Credit: Jeff Goldberg / ESTO
In Boston’s Brighton neighborhood, adjacent to the Massachusetts Turnpike and in full view of the stream of commuters who drive by each day, public television and radio broadcaster WGBH has erected a new headquarters that is capturing a large audience. But rather than relying on radio waves or TV programming to convey its message to the public, WGBH is experimenting with a new communication medium—digitally enhanced building design.
WGBH is an affiliate of the Arlington, Va.-based Public Broadcasting Service and the nation’s largest national PBS content provider, producing about one-third of the PBS primetime lineup. The growth of WGBH and the need to keep up with new multimedia technology was the incentive behind constructing the new headquarters, which consolidates operations previously housed in 12 separate buildings into a state-of-the-art, three-facility complex totaling 310,000 square feet (28800 m2).
The $85 million headquarters, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects of New York, merges an existing 156,500-square-foot (14539-m2), 7-story office building on the north side of the site with a newly erected 96,000-square-foot (8918-m2), 2-story technical operations center on the south, clad in various profiles of ribbed aluminum panels. The renovated office building houses the administrative staff for WGBH, while the new facility is home to television and radio studios, production control rooms, a 210-seat theater, an 1,800-square-foot (167-m2) performance studio, screening rooms, meeting spaces and a café.
Connecting the two buildings is a 480-foot- (146-m-) long, 2-story bridge sheathed with a translucent glass and aluminum curtainwall. The steel-truss-framed structure, which has been called the creative content building, appears to float above the technical operations center, supported on slender concrete columns. It crosses over a public street to intersect with the existing administration building, and then cantilevers out toward the Massachusetts Turnpike.
As with the public broadcasting content at WGBH, the building is designed to provoke thought, inspire curiosity and serve as a dynamic communication medium to the city of Boston. A digital mural of LED modules that faces drivers heading east into Boston on the Massachusetts Turnpike is built into the west side of the connecting bridge’s aluminum and glass curtainwall. The 30- by 45-foot (9- by 13.7-m) display projects slow-moving images of the award-winning science, history, drama and children’s programming that has defined WGBH.
Although the glass connecting bridge and digital mural are the most prominent features of the new headquarters, they aren’t the only architectural elements used as a form of expression. WGBH has been called an “idea factory,” so one of the design goals for the structure was to reflect a factory-like feel through the materials used, including the metal wall panels cladding the exterior of the technical operations center.
“The use of metal panels is very much in keeping with WGBH’s notion of themselves as an ‘idea factory,’” says Richard Olcott, FAIA, a design partner in Polshek Partnership Architects and lead designer of the project. “WGBH wanted a fun, creative and smart building, but also a frugal, no-nonsense and straightforward one.”
Credit: Jeff Landry
About 80,000 square feet (7432 m2) of single-sheet aluminum panels was used for the project. To provide contrast and visual interest, the design uses a creative collage of four ribbed panel profiles in exposed-fastener and concealed-fastener styles in various shades of blue and gray.
“With the single-sheet material, you can take the same profile and by simply changing the orientation from horizontal to vertical, get a completely different look and, depending upon the profile, a completely different shadowing. Add different colors, and you get more variety. We had as many as seven different panel colors on the project, including accent colors for the metal trim,” says Thomas Mayo, director of preconstruction services with Karas & Karas Glass Co., Boston, the metal panel installer.
In addition to the single-sheet aluminum used for the project, Karas & Karas installed 15,000 square feet (1394 m2) of formed aluminum trim consisting of custom transition pieces, window sills and trim, copings and horizontal expansion-joint covers. Their crews also installed 26,000 square feet (2415 m2) of smooth, composite aluminum panels that were used in an interlocking soffit application at the underside of the connecting bridge and for vertical accents and transitional areas between the new building and existing office space. All fabrication of the composite panels, single-sheet siding and trim was performed by Karas & Karas in its Stoughton, Mass., facility.
For the 2-story connecting bridge, Karas & Karas installed 25,000 square feet (2323 m2) of a unitized glass and aluminum curtainwall system, which is glazed with clear high-performance insulating glass to allow a view of the steel truss framework within. The perimeter of the curtainwall is framed with the composite aluminum panels, which return into the soffit system below. The curtainwall is split by the series of varied-width LED panels that serve as the giant digital monitors.
The architects were very demanding about the quality and final appearance of the installed sheet metal and composite panel materials, according to Mayo, which made the job especially challenging. “You won’t find this level of quality on the typical industrial project, for which the installed products were designed,” he says. “An advantage of working with single-sheet metal is that you can do a simple installation, or raise the bar and enhance the execution. That’s what we did at WGBH. At the end of the day, you just see a really nice, clean, crisp metal and glass building.”
One of Boston’s Greenest
WGBH Headquarters was among 12 buildings selected in 2008 as one of “Boston’s Greenest” by the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects, the Boston Society of Architects and city representatives.
Credit: Jeff Landry
WGBH earned LEED Certification from the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council by employing a variety of energy- and resource-conservation measures. Much of the building is built with recycled materials, including the aluminum wall panels, which contain 100 percent post-consumer recycled material. Motion-sensitive office lighting, windows with UV-filtering glass and motorized aluminum sunshades help conserve energy while waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets in public and private restrooms enable WGBH to decrease its water consumption. A green roof uses vegetation to help insulate the building; photovoltaic panels mounted on another roof section generate 100 kilowatts of supplemental solar power. At night, the LED display switches to a screen saver mode to conserve power.
The project embraced environmentally sound construction practices by recycling construction and demolition waste, reducing contaminants during construction, and using paint, adhesives and sealants that emit no or low amounts of VOCs. There also are energy savings associated with consolidating WGBH’s operations from 12 separate buildings into one complex located in an urban area close to public transportation.
Architectural Mission Accomplished
WGBH is a pioneer in multimedia, so it’s only fitting that its headquarters breaks new ground in the architectural realm. The building is innovative while remaining community oriented and environmentally responsible. It also is emblematic of the core mission of WGBH: “to enrich people’s lives through programs and services that educate, inspire and entertain.”
“We hope our new building will serve as a welcome, and welcoming, creative landmark on Boston’s cultural landscape,” WGBH executive vice president and chief operating officer Jon Abbott told the press when the building was dedicated in September 2007. “From a preview screening of a new ‘Frontline’ documentary to a workshop for middle-school science teachers, our new performance spaces will enable WGBH to invite the public into our studios in a way that was never possible in our [previous] facilities.”
Anne Balogh writes about architecture and metal construction from Glen Ellyn, Ill.