|3400 International Drive|
Intersection of two pods at an atrium
|Alternative names||Intelsat Headquarters|
|Address||3400 International Drive, NW|
|Town or city||Washington|
|Groundbreaking||July 20, 1982|
|Other dimensions||14 pods|
|Floor area||917,000 sq ft (85,200 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Architecture firm||John Andrews International and Notter Finegold & Alexander|
|Civil engineer||Richard Strong|
3400 International Drive (also known as Intelsat Headquarters) is an office complex in the North Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. by the Van Ness metro station designed by the Australian architect John Andrews and built by Gilbane Building Company. Formerly used as the U.S. headquarters of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), it is known for its futuristic, high-tech architecture.
In the early 1960s, a rapid development of telecommunications satellite technology led to discussion about the need for an international consortium to own and operate telecommunication satellites as a transnational resource. By 1961, the United Nations had adopted a resolution for the peaceful use of outer space that expressed the belief that "communication by means of satellites should be available to the nations of the world as soon as practicable on a global and non-discriminatory basis." The Communication Satellite Act was signed into law the following year in the United States by President Kennedy. It established the privately-owned Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT), headquartered in Washington, DC. COMSAT eventually led to the establishment of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT) in 1964. INTELSAT’s main goal was to ensure that satellite communications capabilities were equally available to all countries, which followed and supported the objectives set out by the Communications Satellite Act. Within 10 years of its operations, membership of INTELSAT grew to include 86 countries (including the US), and by 2001, about 150 countries were members.
In 1965, COMSAT and INTELSAT launched Intelsat 1, the first commercial communications satellite to be placed in geosynchronous orbit. Intelsat 1 (nicknamed “Early Bird”) was “parked” 22, 300 miles above Earth’s surface. Geosynchronous orbit allows it so that satellites can remain somewhat stationary over a large portion of Earth. From there, it acted as a relay station for signals from Earth and broadcast them out to anywhere that is in view of the satellite. Early Bird was the first, but not the last, satellite to be launched from INTELSAT, and eventually, complete global coverage was established. Within 10 years, INTELSAT was carrying 5,000 international telephone circuits and had capacity for 20,000 voice circuits and five television channels.
During the 1980s, development of a new headquarters for INTELSAT began. It was also during the 80s when the federal government pushed forward a proposal to allow competition for international satellite communications. This was approved by the Federal Communication Commission in 1985 and from there, private rivals began to multiply. INTELSAT’s role as an international organization became less significant and eventually it was converted into a private company. It became Intelsat, S.A. and continues to operate today.
The INTELSAT organization began looking at options for a new headquarters in 1977. Up until this point, they were leasing a cramped space at L’Enfant Plaza. For this new building, INTELSAT decided to organize an international design competition. The competition took place in 1979 with nearly 100 firms from 23 countries competing for the contract to design the complex. The specifications laid out by INTELSAT for their new headquarters included two important requirements: (1) at least 70% of the office space needed to have natural light and a view and (2) energy efficiency was a must.
John Andrews won the 1980 International Union of Architects international competition to design the complex. The competition had taken place in 1979 with nearly 100 firms from 23 countries competing for the contract to design the complex. Ground was broken on the project on July 20, 1982 in a rather unusual manner. Using a network of four satellites and five earth stations, a signal was radioed around the world two times before it triggered a pre-set explosion at the building site. The complex was built in two phases, with Phase I being completed first in 1984 and Phase II following in 1988. While Andrews' contribution was positively cited as that of a creative professional, the project was marred by the embezzlement of five million dollars by Intelsat's director general and deputy.
The complex consists of fourteen interconnected rectangular "pods" clustered in groups of four around taller glass and stainless steel atria. The circular stairwells external to the pods are constructed of glass bricks and concrete. Unusual for the time, the design incorporated environmentally conscious elements that contribute to energy efficiency, such as the use of tinted-glass sunscreens and the open-air atria that admit sunlight while reflecting direct sun. At the time of its construction, the new INTELSAT headquarters was one of the first “green buildings” in Washington, DC. This was a characteristic that reflected the attitudes towards environmental sustainability in the U.S. during the 1970s. Also, the complex incorporates interior and exterior water features for cooling and terraced roof gardens to complement the large trees preserved by the site plan. INTELSAT’s design became an important model for environmentally conscious and energy saving architecture.
While the building is 917,000 square feet (85,200 m2), only 546,000 sq ft (50,700 m2) is usable office space, with the remainder being taken up by the lengthy corridor down the center of the building, the atria, and other public spaces.
Intelsat was the initial occupant, but after its privatization in 1999 and its later mergers with PanAmSat, COMSAT and parts of Loral, its continued presence at the site has been uncertain. This is partially as it is looking for a smaller complex. The embassies of Cameroon, Honduras, and Monaco are currently housed in the building. Other occupants have included the embassies of Belize, Botswana, and Swaziland and WJLA Channel 7.
Andrews said his design expressed "a spirit of openness, of optimism, of faith in cooperation between peoples and groups of people, and the use of modern technology." However, since its construction, reception has been mixed. Some consider it "a Connecticut Avenue landmark and a must-see for futurists touring the nation’s capital" because of its unique high-tech design and energy efficiency. Early in its existence, it was noted as being a positive repudiation of architectural conservatism, however, its style was not duplicated and therefore it stands out from the surrounding city.
Other critics also note that it does not interact well with the surrounding buildings and add that it can be difficult for visitors to find the entrance given its odd shape and placement. As of 2005[update] it had been studied by the Historic Preservation Section of the D.C. Office of Planning as a potential landmark of Modern architecture, but a 2011 architectural-historical review of the area as part of the University of the District of Columbia's student center construction planning found that Intelsat was not old enough for landmark status and was a "visual shock" to the neighborhood, given its arguably inappropriate design and sitting for an urban area. The review did indicate that this opinion could change as the building aged further.
And it did. In January 2017 the Intelsat Headquarters was nominated for historic designation by the DC Preservation League (DCPL). The INTELSAT Headquarters building was nominated under DC Criterion A for important historical events, because of its associated with telecommunication achievements. It also falls under Criterion B for history because it served as Intelsat’s home. Due to its historical significance, it is also eligible under the National Register Criterion A for history. The building was also nominated under the District of Columbia Criterion D and the National Register Criterion C for its architecture. In addition to that, it was nominated under DC Criterion F as the work of a master architect. John Andrews’ work has been recognized internationally and has had other buildings designated as historic sites.
The INTELSAT headquarters building was designated as a landmark in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites by the Historic Preservation Review Board in April 2019.
The building currently houses the Whittle School & Studios. It is a private, “global school” that serves students ages 3–18.
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