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JPMorgan Chase banks on its new HQ being 'a destination'

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Remember back to those days when most of us went to the office five days a week? That has obviously changed. But JPMorgan Chase still thinks of the office as, quote, "a destination," and it's building a multibillion-dollar headquarters in New York that could be a model workplace in the post-pandemic era. NPR's David Gura reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT WORKING)

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: You can't miss this construction site on Park Avenue near Grand Central Station. It's a full city block where a 60-story skyscraper is going up. This will be JPMorgan Chase's new home. And David Arena, the bank's head of real estate, is giving me a tour.

DAVID ARENA: We think very hard about what the workplace is going to be like for thousands of people. And so our focus is always labor - how to make them happier, how to make them more productive.

GURA: We're wearing hard hats and safety vests inside what will be a giant, glass, enclosed lobby. JPMorgan started this project before the pandemic, but now it's facing a new reality - a world in which most people spend at least some of the week working remote. So like many companies, it's trying to convince employees the commute is worth it.

ARENA: It'll be intuitive - really, all to make business better, people happier, clients more satisfied, people more creative.

GURA: This building has all the amenities you'd expect in a fancy corporate office - gyms and places to do yoga and cycle. It'll have a cafeteria run by Danny Meyer, who started Shake Shack. But JPMorgan has spent a lot of time and energy on what will be the beating heart of this new building.

Can we go to the trading floor?

ARENA: We can go to a trading floor, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION ELEVATOR RUNNING)

GURA: Arena and I get in a construction elevator, and we go up six stories to visit a wide-open room where billions of dollars' worth of stocks and bonds and other assets will be bought and sold every day.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Just watch your step, gentlemen.

ARENA: You got it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's a little slick.

GURA: This trading floor will fit about 550 people, and there will be several others just like it. For banks like JPMorgan, it's important to have traders back. After all, it's impossible to replicate the intensity of a trading floor at a kitchen table. And JPMorgan has also thought long and hard about this skyscraper's infrastructure. What really excites Arena is how easy it will be to make adjustments. He says he could redesign this entire floor in one weekend.

ARENA: When the nature of trading changes - and it might - or when the nature of office above us changes - and it might - it's simply rearrange the furniture. That includes walls and the desks, the chairs themselves, because the walls are all...

GURA: Each of those desks, by the way, will have its own climate control. Understandably, in a post-pandemic world, there's a new emphasis on making buildings healthy, which is something Lord Norman Foster, the world-renowned architect who designed this skyscraper, has pioneered.

NORMAN FOSTER: There's a greater awareness, sensitivity, acceptance of the importance of fresh air - the quality of the air.

GURA: Foster now works with a public health professor at Harvard. And this will be what Foster calls a breathing building - one that will draw in fresh air two times more than the code requires. There's going to be a state-of-the-art filtration system.

JPMorgan is focused on attracting workers, but also on making a statement - building something that will stand out in one of the most recognizable skylines in the world. Now, Foster is optimistic about New York's future, even though offices here are half as full as they were before the pandemic.

FOSTER: Whether it's cholera epidemics, whether it's fires, whether it's earthquakes, cities have always bounced back, and they bounce back stronger and better.

GURA: Of course, there is no guarantee office occupancy will bounce back, but JPMorgan is doubling down on a multibillion-dollar bet the office can be a draw for workers.

David Gura, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLO SONG, "SUMMERTIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.