Apr 23, 2022 - Economy

JPMorgan unveils design of new headquarters

Rendering courtesy of Foster + Partners

The death of midtown offices has been greatly exaggerated as JPMorgan recently unveiled the design of its new headquarters at 270 Park Avenue in Manhattan — a "supertall" building 1,388 feet high, with 2.5 million square feet of space.

Why it matters: The new tower represents the state of the art in terms of environmentally responsible post-pandemic commercial office construction. Critics are generally underwhelmed.

Flashback: The old JPMorgan headquarters, on the same site, was a fantastic example of bringing old buildings up to modern standards. A clean and beautiful exemplar of Park Avenue modernism, it spent 50 years as the largest building ever designed by a woman, and also spent 11 years as an ultra-efficient green building, following an extensive rebuild in 2011.

  • As architect Carl Elefante famously put it: "The greenest building is the one already standing." The act of demolishing one building and constructing a brand-new one involves enormous and unavoidable carbon emissions.

By the numbers: The new building is roughly twice the height of the old one, while adding only eight stories to the old building's total of 52. As a result, the average height per story has gone up from 13.6 feet to 23.1 feet, meaning much more interior air to heat in the winter and cool in the summer.

  • The post-pandemic office, designed with input from Deepak Chopra, is going to be significantly more crowded: JPMorgan says it will accommodate up to 14,000 employees. That works out to about 178 square feet per employee, down from 429 square feet per employee in the old building.

How it works: JPMorgan claims that the new building will have zero emissions, since it runs entirely on electricity bought from Brookfield Renewables, an energy company that runs 74 hydroelectric facilities in New York state, some of which are over 100 years old.

  • Reality check: The JPMorgan deal with Brookfield doesn't change the overall energy mix in New York state, which recently got significantly dirtier. JPMorgan might be "harnessing advanced blockchain technology" to prove that its electrons are green, but ultimately whenever a building is replaced by one that uses more energy, that means New York state is going to have to burn more carbon.

The regulatory arbitrage, however, is clear. A different environmentally-friendly bank headquarters, Bank of America's 1 Bryant Park, is reportedly going to have to pay $2.4 million per year in fines for exceeding its carbon-emission caps after 2024.

  • Under a New York City law that was enacted between the construction of the two buildings, 1 Bryant Park's hyper-efficient natural gas-fueled cogeneration plant, which helps to power and heat the building, will be severely penalized. The new 270 Park, by contrast, will be counted as a zero-emissions building regardless of its energy consumption or efficiency.
  • JPMorgan spokesperson Mike Fusco tells Axios the new building is more efficient than its predecessor in energy use.

The big picture: The building's main effect on its environment will be visual, given its status as a major addition to the New York skyline.

What they're saying: The tower, designed by Foster + Partners, is "both grandiose and blah," says architecture and design critic Alexandra Lange, calling it "a Son of Hearst Tower grafted on top of creepy legs."

  • "I am repulsed," she tells Axios.
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