Exploring ambitions leads National Geographic Society on journey to rebrand its DC headquarters
Renovated urban campus now illuminates National Geographic Society’s inspiring educational storytelling culture
600,000 square feet
1145 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
JLL has been a terrific partner in helping us envision the possibility of what the National Geographic campus could be.
For over 130 years, the National Geographic Society has transformed the way we understand our world by using the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. The iconic yellow logo is a portal to the entire world, but regardless of what we want to explore or where we want to go, the journey always starts from National Geographic's headquarters in the heart of downtown Washington, DC.
National Geographic’s campus comprises three buildings totaling more than 600,000 square feet and is home to over 1,000 employees. It all started in Hubbard Hall, National Geographic’s original location built at the turn of the 20th century. In 1913, the organization moved into their 16th Street building, completing an expansion to the south just two decades later in 1931. The need for more space continued as National Geographic thrived. Thirty years later, the organization’s growth warranted adding a building along 17th Street into their ranks and completing their final expansion toward M Street in the early 1980’s. With multiple time periods dictating the look and layouts of the organization’s home, the campus reflected the workplace styles and functionality of several other eras. National Geographic Society’s storytelling power has significantly evolved since then, but the offices did not evolve with them. Much of the original spaces remained untouched until about three years ago when the Society’s board of directors launched an evaluation of their real estate strategy. They knew that their current workplace was not up to par and invited real estate experts to present them with possible solutions.
JLL treated this project like an Everest expedition, recruiting a full team of experts to weigh all possibilities. The JLL team was composed of various members across business lines, including tenant representation, project management and workplace strategy. As part of their work, the team conducted in-depth market research and studied the potential financial benefit of repositioning the assets. JLL’s recommendation? National Geographic Society should renovate and redesign their existing headquarters campus to truly bring their brand to life and create a base camp for their employees, explorers and fans around the world. The Board accepted JLL’s recommendations, launching what would become a three-year partnership with JLL and a complete workplace transformation.
National Geographic Society had a list of specific wants and needs, all dominated by the necessity for an open work environment that promoted their mission throughout the space. The original offices were conventional and did not speak to National Geographic Society’s iconic culture and purpose, contradictory to the cutting-edge and philanthropic legacy known across the globe. The highly collaborative and inclusive team needed flexible spaces that allowed groups of all sizes to come together quickly and easily. They wanted to transition away from a “Mad Men” style environment of private offices and ominous cubical walls. This design worked when the office environment consisted of noisy typewriters and landline telephone conversations, but it now hindered employee interactions, knowledge sharing and flexibility. The space also did not provide an area large enough to convene thought leaders, field experts and other notable guests. National Geographic Society wanted such events to be even more impactful, so they requested that the new space include a semi-private conference center separate from the 450-seat auditorium where they frequently hosted large-scale public events.
JLL and architect Hickok Cole worked together to understand National Geographic Society’s vision and delivered an office truly inspired by the organization’s mission and brand. Now, when someone walks through the doors to the office, there is no doubt that they have entered National Geographic’s headquarters. If illumination is a key pillar of the company’s mission, then anyone in the new space will understand that. The modern space is flooded with natural light and the open layout, with its emphasis on shared space, allows for unobstructed sight lines and improved visibility amongst colleagues. There are meeting rooms of all shapes and sizes as well as communal spaces for everyone to enjoy together, including the sixth-floor dining area and outdoor patio, a highly coveted space during lunchtime. Another staff favorite is the Machu Picchu steps, a tiered, yet intimate, auditorium that provides the perfect backdrop for content creators and staff to exchange ideas and host lively conversations. Employees constantly engage with their new space and with each other in a myriad of ways by taking full advantage of everything the space offers. The conference center plays a key role in executing the company’s mission by providing a space for the brightest minds to come together to discuss some of the most important issues impacting our world.
JLL’s Project and Development Services team, led by Vice President Cheryl Russ, was on-site for the duration of the project. In many ways, they were true explorers, handling any challenge thrown their way and even discovering artifacts during the demolition process. The building’s age and structure presented many challenges, including the need to replace the entire mechanical system in one building while remaining fully occupied and operational. The team also had to navigate structural deficiencies to the archives room while not damaging any of the priceless artifacts, photographs and film housed there. Throughout the complex project, the JLL team was a true partner for National Geographic Society. They mitigated any concerns that arose and kept everyone focused on the end result.
That end result is an office transformed into a living image of National Geographic, an office that provides the resources to produce awe-inspiring content and the canvas to share it. Every aspect of the new space tells a story and showcases their mission, from the images and priceless artifacts that adorn the walls from around the world and communicate National Geographic Society’s mission to light our world and inspire the explorer in all of us.