Nigel Dancey, the architect in charge of the Comcast Technology Center, traces the idea of the building back to 2013, when he lunched in Rittenhouse Square with his boss, Norman Foster, and John Gattuso, senior vice president of Liberty Property Trust.
Dancey said there was a lot of energy in Rittenhouse Square, but fewer and fewer people as they walked back to 18th and Arch, the future site of the city’s tallest building.
With the Comcast Technology Center, Dancey and the Foster + Partners team tried to lure the public to the mammoth corporate office tower with food, art, and entertainment that’s open to the public. That includes artwork from internationally known artists Jenny Holzer and Conrad Shawcross, and a Stephen Spielberg short film that can be accessed without going through any lines of security.
“The idea with this building is really to kind of almost create a new destination and a district,” said Dancey, senior partner at Foster + Partners.
Ahead of the opening Monday of the Four Seasons Hotel inside the Comcast Technology Building, Dancey spoke with The Inquirer about the project. The interview was edited for space.
For Comcast, it was really kind of a technology building very different than the first building. [Comcast CEO Brian Roberts] said he wanted 25-year-olds in jeans and flip flops. He wanted the young, bright kids that could come out of MIT or Harvard or Stanford to come here instead of going to work for Apple or Facebook or Google. And to try to create an atmosphere where the staff would want to come to work in the morning and don’t want to leave. I think we’ve done that.
We ended up with something that seems to work very well. The staff have great facilities. They have a great gymnasium. They’ve got a fantastic restaurant. They’ve got the town hall spaces. They’ve got breakout spaces and gardens and lots of variety. Artists have been involved with it. It’s really a cool place to work.
There’s a lot of building here with so many different elements to it. Usually, you’re doing a hotel as a project on its own; an office building is a project on its own. And then there’s almost a third building, a whole ground-level building. I think that’s complex. I think the logistics of sorting out the movement of people is also interesting.
There is a campus we’ve created between the original Comcast building and this building. There’s actually an underground tunnel that links the two buildings together. And it’s very important to Brian [Roberts] that these two buildings talk to each other. This is the innovation and technology center. So it’s a little bit more industrial looking. It has kind of vertical lofts, as we call it, for the office spaces. And on the top of it we’ve obviously got the hotel.
Office towers have got what’s called the core. The core is the staircases and the elevators and some of the services. Typically, in the American model, the core is in the middle of the floor plan. … What we’ve done here is we have a slightly different plan and the core is actually at the end. So instead of it being a center core, it’s an offset core, which means you have more flexibility with the space.
I think from the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank [headquarters], Norman spent a lot time questioning and revisiting tower design. I think the offset core here, and the expression of the structure, is interesting. I think the mixed-use nature of the hotel and the office space we haven’t done before. I think the way that it’s connecting the city with the public, great spaces on the ground floor and the public art and how people can walk through the building is really innovative and I don’t think we’ve done that to the same degree before.
The office space is very flexible because, with the offset core, you’ve got the big floor plates, so that can be changed easily. Hotels are less flexible. Some hotels eventually get turned into residential, but I think there’s a pretty significant need for a hotel in Philadelphia, so this will be one of the premier hotels in the city.
[The office] has a raised floor throughout. They deal with thousands of moves all the time. They’re moving teams around. So the idea of having as much as flexibility as possible, the open plan kind of lends itself to that a little bit. The raised floor helps with that, as well. They can sort of chop and change it as they kind of see fit. … A raised floor basically means you’ve got all of your access cabling under the floor. So if you want to move desks around, you can kind of connect them up again.