other than gas. (On the ground floor of Building One, the Drive has its own 5,000-square-foot showroom with a garage door and a seamless backdrop.) More verticals will be announced soon under the umbrella of the Foundry, a new company initiative headed by Mark Ford, executive vice president of global advertising sales, which also produces branded content. “The people lumped together [here] will almost function like a startup,” says Bean.

In that vein—despite the underlying industrial setting—Time Inc. Industry City’s is heavily tech-focused, with the company’s Technology and Product Engineering team also based on-site. In the very center of the office’s upper floor is a giant, glass-encased “computer brain.” “This room here is gonna be pretty spectacular,” says Bean. More than 300 ethernet cables connect to an enormous server, each with its own flashing blue LED light, representing every employee who works there. “This is something to celebrate, not something to put in a corner,” says Bean. “This is exactly what you see people hacking into in the movies.” Another conference room on the fourth floor is perpetually patched into 225 Liberty by camera—like a Big Brother meeting room of the future.

Time Inc. Industry City was designed by the architectural firm TPG. Throughout the process, Bean had become a kind of self-appointed co-design lead, working hand-in-hand and round the clock with TPG designers to pick out stools, paneling, couches, café finishes, and banquette seating that, whenever possible, are produced locally by Brooklyn fabricators. The general aesthetic of it all is meant to be modern but not overly flashy. Something that fits the industrial tone of Industry City, but will continue to look relevant in five years, and then the next five years after that.

In this case, that means a lot of wood, ironwork (all by a Brooklyn-based metal fabricator, Andrew Hunt), and glass. Furniture from the old Time Inc. headquarters is also incorporated (including Henry Luce’s famous Chart Room table, made of Brazilian Redwood) as well as some infrastructure from the original Industry City space. Anybody who works in an office knows that the physical things that surrounds one’s work dramatically impacts your ability to think and perform—or increases your likelihood of being numbed to death.

“I said I want a table that every single person who walks in the room says, ‘Holy shit, I wanna sit there. Let’s come up with some important things to decide,’” says Bean. The result of that command was the centerpiece of the fourth floor board room, also designed by Uhuru. Bean describes it as “a big crazy table with a giant piece of metal in the middle with live-edge wood. It looks bad ass.”

Beyond tables, though, Bean’s priority was creating a floor plan that encouraged gatherings and conversations. It’s the famous Google strategy behind effective collaboration: The best ideas are not born alone, in front of your computer, but communally, around food, while lounging in comfy chairs, and strolling down hallways. Scattered throughout the office are 50 couches from West Elm and Blu Dot, and 53 iconic Saarinen chairs, brought from the old Time & Life headquarters, and reupholstered in navy blue. Several Herman Miller-produced Eames chairs, originally designed for the Time & Life building, also line conference tables.

Large gathering spaces are located throughout the offices, like a café, stocked with local pastries and coffee, and outfitted with two giant espresso machines and large glass dispensers filled with popcorn and cereal; a tiered landing area beneath the central staircase doubles as informal seating; on the fifth floor there is a theater whose modular stage-seating can operate as another open work station; outlets line its vertical wooden panels. And if, in the end, you really don’t want to talk to anyone, you can seek refuge in the library.

“One of the factors in having an open environment is people feel like they can’t get away, and they need peace and quiet,” says Bean. “I harkened back to the giant college library, where everyone went to carrels and quiet little areas.” And, what do you know, there are library-esque work carrels, the same kind you used to type your term papers in. Just in this space, there is also carpet, to provide a library’s muted quiet.

Bean said that, originally, Time Inc. had considered spaces in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which had soaring 160-foot ceilings (“talk about heating bills,” Bean says), Red Hook, and near Barclays Center. But even though no one space in this borough is going to have it all, Time Inc. realized that Industry City was as close as they were going to get—and that it was a pretty good match at that. The commute is closer for lots of the young editors and writers who live in and around this part of Brooklyn; and the office is also equipped with showers, for those who bike to work in the summer. “I don’t know of anyone who was excited about our Midtown location,” says Bean. “We analyzed commute times based on zip codes, and this struck a balance between fit, finish, feel, and proximity to the subway.” The D/N/R express train is about a five minute walk away, and connects straight to one of the city’s largest commuting hubs at the Barclays Center.

Before anyone moved in, Bean held a big town hall meeting with TPG designers about what their lives would look like in Industry City. He scanned the crowd to catch their reactions. Were they excited? Overwhelmed? Sad? Mostly, says Bean, they were just concerned about where they’d get their office plants.

He mentions one of the neon lights, designed by Light Bright, which will be installed in the office. It reads “I Create, Therefore I Am,’ in Latin. “It’s a reminder to people that they have an awesome job. We’re not just making widgets here,” says Bean, standing once again on the ground floor of Industry City’s main reception area. People zoomed by on scooters and were talking to each other sipping coffees, looking simultaneously like they were engaged in official business, and just kind of hanging out.

“In a place like Brooklyn, we’re trying to figure out not what’s cool already, but what’s going to be cool in a couple of years,” Bean summarizes. “So we really put a big bet on Industry City.”

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This is STUNNINGLY tone-deaf of Time Warner– to be building a gilt playpen for a division that hasn’t made a dollar while staffers at headquarters are forced into cubes or fired? Matt Beene’s idiotic quote about his table deserves to be legendary.

  2. So this is what Time Inc. has been spending its money on, after pushing the very best and brightest of its writers and editors out the door over the past four years of bloodletting — and letting all sorts of mediocre, do-nothing execs leave with golden parachute deals worth millions? This article reads like an Onion parody of a 1999 “digital media” puff piece. Yuck.

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