October 27, 2014

Playing to Win: Mancini Duffy Gives the NBC Sports Group an Unbeatable HQ

It helps to be in the right place at the right time—in the architecture field as well as on the sports field. That’s how Mancini Duffy principal Joe Montalbano, a nationally regarded expert on media and entertainment facilities, sees his big break with NBC. A couple of years ago, while working on a project for Versus, then a Comcast-owned cable network known for homespun hunting and fishing shows, he struck up a friendship with the director of engineering—a key contact for broadcast clients. When the two later ran into each other at a trade show, the engineeer tipped Montalbano off: Versus needed more space. Maybe they could meet in Connecticut to look at properties? Then, mysteriously, his contact became evasive. “I have something going on,” he said. “Sorry, I can’t tell you about it.”

A year passed before the project revived, and Montalbano was invited to inspect a long-vacant Clairol hair dye factory in the corporate mecca of Stamford. The brick building’s expansive floor plates, high ceilings, and long column spans seemed a natural for TV studios, and a glass-box building next door was, if nondescript, still serviceable for offices. But the combined 210,000 square feet was much more than ample for Versus. “There’s no way you’re going to need all this,” Montalbano cautioned.

Then came the big news: A planned merger would create a sports broadcasting colossus called the NBC Sports Group, a mash-up of Versus—renamed NBC Sports Network—and assets including Comcast SportsNet, the Golf Channel, the NBC Olympics franchise, and the NBC Sports flagship, then based at New York’s Rockefeller Center. This unlikely Stamford site would become the first home outside Manhattan for NBC Sports in its vaunted 60-year history. In other words, a plum commission beyond rivals. So Montalbano assembled a team of top talents and broadcast brains for a major adaptive reuse. This new setting for the peacock to spread its tail feathers would have to be technologically cutting-edge, sufficiently charismatic to draw top TV talent and visiting sports dignitaries, and unifying, bringing together staff relocated from several operations in three states.

Smart, elegant early moves included physically joining the factory and office buildings with a two-level glass connector furthermore serving as the headquarters’ main entry. Its brand signage and heroic canopy, supported by 32-foot-high columns, are visible from the nearby interstate. Once inside, you turn left, into the tasteful offices that occupy the glass building, or right, toward the broadcast center in the factory. The latter’s limited windows suited the broadcast studios (six), graphics suites (50), and edit rooms (ditto), where it’s a virtue not to be able to tell day from night. But Montalbano saw no reason to keep the office zone for the producers in the dark, too, so he ripped out the entire front wall and replaced it with glass. Overhead, running side to side, a bridgelike new mezzanine adds 40,000 square feet of desk space.

On both levels, the layout is organized as a street grid, its thoroughfares often “paved” with the original concrete flooring, now polished and sealed. These routes open sight lines from the darker recesses of the studio operations to the sun-washed office areas in addition to leading past arrays of TV monitors, so staff can keep track of the score in any number of events. Overlaid on this rigorous grid are “nodes and moments,” Montalbano explains. Case in point: the double-height lounge called Central Park, all 1,600 square feet of it, dotted with furnishings in peacock colors.

NBC Sports Group senior vice president and chief technical officer Dave Mazza, who oversaw the renovation, says he takes pride in having helped to create “a highly engaging  employee experience that is as efficient and as sustainable as it is state-of-the-art.” Montalbano notes that NBC easily could have built from the ground up, the norm for big networks, but adaptive reuse offered a budget-wise, low-impact alternative for a company proud of its environmental credentials. Green in other ways, too, the studios are among the most ecological ever built—fitted with 80 percent LED fixtures to reduce heat load and energy costs, thus carbon footprint, while keeping the talking heads cool.

Details play up the sports theme. The pattern of carpet suggests the hash-marked grass of a football field. Blowups of action photographs, usually culled from NBC’s vast archives, have been printed on vinyl wall covering or screened onto glass partitions. Hockey pucks, suspended in a sheet of resin, become an art installation in the pantry right behind Central Park. Few would guess, however, that the pantry’s bar-height counter was made from wood reclaimed from Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

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