Around the Institute

Moving On In

June 12, 2018  • Nicole Corea

The first thing you notice when walking into the Aspen Institute’s new Washington, DC, headquarters is the light that streams in. Windows bathe the office in sunlight and offer panoramic views of the city. Gazing down at Rock Creek Park, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown, you almost feel as if you are standing on an urban mountaintop.

That’s exactly what the planners were looking for. The new 90,000-square-foot space at 2300 N Street NW was designed by OTJ Architects and built by Davis Construction. After visiting the Aspen Meadows campus in the summer of 2016, the designers found inspiration in the aesthetic of Bauhaus architect Herbert Bayer. They chose to mimic Bayer’s modernist style using his art and the primary colors he was so fond of.

“We wanted to bring the Aspen campus to DC,” Cindy Buniski, the vice president of administration and facilities at the Institute, says. “This space took us out of the thick of the city and made for a more retreat-like setting.”

Despite its serene location, the offices inside 2300 N Street hum with activity. Screens around the building broadcast live coverage of the day’s events. Notes from back-to-back meetings adorn the whiteboard walls. And every day, staff members have serendipitous conversations that lead to new programming, initiatives, and aha moments.

“Having the ability to work in different parts of the office gives me the chance to reset my thoughts,” Tony Mastria, the digital communications associate for the Economic Opportunities Program, says. “It also helps me run into coworkers I don’t see often and develop a broader view of all the work we’re involved in.”

Sarah Sims-Pokropski, the project lead for the move and director of office administration and conference services, notes that it was difficult at first to find a space that could grow with the Institute. “We had to keep in mind the number of events we host each week and the complexity of our programming,” she says. The office was designed to provide an exceptional gathering space for its seminars, policy roundtables, and public events.When envisioning the layout of the office, the Institute team looked to its past—and its future.

This was the job of the 21st-century workplace committee, chaired by Sims-Pokropski and Tricia Kelly, the managing director of the Communications and Society Program. The committee asked staff members to envision what the “office of tomorrow” might look like. They used the Institute’s methodology to think deeply about solutions to complex problems. “The Institute’s leadership was not only humble enough to invite staff from all levels to participate in this process but also had the courage to embrace our ideas and vision,” Kelly says.

One staff-driven addition to the headquarters was a stateof- the-art studio equipped with professional-quality lighting, audio equipment, a studio switcher, and three cameras. The studio is 4K-enabled, and will soon be able to deliver live remote interviews to the broadcast networks via LTN, a smartcloud service. Thanks to its soundproofed walls, it is also where Aspen Insight, the Institute’s latest podcast, is recorded. Outside organizations and programs like PBS NewsHour have used the studio to interview Institute experts. “The studio allows us to immediately communicate with our external audiences and directly respond to things happening in the news,” Sam Abdelhamid, the Institute’s video production manager, says.

Despite these additions, the project came in under budget, thanks to close monitoring by the executive vice president of finance and administration, Namita Khasat, and her colleagues. While the Institute had to expand its footprint multiple times in the design process, additional costs were covered through fundraising.

Support from donors like Michelle Smith and the Penner family made the entire venture possible. “The beautiful office elevates the Institute’s profile,” Smith says. “It creates a welcoming atmosphere for guests and encourages collaboration among the Institute’s staff.” In addition to workspaces and conference rooms, staff members have access to building amenities like a rooftop deck, café, and fitness center. The building is also currently seeking LEED certification. “I couldn’t have imagined the overwhelming bond and significance this space and design would have on me,” Sims-Pokropski says. “It’s like being married with no husband, children, or bills!”

Former Institute CEO Walter Isaacson advocated for a new location where staff members could be together in one building. The move marked one of his last major initiatives as head of the organization. “I truly believe that our new home symbolizes the Institute’s mission, which has always relied on the power of place and the beauty of architecture to foster conversation and connections between people,” Isaacson says. “I can think of no greater legacy of my time here than leaving behind a space that does just that.”