30 Fascinating Things I Learned on a Tour of the New Comcast Technology Center
The $1.5 billion project is beyond anything I thought could be possible in Philadelphia, and a walk-through with CEO Brian Roberts revealed some special details about the future of the company and the city.
When I entered the new Comcast Technology Center on Thursday morning for the first time, I had no doubt that I’d stepped into the year 2070. I tried to snap some photos but was reminded that no photography was allowed on this intimate press tour of the new space. But no amount of personal iPhone photos could help me better understand the magnitude, scale and impact of Comcast’s 60-floor development than just getting the opportunity to calmly walk around the groundbreaking space with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.
For a little over an hour, Roberts personally paraded around a small group of local media. We stopped on six different floors (the two levels of the lobby and floors 6, 9, 27 and 30) — parts of the building that are complete and already busy with employees since they began moving in four weeks ago. With every swift turn, smooth elevator ride and staircase jog with Roberts, the leader revealed a new mind-blowing detail about the building that’s taking Philadelphia to new heights and redefining the East Coast’s dedication to tech. Here are 30 random things I learned and observed on the tour:
1. The lobby is quite literally from the future.
Upon walking into the lobby, shooting across the ceiling is digital word art by Jenny Holzer. Phrases moved forward and back across the tall ceiling like shooting stars or advanced digital message board. Comically, part of the message read, “THE BEST DAY I EVER HAD WAS WHEN WE HAD THE PIZZA PARTY AND I FELT HAPPY.” An exploded paradigm sculpture by Conrad Shawcross is the centerpiece of the lower lobby but makes its way up to the second level alongside the sets of escalators. On the upper level of the lobby, the Vernick Coffee Bar was abuzz. Roberts claimed it will be “the finest coffee bar in the city” once it’s fully up and running and open to the public. And in a nod to Comcast’s entertainment arm, the giant shiny white Universal Sphere has a cameo in the lobby as well. All of the elements surprisingly work together to create a stunningly clean and modern design. “Welcome to the future,” Roberts said repeatedly.
2. The building is “far from complete.”
Roberts emphasized that only a handful of the floors of the building are actually complete. And a lot of spaces are still yet to be opened, including the Four Seasons Hotel, an incubator space to LIFT Labs, Vernick Fish and Jean-Georges restaurant.
3. The company will soon move the building’s 1,000th employee in.
When each employee relocates to the new building, a volunteer team cheers them on as they enter, and they’re given a one-on-one escort who shows them around. On Monday, the building will welcome its 1,000th employee. When the building is 100 percent occupied, 4,000 employees in total will be stationed there.
4. Comcast had long outgrown the Comcast Center.
The company was desperately in need of new space. “We were growing like a weed,” Roberts said. A couple thousand employees were not fitting in the Comcast Center and were dispersed across other offices in the city.
5. The buildings are connected underground for public access.
A commuter concourse and connector will open underground later this fall. The connection is part of Comcast’s mission to create a true urban campus.
6. Famed British architect Norman Foster personally accepted the Comcast Technology Center job.
Why? He told Roberts that no one has ever tried to build a tech tower in the heart of a city, and he wanted to seize on the opportunity. Foster, 83, who is known for his high-tech design through Foster & Partners, created the core and shell design for the Comcast Technology Center. The building was developed to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
7. There are no offices in the building.
The building’s interior finish design architects went for the industrial workspace and converted lofts look, which means loads of open areas and about 330 huddle spaces and conference rooms. Noise dampening technology will keep sounds level across the work space’s three-story lofts.
8. Every single desk moves up and down.
If employees want a standing desk, it’ll take them only a few seconds to get one. Each employee workspace features a nifty sit-stand desk.
9. Larger than life trees are everywhere throughout the building.
After some careful inspection, I can confirm that the trees peppered throughout the floors of the tower aren’t real, but they’re convincing. The trees, coupled with elements like reclaimed wood, help a tech-heavy space stay human, Roberts explained. He tasked designers to keep things warm and human in the face of all the colder elements like the building’s massive 30th-floor data center.
10. The most Philly thing about the building is the art.
Comcast reached out to 40 makers and artists who have some kind of connection to Philly. Every floor features custom installations from artists and makers. Some of the installations we saw include a LOVE statue mural, a mural that pays homage to Tupelo, Comcast’s hometown, and a skateboard wall.
11. A giant escalator connects the building to 19th street.
Once complete, the escalator, which stands directly across from the main lobby, will allow visitors to connect directly to the hotel’s ballrooms and conference areas.
12. The building boasts destination dispatch elevators.
Before you’re able to enter any elevator in the tower, you’ll have to swipe an ID card across a keypad that will prompt you to enter in the number of the floor you’d like to visit. The keypad then informs you which elevator you must take. The system decreases wait time and the number of stops any one elevator must make by streamlining floor selections. Anyone who’s used this system in other buildings before knows that it definitely takes some getting used to.
13. You will apparently never lose a connection in the Comcast Technology Center’s elevators.
The elevators are equipped with wifi and cellular service. On the tour, the earpieces we wore that allowed us to hear the sound of Roberts’ voice no matter where we were worked seamlessly no matter how long we were in an elevator or how many floors we traversed.
14. The building is backed by a powerful technology network.
The internet reaches speeds of 500 gigabits per second, has more than 1,100 wireless access points, and there’s 60 miles of fiber optic cabling. Roberts promises that the building has the “fastest broadband humanly possible.”
15. There are many locations for employees to get creative.
Each floor lobby comes with pegged walls, courtesy of interior design architecture firm Gensler who also designed the building’s lobby. Like with Legos, visitors can rearrange the pegs to create whatever design they desire.
16. There’s a central staircase that runs through all 40 floors of the workspace section of the building.
Ambitious employees (or those on one of the company’s fitness plans) can opt for stairs instead of elevators. A hollow, industrial looking staircase is directly in the center of each open loft area but manages to be unimposing.
17. Events and media are at the core of the development.
The building has already hosted the Today show among others, and Roberts hopes to keep bringing back CNBC, Morning Joe and Mad Money events for example. One day, he envisions Steven Spielberg and Bill Gates at the building for events with employees and the public. Comcast’s NBC10 and Telemundo 62 studios will move in to the building soon.
18. The tower relies on chill beam technology.
Above the open spaces are long beams that contribute to energy efficiency and create insulation cooling via piping.
19. Wellness has a major presence in the building.
Tech offices and spaces don’t usually require business attire, but there were whole teams of people walking around in leggings, t-shirts and sneakers. Their t-shirts read “Comcast Wellness Team.” A 32,000-square-foot fitness facility is on the grounds along with nine mothers’ rooms, eight quiet rooms, 17 all-gender restrooms and 179 bike racks.
20. There are no phones in the building.
“It’s all in the cloud,” Roberts said, which means there’s no hardware for stationary phones. Employees can send calls to a headset, for example, or send voicemails to their cell phones and more.
21. The building boasts a unique split core design.
The tower’s “split core” allows light to come in from a number of locations. Upon exiting the elevator lobby, and entering any one of the building’s corridors, light floods in from both ends.
22. There are herbs growing in the building’s cafeteria.
On the 27th floor is a 72,000 square foot cafeteria known as The Market. The Market features a 200 foot “green” wall covered in planters that hold various herbs used in “fresh preparations.” The Market looks nothing like the Comcast Center’s Ralph Café, but the spaces serve the similar function of bringing people together through communal dining.
23. The building’s security is run by the 24th director of the United States Secret Service.
Joe Clancy, Comcast’s director of corporate security, casually accompanied us on the tour. He’s the one who reminded me that there’d be no photography…
24. Roberts has spent a lot of time in other offices.
In the past few years, Roberts has visited a number of other spaces including WeWork, Apple, Bloomberg (all offices across New York and London), The New York Times, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Snapchat and smaller startups to observe work spaces. This could be why every floor of the building feels like you’ve walked into a different co-working space.
25. Comcast employees in the new building look happy AF.
As we walked about the space, many employees looked starstruck as they watched Roberts. The one employee who demoed his sit-stand desk to the group shook Roberts’ hand and was excited to meet him for the first time. Most of the employees who end up occupying the building will be software engineers.
26. The height of the building is in an interesting sweet spot.
I asked Roberts whether there were ever any plans to make the building taller than 60 floors or 1,121 feet. Roberts replied no and explained that the building, which is the 9th tallest in the U.S. and the tallest outside of New York and Chicago, allows the company to make a sizable financial investment ($1.5 billion) but one that still allows them to really invest in conference rooms and other amenity spaces. He noted that it would’ve only been possible in Philadelphia.
27. The Four Seasons Hotel will be game changing.
When I asked Roberts what he believes the most iconic part of the building will be, he replied, excitedly, “Stay tuned!” At the start of the tour he told us he wouldn’t talk about the hotel, but during the walk-through he could barely contain his excitement about it. I’m betting he thinks the most iconic portion of the new center will be the hotel, or it’s up there, at least. He mentioned it would be “the finest in the world” and an amenity that would “transform the city.” So far, we know it will take up the top 20 floors, hold 219 guest rooms with X-1 in-room tech and gigabit speeds, have 15,000 square feet of meeting space and a 57th floor spa, salon and fitness center. And we’re hearing rumors of a theater in there somewhere…
28. Comcast’s footprint is growing.
With the completion of the tower, Comcast now has offices in Silicon Valley, Northern Virginia, Denver, Seattle and India. And with Comcast possibly acquiring British broadcaster Sky very soon, there’s no telling where they’ll expand next.
29. Roberts showed his father, Ralph Roberts, designs of the building before he passed away.
The building is way beyond his expectations, Roberts said (though he wants to make an official assessment once it’s really done), and is confident his late father would love it.
30. There will be no third building.
At one point, Roberts preemptively answered a question, “Before you go asking, there is no other building.” The CEO confirmed that he’s not planning to build another one. An official ribbon cutting for the Comcast Technology Center will take place before the end of the year.