On Tuesday, October 21, 2008 during national Design week, I took my design students and the editors of The Fieldston News to the NY Times, where design director Khoi Vinh led us on a special tour of the new headquarters. As a highlight, Khoi introduced us to Tom Bodkin the assistant managing editor in charge of design. After the tour we sat down for conversation about print verses digital news design in the boardroom. The students were wonderful and asked great questions.
Ten years ago or more, when Annie and Arthur Sulzberger III were still in high school at Fieldston and Arthur was interested in becoming an editor on Bob Montera’s Fieldston News staff. I had the pleasure of touring the older Times building (three blocks to the north of the new building location) with a group of Fieldston students. The NY Times had occupied the site since 1913 and the Printing presses were still in the basement at the time. We saw the Art Department, the Newsroom and then the giant Web presses. The smell of ink, the taste of the paper and the vibration of the presses were part of the building. When the New York Times decided to leave the antiquated building they held a design competition for its new headquarters. The Renzo Piano Building Workshop won and internationally acclaimed architect Renzo Piano designed the new building. Piano’s proposal was to create a “transparent relationship between the street and the building.” He built a tower of ultra-clear glass walls, veiled with a second skin of horizontal white ceramic rods on an aluminum frame. The rods that veil the building have a functional purpose: they shield the glass walls from direct sunlight and reduce the heat gain that usually requires tinted glass, while they bounce light onto the interior walls. The white ceramic rods are almost like a ladder outside the building. You may remember last June, police officers arrested, Alain Robert, a French stuntman for scaling the white ceramic rods on the north face of the New York Times building.
When we arrived at the building in our minibus, the students and I were dazzled by the design. We began our tour by viewing the Sign of The Times, designed by Pentagram, specifically for the NY Times building entrance. The Sign of the Times was featured in the I.D. Magazine’s 54th Annual Design Review, because it solved an important design problem. (The design students and I went to see the I.D. show at Parsons on September 23.) The problem imposed by special zoning regulations was: how do you add a 110-foot-long, 15-foot-tall New York Times logo to the front of a minimalist building without obstructing the view of the Times staffers working inside? According to Michael Bierut, principal and art director at Pentagram the answer was to break the sign up into smaller pieces, 959 of them to be exact. Each resulting piece of the logo was then made into a three dimensional form that could be fitted over the building’s ceramic sunscreen rods. Anyway you look at it, you must see it in person to appreciate it and thanks to Khoi Vinh, the students and I saw it from inside and outside the building. My favorite part of the tour was looking down the hallway at the iconic “T” from the inside of the Times newsroom. Then we took the advanced dispatch elevator to the art department and learned about the production process at the times. As we entered the photographic section we met Tom Bodkin, the assistant managing editor in charge of design and talked to him about the development of the Times Reader and the future of the Times in print and on the screen. After our discussion in the boardroom we took this picture in Tom’s office. Thank you Fieldston, we had a great day at the NY Times.
Students meet design director Khoi Vinh & Tom Bodkin the assistant managing editor in charge of design.
Thank you to Bob Cairo, John Love and Debbie Goldman for setting up the trip and the special pre-trip luncheon in the Fieldston reception room. Thank you to Kirk Ruebenson and the Fieldston News upper and middle advisors, Bob Montera, Judith Pokras and special thanks to Toby Himmel for her letter of introduction to Fieldston alumna, Jill Abramson the news managing editor of The New York Times.