Dynamic lighting shapes BlackRock’s office redesign

June 5, 2024
By integrating advanced lighting systems that adapt throughout the day, global investment firm BlackRock created a work environment that fosters collaboration, comfort and efficiency.

When global investment firm BlackRock reimagined its corporate headquarters — co-locating 4,000 New York City employees from three offices into a single, one-million-square-foot space — it centered the project around one of its core principles: “We Are One BlackRock.” Project goals included a design emphasizing collaboration and a unified culture, and the creation of an inclusive environment that supported employees’ health and well-being. In addition, the design and construction had to yield an adaptive space that could evolve with BlackRock’s needs while meeting LEED Platinum certification requirements.

BlackRock tapped architecture and design firm NBBJ and lighting designer One Lux Studio to accomplish their goals. “When we met the BlackRock management team, specific goals were outlined. First, they wanted a space that was aesthetically pleasing and to create a comfortable work environment for staff. The second goal was to achieve specific technical requirements that would allow for future flexibility. We developed a universal ceiling and lighting concept with the architects that met these two requirements,” said Stephen Margulies, a partner with One Lux Studio.

Lighting design shapes the workday experience

BlackRock's new campus has both workplace and amenity spaces. The large footprint of each floor posed a design challenge — to avoid letting the space feel overwhelmingly large and repetitive, Margulies explained. The lighting design played a crucial role in creating distinct areas within the expansive floors. The journey from the elevator lobbies, through large cores, to the workstations was made visually interesting and varied.

“Light levels were carefully planned to complement the daylight penetration into the various zones in the floor. Spaces without daylight were intentionally designed to have high light levels to offset the lack of daylight. Spaces with daylight were designed to vary as the daylight changed throughout the day,” Margulies said. Lighting — its intensity and color — tracks with daylight conditions and complements the user experience.

The amenity spaces — the trading floor stair and double-height park spaces, the auditorium and the cafeteria — each offer occupants a unique visual experience. The lighting design plan focused on balancing ambient and feature lighting, Margulies said. A recurring element in many amenity areas is the use of numerous points of light, creating a sparkling effect that reflects BlackRock's global presence — a concept often described as “a thousand points of light” in design meetings.

“Generally, ambient lighting was concealed in flowing coves that added dynamic movement in a traditional orthogonal building footprint. The overall composition leaves the visitors with a sense of clarity and comfort and, from time to time, visual excitement,” Margulies said.

Execution required a strategic approach

The scale of the BlackRock project — developing 15 stories in one of New York’s largest commercial office towers — prompted the design and construction team to approach the project like an urban plan, with each floor being treated as a miniature city within a larger metropolis. Each floor functions both independently and as part of the overall plan.

The lighting selected for this project was a key aspect of realizing the lighting design. “The previously used system was a mix of different stand-alone systems that were not networked. Due to this, it was inconvenient, almost impossible to manage the space for facilities. In addition to the lackluster user experience, the older technology was fluorescent and not LED, which provided a less conducive work environment for the employee experience,” said Shawn Fisher, national business development manager at Lutron Electronics.

Fixtures with luminaire-level lighting control (LLLC) were chosen for the project for their granular control and flexibility. “Individual, wireless fixture controls enable BlackRock to reconfigure programming of the lighting easily and quickly, so as space uses change, so too can the lighting,” Fisher noted.

“Managing this project through the budgeting process was critical to its success,” Margulies said.

When One Lux Studio joined the project, a design concept for the workplace had already been presented to BlackRock and thoroughly documented. “We saw an opportunity to make the lighting systems more efficient by reducing the number of light fixtures, reorienting the lighting systems to optimize utilization and daylight. This reduction in light fixture count allowed for considerable cost savings, which in turn, allowed us to introduce lighting control technologies that, at the time, were a cost premium.”

“We then created pricing documents that defined the basic scope and priced upgrade alternatives. Once the alternatives were priced, it was easier for BlackRock to make decisions on costs and benefits. This is where we introduced the idea of a new wireless control system and circadian lighting,” Margulies said.

“It is often surprising how competitive bidding can have a significant impact on the budget. Multiple manufacturers for light fixtures and controls, multiple distributors vying for a position are all good things to get real-time pricing. We have found that creating this competitive environment brings the client to a comfort level and allows them to evaluate what is best for the right price. If this is done during a project’s design development phase, there are few surprises when the design process is complete.” Margulies said. “This is how we protect the integrity of a design and takes away the contractor ‘VE’ process that often compromises the design.”

Lutron's cloud-connected Athena control system with wireless nodes, tunable white lighting and automated shading was selected for the project. “Athena with wireless controls paired with in-fixture AWN [Athena wireless node] and cloud-based connectivity checked all of BlackRock’s boxes and provided a future-proof sustainable solution,” Fisher noted.

Choosing a wireless solution simplified installation and reduced labor and material costs. “Using the Athena wireless node saved us time and money; there was no need to pull additional wires which translated to significantly quicker installation time,” said Jay Rimatzki, an account executive at J.T. Magen, the project general contractor.

Having uncompromising support from the lighting supplier was key to a successful project, according to the lighting design team. “We like working with people who care about us, who make sure the job is going smoothly and have the ability to interact with all the different wheels that make a project like this go. Because we don’t always figure out everything perfectly, we try to do the best we can, but having people who make sure that our interests are protected, and our clients’ interests are protected [was crucial]. Not everything was perfect on this job, but the people working on it made it perfect,” Margulies said.

Daylight-first approach

At Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, home of BlackRock’s new headquarters, the building’s floor-to-ceiling windows introduce abundant natural light into the workspaces. Integrated lighting and shading solutions allowed BlackRock to draw natural light deep into the space while reducing heat gain and glare.

To maximize daylight and ensure everyone has access to natural light, BlackRock and NBBJ decided to place offices in the core of the space, leaving the perimeter free of offices. “Daylight is important. But bringing in daylight and allowing that daylight to penetrate all the way deep into the floors so that everyone has access to natural light was very important.... Everyone gets to enjoy the light. We call it democratizing daylight,” said Barry Novick, who provides technology strategy at BlackRock.

Throughout the open office areas, tunable white lighting was installed and programmed to optimize the overall lighting plan via organic transitions. The intent was to draw the feeling of natural light further in the floorplan, so each employee works under light that “feels right” whether they have a window seat or not, Fisher noted.

 “You don’t notice it changing because it happens over time. We have four triggers throughout the day starting with the ‘morning’ scene as the offices open, fading to ‘afternoon’ at noon, and then to ‘evening’ half an hour before sunset. The ‘nighttime scene’ is triggered when they shut this place down, which might happen at 10 or 11:00 at night,” Margulies explained.

Alongside the programmed lighting scenes, Lutron shades on all windows automatically adjust throughout the day to maintain city views while minimizing glare and solar heat gain. Additionally, the shades move gently and in unison, avoiding aesthetic distractions.

Luminaire-level controls prove the best option for BlackRock

The design and construction team selected Lutron’s Athena system with the Athena wireless node to ensure performance, flexibility and efficiency throughout the space. The Athena wireless node is an ultra-small luminaire-level lighting control (LLLC) installed directly into the LED fixture, allowing for easy rezoning and reprogramming without rewiring. Already since project completion, BlackRock has taken advantage of the flexibility the LLLCs offer.

“We’ve already gone through changing business needs, and the lighting control component has been seamless. We just reprogrammed the wireless switch on the walls and the fixtures. We’ve done that and it’s really been wonderful. I think this project has actually changed the norm for what people expect from a lighting control system. It sets the bar higher,” said Novick.

“The big advantage to this job was that one wire that connects all the light fixtures is gone. All the addressing, all the programming — it all happens over the air [with the Lutron app],” said Margulies.

In all, more than 9,000 Athena wireless nodes were installed in a mix of USAI downlights, Axis linear luminaires, and SSL pendants throughout the space.

For BlackRock, the completed project accomplished the goal of empowering collaboration and connection for its team members, and lighting plays a key role in realizing that goal. “We [needed to create] a variety of spaces open and enclosed, large and small that are adaptable and flexible. I fully expect to walk in here five years from now and see something very different, but equally exciting, than what we have today,” explained Philip Pitruzzello, a managing director of BlackRock.

About the Author

Linda Becker

Linda Becker is editor-in-chief of LightSPEC (formerly Architectural SSL). She has more than 20 years of experience in B2B publishing, primarily focused on manufacturing and process applications. Since joining LightSPEC, she spends a lot of time appreciating lighting and the essential role it plays in how each of us experiences the world. 

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