It can be hard to spot the sun in Lower Manhattan.
The streets in the oldest part of the city are narrow—built long before we designed roads with cars and trucks in mind. Walking down the sidewalks in this part of town can feel like hiking through a slot canyon, with office towers taking the place of sandstone walls.
But set in the middle of these concrete canyons is a quiet, open space, occupied by Trinity Church. It looks like it was dropped there, amongst the towering buildings, by mistake. But of course, Trinity called Lower Manhattan home long before Goldman Sachs did.
Walking into the cemetery at Trinity brings an instant relief—space, grass, and relative quiet. Most of the tombstones are so worn down that you can’t even read a single letter on them. This is where Alexander Hamilton is buried, alongside his son and wife and other heroes of the American Revolution.
And right across the street stands 101 Greenwich Street—or 101G to those of us here at Convene.
It stands 26-stories high, with a faded green roof and unique U-shaped design. In a city full of historic architecture, 101 Greenwich can get lost in the shuffle. It’s not the biggest, or the tallest, nor was it really the first of anything when it opened in 1907. But it’s that quiet, unassuming beauty—combined with a long history—that make it the perfect home for Convene’s HQ, and our first fully Convene-enabled building, featuring all of our product and service offerings all under one roof.
It’s the past meeting the future, and unleashing a better workplace experience.
Downtown New York City is a living, breathing monument to trade and business. It features the tallest office building in the world, the largest stock exchange in the world, and offers a stunning view of the most recognized symbol of freedom and liberty in the world.
It’s a neighborhood of stark contrasts and seemingly incompatible ideas. It’s the oldest neighborhood in all of New York—sitting right on top of the footprint of New Amsterdam. The oldest history is invisible now, but its legacy lives on in street names. Pearl Street derives its name from the piles of oyster shells that used to line the shore nearby, Wall Street from the protective wall built by the Dutch that supposedly ran along the current day route.
Even more recent history can get lost in the rush. Downtown NYC features some of the city’s most historic and beautiful buildings—an architecture nerd’s dream come true. Four separate buildings in the neighborhood have at one time held the title of the world’s tallest building (the Singer Building from 1908 to 1909, the Woolworth Building from 1913 to 1930, the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building in 1930, and the World Trade Center from 1972 to 1974).
Set against that historic backdrop you’ll find not only the headquarters of the most respected names in finance and banking, but a growing number of trendy tech and media startups. Refinery29, Oscar Healthcare, XO Group, Zocdoc, and Warby Parker all call Downtown NYC home. Neighborhoods in Downtown NYC are growing in residents too—the Financial District saw its population nearly double from the year 2000 to 2014.
Set amongst this scene is 101 Greenwich Street—Convene’s new headquarters and flagship location. It’s a building steeped in history, and filled with new innovations that make it the perfect place for the future of work.
The United States Express Company
Back at the turn of the 20th Century, delivering packages across the ever-expanding United States was a lucrative business. This was made even more true by the fact that until 1912, the United States Postal Service was not allowed to deliver packages weighing more than four pounds. That task fell to an array of private parcel companies—frequently referred to as “express” companies.
You may have heard of a few—Wells Fargo and American Express both got their starts in the delivery business.
Less known was the United States Express Company. In the early 20th Century, the United States Express Company was one of the largest delivery companies in the nation. In 1905, work began on their new headquarters—a 23-story (the final 3 floors were added in the 1920s) building at the corner of Rector and Greenwich in downtown Manhattan.
The building was completed two years later, with the United States Express Company taking up the lower floors (the same floors that Convene now occupies). Newspapers in 1906 boasted about the buildings “modern conveniences,” which included heating and air conditioning for each office, “as well as ice water, and a vacuum cleaning apparatus.”
The United States Express Company began to wind down business operations in 1913 (following the passage of a law that allowed the United States Postal Service to carry larger packages), and sold their namesake building for $3.5 million in 1919.
When it was first constructed, the building stood nearly alone on the west side of Broadway, but that isolation was short lived. Soon, downtown Manhattan’s streets were lined with towering offices, reaching higher every year.
Seeing the Future in the Past
A 111-year old building might seem like an unusual place to launch the workplace of the future. But sometimes to see the path ahead, you have to look to the past.
“It’s easy to do the future of work in a brand new, custom built building, that has the best systems for technology and infrastructure,” says Convene’s head of product Brian Tolman. “The bigger challenge is to create a new workspace that uses the existing inventory we have.”
While there are more and more examples of smart office buildings every year, most are brand new structures—built from the ground up with modern needs in mind. But with fresh space at a premium in a dense urban setting like Manhattan, smart offices must be incorporated into existing buildings if we want to see measurable progress.
“For example, I think The Edge in Amsterdam is fantastic,” says Tolman. “But we want to create a workspace that is as great at The Edge in the existing fabric of a city, and that’s what I feel we’ve accomplished with 101 Greenwich.”
Designing around a century old structure provides a lot of challenges. Decades of cosmetic wear and tear can add up on walls and floors. It’s tempting to begin with a clean slate, but it can also take away from the unique elements that give the building character. An office building has history and personality—a history that you become a part of once you walk through the door and put in a hard day’s work.
“We wanted to maintain the historic, urban nature of the building,” says Kate Raizenberg, Senior Associate of Design at Convene. “The space is unique, and those imperfections can’t be recreated. It’s full of craftsmen techniques that you just don’t see any more in commercial buildings.” Things like plaster ceilings, terra-cotta brick, and intricate tile work—all original from 1907.
The whole neighborhood is a potent mix of old and new. Gaze out the window and you can see the offices of some of the most renowned businesses in the world, right alongside the grave of a Founding Father. Walk down the street and you can tour Federal Hall, where George Washington took the oath of office, steps away from the New York Stock Exchange.
“People often think of the ‘future of work’ as big, open, uninterrupted spaces where you can create high density environments and pack a lot of people in, but this can create a sterile, impersonal experience,” says Raizenberg. “One of the beauties of our building is it’s U-shaped floor space—which results in spaces that provide a much more human scale.”
The opening of 101 Greenwich marks a new chapter for Convene—the first property to combine our meeting and workplace membership products, all housed alongside our own corporate team. Each floor offers a variety of places to work, ranging from relaxed common areas (with plenty of snacks and beverages for refueling) to comfortable desks and office suites, to unique meeting rooms, each featuring a special design element inspired by the building’s history.
“There’s a surprise-and-delight moment when you walk in these conference rooms, in that they’re very luxurious and ornate, with lots of textural materials, and that’s unexpected in a downtown, urban environment,” says Raizenberg. In fact, it’s one of her favorite elements of the whole building. “We’re contrasting the old and the new, so the textures and patterns within these rooms are inspired by the Neo-Renaissance elements of the building.”
Surprise and Delight
A phrase often heard around Convene HQ is “surprise and delight.” It’s the idea that to really wow a customer (or employee), you must do more than meet their expectations—you must offer them an experience or level of hospitality that they weren’t expecting. A free umbrella on a rainy day for a guest forgot their’s, or a handwritten thank you note to an employee on a special occasion. It’s baked into everything we do, and the design of 101 Greenwich is no exception. The whole experience should be a pleasant surprise from the moment you walk in the door.
“I hope people feel surprised when they walk in,” says Tolman. “You wouldn’t expect to walk in and see smoky mirrors throughout an office building, or the scars of the past exposed, or that we would put the two together. The tension between the two is where all the magic in the space is.”