A smart HQ can make all the difference – to productivity and morale but also to a company’s confidence in its output. Here we survey three media businesses that have recently invested in new homes, from a tabloid newspaper in Aarhus to a radio station in Seattle, because they know that good design matters.
“Fort Knox”, “like an old bungalow”, “dark and isolated”, “stuck out on the edge of the city”. Ask journalists at the new headquarters of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten about their former offices and a picture soon emerges of a remote, unappealing bunker. “It was lots of small rooms on one floor, long hallways, dark and grey,” says Mick Kristensen, news editor of Jyllands-Posten’sFinans website, from his desk on the second floor of the paper’s new airy HQ in Aarhus’s fast-growing Southern Harbour area.
The tabloid-format newspaper had been based in a purpose-built site on the outskirts of Denmark’s second city since 1964 but it wasn’t until 50 years later that it began to plan a move and a comprehensive rethink of what a modern newspaper HQ should look like. “Since we stopped printing in the old place in the 2000s, the whole facility was far too big. And we just weren’t part of the city’s vibe,” says editor in chief Jacob Nybroe from his glass-walled corner office. Outside, 180 journalists and about 200 other staff are at work on the next day’s edition. “Plus, the ceiling was falling in,” he says drily. Not only that: in the old building the departments felt very disconnected from one another. “The editorial team’s keycards couldn’t even access the ad department,” he says.
Danish architecture studio Henning Larsen was called to deal with all these challenges. “What we learnt from talking to everyone involved was that putting out a newspaper is like running a sprint every day. We needed to support that fast-paced workflow,” says Jacob Kurek, Henning Larsen’s global design director. “You need an epicentre with life, somewhere with a buzz, a space for connecting. It is a team effort every day but it also needs to have quieter spaces to the sides for individual concentration.”
A huge architectural practice from Copenhagen but with offices around the world, Henning Larsen has a track record with news media headquarters: the studio had already designed Der Spiegel’s Hamburg HQ, which opened in 2011. But with Jyllands-Posten there was an additional requirement. There is a reason its former facility had become a fortress: in 2005, the newspaper printed 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. In the years that followed, the newspaper and its cartoonists became targets of terrorist threats. Bollards and barbed wire sprung up around the old building.
‘Jyllands-Posten’ in numbers:
Editorial staff: 180 in Aarhus (plus 70 in Copenhagen)
Weekly readership: 345,000 (print and e-newspaper)
Cost of new HQ: DKK500m (€67m)
In the new home, security is built in and discreet. In front of the entrance stands an artwork featuring hundreds of colourful ceramic tiles, which is in fact a disguised security barrier. Inside there are revolving airlock doors; and hidden out of sight behind the glassed-in receptionist is a permanent security detail. “If you start from scratch, you can integrate security so that it becomes almost invisible,” says Kurek. “You can design the entrance space so that it doesn’t look offensive and so that there are controlled sequences for people coming in.”
Despite the necessity to keep its staff and visitors safe, Jyllands-Posten didn’t want to hide its journalists behind an impenetrable wall. “We have ongoing security needs but our business is to bring transparency to society so a newspaper building should reach out to the public,” says Nybroe. “Our brand is concrete, honest and straight-talking – and that’s reflected in the architecture. Inside there are see-through walls and open offices.” Built from concrete, steel and glass, the squarish building sits seamlessly in the postindustrial harbour area, just beside the city’s film studios.
While the editorial team takes up the entirety of the first floor, the third floor is largely given over to the company’s local newspaper, Localavisen Aarhus. On the fourth floor you’ll find a wide-open canteen where, on the day monocle visits, the menu features shrimp salad and plenty of roast pork – this is, after all, the heart of Denmark’s industrial pig-farming region, known for its traditional, conservative approach to the world.
Perhaps the building’s most notable architectural flourish is the space for its editorial meetings: a large lounge with a circular table right in the heart of the four-storey atrium. It’s a very Danish approach: open, anti-hierarchical, democratic and informal. Editorial meetings take place at 08:45 and 13:30, with participants from Copenhagen joining on a screen. “It is the epicentre of the paper,” says Kurek. “It’s there to give a sense of urgency for the people who work here and to say that ‘there are no secrets’. The whole building is about openness and responsibility. That’s why the façade is glass and is angled to feel part of the wider city. From the outside, you can see people working 24/7.”
The new Jyllands-Posten building has even helped to create a brand-new business for the newspaper: the Vision and Knowledge groups. These invitation-only, special-interest networks bring together opinion formers, leaders, ceos, politicians, heads of arts institutions and mayors for talks. “This could only happen because of the new auditorium,” says Trine Korsgaard Christensen, who’s in charge of the project. “It’s about gathering different perspectives but it’s also brought us a big network of knowledge and contacts.”
One peculiarity of Danish media is thatthe right-leaning Jyllands-Posten is a stablemate of left-leaning broadsheet Politiken and tabloid Ekstra Bladet. The holding company behind the latter two titles owns half of JP/Politikens Hus media group, the other half of which is owned by Jyllands-Posten’s holding company. There are other media ventures within the group, including niche titles for different industries, and a growing roster of local papers. Jyllands-Posten’s typical reader is male, doesn’t live in the capital, is over 50, a homeowner and has an above-average income. “They want the facts and are interested in day-to-day politics,” says Nybroe, who joined the paper after 25 years in TV news. Recent scoops have included Social Democrat prime minister Mette Frederiksen’s proposal to include more right-leaning parties in her coalition. “And we revealed that she claimed that her coronavirus lockdown was on the advice of health experts but it wasn’t. She lied,” says Nybroe.
He grimaces at the mention of the pandemic. His new HQ opened in February 2020 and three weeks later Denmark entered its first lockdown. The paper kept running but the majority of staff worked from home. Some still do but clearly Nybroe is hoping that the building will lure them back.
It’s good news, then, that everyone who works here seems delighted with their new home. “I was a bit sad when we left the old building,” says graphic designer Julie Barsøe, who has been at the paper since 2018. “But that went away pretty quickly because the view is great and you are so close to the city. Two evenings this week I have been out for a drink with colleagues, which we wouldn’t have done at the old place because it was so far away from everywhere.” We’ll toast the ambition that made it happen.
Gruppo 24 Ore, Milan
Up on the seventh floor of Gruppo 24 Ore’s new Milan HQ, several journalists are sitting at desks in front of a large screen projecting tomorrow’s layout of the group’s flagship product: economy and finance newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. “This is the heart of the editorial floor,” says central chief editor Roberto Iotti. “It’s a constant osmosis of information.”
The media group, which includes Radio 24 and news agency Radiocor, moved here in March last year, leaving its Renzo Piano-designed home in Via Monte Rosa for the fast-developing Bicocca neighbourhood. “Times change and we decided to change as well,” says group editor in chief Fabio Tamburini. “Everything has been built for the needs of an editorial group of today. That means more studio space for Radio 24, video and podcasts.”
Gruppo 24 Ore in numbers:
New HQ size: 16,000 sq m
People working at Milan HQ: 630
People working at Rome office: 140
‘Il Sole 24 Ore’ print circulation: 81,000
‘Il Sole 24 Ore’ website impressions: About 7 million a day
While the building dates from the 1980s, almost everything has been updated. Architecture studio Park Associati’s ambitious redevelopment – including energy-efficiency measures – starts with the exterior. The original façade has been remodelled to make more of a statement. “We broke up the mass through different types of panels,” says Michele Rossi, co-founder of Park Associati.
The job of tailoring the interiors went to workplace design company degw. Everything is a response to more multimedia-focused and flexible ways of working. Lines on the ceiling of the open-plan editorial floors act as guides in case spaces need to be quickly rejigged. There are breakout areas, as well as lockers and insulated phone booths.
On the eighth floor, Nicoletta Polla-Mattiot, editor of Il Sole 24 Ore’s monthly HTSI magazine (a partnership with London’s Financial Times), says that life is now much easier. “The quality of the light has changed a lot,” she says. “Which is important for us working with so many images.”
The changes are also being felt on the Radio 24 floor. Apart from two vast studios, there are also eight smaller recording spaces for news reading and podcast editing. “At the former HQ the radio station was in a building that had been conceived for something else,” says commercial general director Federico Silvestri. “Here it’s the opposite – the floor was designed with radio in mind.” But the paper is still front and centre; it relaunched in a new format in March last year. “My job is to make Il Sole 24 Ore a different sort of newspaper,” says Tamburini. The building is sure to help him do just that.
Wearing a neon-green vest and brown loafers, Brazilian musician Tim Bernardes strums an acoustic guitar inside the live room at KEXP, Seattle’s most famous independent radio station. For half an hour, he plays songs from his new album, Mil Coisas Invisíveis, then answers questions from KEXP’s midday host Cheryl Waters while videographers hover to capture the performance from every angle.
Bernardes had already played two shows in Seattle earlier in the month but, after the tour’s West Coast leg wrapped in Montana, he made a special trip back to the city just to record for the radio station’s highly rated Live on KEXP series. The sessions – most broadcast live, then released as videos online – are a rite of passage for musicians from around the world. “KEXP is considered an epicentre: all the good bands pass through it,” says Bernardes after his set. “Playing here is very cool for two reasons: for a non-Brazilian audience to get to know me and there’s also a sense of celebration back home when a Brazilian artist plays a KEXP session.”
“KEXP is considered an epicentre: all the good bands pass through it”
Founded in 1972 at the University of Washington as KCMU, the broadcaster emerged from the rich ferment of university radio stations in the US – a vital source of independent and alternative music programming to counterbalance commercial stations in a country without a strong tradition of public broadcasters. While many college stations remained scrappy, student-run affairs, KCMU steadily grew into a more professional operation with ever-more-powerful FM transmitters and prescient digital investments. In 2000 it became the first station in the world to offer mp3-quality online streaming; the next year KCMU became KEXP.
Today the radio schedule features shows on anything from afrobeat to soul and punk rock but the live sessions remain arguably its most successful venture. These recordings, some 200 per year, are possible thanks to the state-of-the-art broadcast facilities in KEXP’s headquarters. Complete with an arsenal of cameras, lenses, lighting rigs, microphones, speakers, pedals and cables, the station is as well-equipped as any respectable music venue. “We do everything in one take,” says video manager Jim Beckmann after Bernardes wraps. “We’re taking advantage of the energy of a live session in this space.”
The architecture is impressive too: the station’s home is in a mid-century modernist building that once housed international pavilions during the 1962 World Fair. The landmark heritage structure was retrofitted by skb Architects in 2016 after a $15m (€14.6m) fundraising campaign. But KEXP was able to enjoy its new digs undisturbed only for a few years: in 2019, works started next door on a huge arena also dating from the world fair; the station weathered noise and vibration from the heavy-duty construction site until 2022. However, when the nearby building’s facelift was completed and the area’s landscaping was refreshed, KEXP gained a brand-new outdoor stage and courtyard, set in the crook of the L-shaped building. Fully wired for video, the new stage will allow the station to expand Live on KEXP’s repertoire to include sun-splashed summer sessions. This August KEXP inaugurated the space with a concert that also celebrated the station’s 50th year on the airwaves.
Having an open-air space to host gigs and events extends the station’s mission to have an open, public-facing HQ that is at the service of the community. While Bernardes recorded in private, many other artists have a live audience: a viewing gallery with room for 70 offers a look into the intimate live studio, while a generous crowd of nearly 400 people can fit into KEXP’s Gathering Space. When not hosting a show, this area is open to the neighbourhood as an all-day café run by venerable Seattle roaster Caffe Vita, as well as being home to vinyl shop Light in the Attic Records. Inside this spacious room, large plate-glass windows frame one of the station’s two DJ booths. “This part of the complex was purpose-built to give an on-site audience a look inside a working radio station,” says Rischel Granquist, director of facilities.
“For us it’s really important to be community-minded and open to sharing what we do”
Evie Stokes, who has been an on-air DJ for eight years, believes that the fishbowl-like experience has a positive effect on her afternoon show. “For us it’s really important to be community-minded and open to sharing what we do so it feels really natural,” she says from the studio during a break from broadcasting. “Though occasionally children push their faces up against the glass and stare at you for extended periods of time.”
All these venues offer Seattle residents the chance to see musicians for free during the day, allowing fans to circumvent sold-out concerts, although the first-come, first-served spots can go fast. “We built this area intentionally to allow us to have a public element,” says Beckmann. “Most other radio stations would predominantly, if not exclusively, pre-tape their sessions without an audience. We really try to bring the public in.”
Still, KEXP’s audience – and mission – goes well beyond its home city: 75 per cent of Live on KEXP viewers are from outside the US, with loyal followers tuning in from Mexico, the UK, France, Germany, Brazil and Argentina. Albina Cabrera, an Argentine cultural journalist, was one of those devotees. When political interference under former president Mauricio Macri made the working climate untenable at Argentina’s national news agency Télam, Cabrera jumped ship and applied for an internship at KEXP in 2018. She was soon brought on as the station’s first Latin American content producer, reflecting the importance of this region in the station’s listenership. In September she will lead a 13-person KEXP delegation to Buenos Aires for a five-day remote broadcast from the Centro Cultural Kirchner in partnership with the Argentine Ministry of Culture.
KEXP in numbers:
250,000 to 350,000 per week
YouTube channel subscribers:
2,600 sq m
10,000 LPs and 40,000 CDs
While Cabrera was used to professional broadcast facilities at Télam, coming to KEXP raised the bar. “It’s like Disneyland: everything is geared toward the quality of the audio and video content,” she says. The design and functionality of this working environment enticed her back as soon as lockdown ended; Cabrera couldn’t wait to return to the office once pandemic restrictions were lifted. “I was eager to regain access to the recording studio and live room,” she says. “This building opens doors for artists internationally.”
Photographer: Jan Søndergaard