The Pop-Up Newsroom

When Al Jazeera America needed a full studio up and running in just two months, it contracted Dennis Darcy Construction Group to build the space largely from scratch

As one of Al Jazeera’s first US outposts, the New York City studio needed to reflect the brand’s ideals. Its swathes of white and its various blue highlights emphasize openness and modernity. (Photo: Frank Oudeman/OTTO)

It all happened so fast, beginning with an emergency midnight phone call. Dennis Darcy, founder of Dennis Darcy Construction Group (DDCG), picked up, and on the other end of the line was an engineer whose firm was in the final throes of contract negotiations with Al Jazeera. The influential Qatar-based news organization wanted to build a fully functional “pop-up” news studio in an abandoned bank in the heart of New York City’s Midtown neighborhood—a studio that could compete directly with the likes of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News when the new Al Jazeera America channel hit US airwaves on August 20, 2013, bringing the brand to North American shores for the first time.

The engineer wanted DDCG’s experience, but the firm had just two months to make the project a reality. Dennis Darcy agreed to the terms, and half a day, a meeting, a napkin sketch, and a handshake later, he and his team were in charge of construction. “It took 60 days to deliver a project that should have taken nine months,” Darcy says.

The firm was able to manage the incredible time line thanks to its experience and reputation as a leader in technically specific, acoustically specialized projects. For 10 years, it has created spaces for live television and radio and installed Dolby- or THX-certified theaters and viewing rooms, so “we’re one of the few companies that can say with confidence that we construct studio spaces,” Darcy says.

He credits Al Jazeera and its construction manager, USTV’s Ted Nelson, with having the confidence to give DDCG complete autonomy for the Al Jazeera America studio. The client had just one request: get it done. So, Darcy brought in all the subcontractors necessary to get started the day after the agreement, and he let them all know that they needed to maintain a breakneck pace.

Dennis Darcy Construction Group_Al Jazeera America
To maintain the space’s 1930s Art Deco roots, DDCG restored and refinished its marble columns, 30-foot ceilings, and horseshoe-shaped mezzanine. (Photo: Frank Oudeman/OTTO)

The project wasn’t just on a tight time frame, either; it involved extensive planning on the fly. “When I got onboard, the project was barely designed,” Darcy says. “The design was one piece of paper—it might have been an 11×17 drawing, but that was it.” Sketches were thus drawn and built on the same day.

And, because the former Manufacturers Hanover Corporation bank location sat within an operational landmark hotel, the project required constant coordination between multiple stakeholders. The hotel’s shared freight elevators, for instance, became a complication when hotel employees went on strike for four days, leaving Darcy and his team unable to receive deliveries or even take debris or workers in and out. To make up for all this, DDCG and its subcontractors worked around the clock, either in three eight-hour or two twelve-hour shifts.

The final product of their efforts is a two-story, 23,800-square-foot newsroom and lobby at the corner of 34th Street and 8th Avenue. Because of the studio’s location in a historic building, Lawrence Group New York (the architects for the project) sought to maintain the character of the surrounding landmark architecture while also modernizing the space, keeping areas neutral and clean and emphasizing technology and the flow of communication and people, including more than 200 writers.

Before DDCG was brought on to the project, two other firms were in contention, but they had concerns about Al Jazeera’s intense schedule. Darcy and his team offered solutions. “DDCG is known in the industry for getting things done—plain and simple,” Darcy says. “We specialize in complex criteria and impossible deadlines.”

Dennis Darcy Construction Group_Al Jazeera America
The lobby evokes progressive design ideals and neutrality with metal, glass, and curved white walls. (Photo: Frank Oudeman/OTTO)


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