At new Witnesses HQ, bringing the forest in

Make text smaller Make text larger


  • Marjee and Rick Rittenbach just moved up to Warwick after 44 years at the old Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in Brooklyn. photo by becca tucker

T he Watchtower sign is a lot more modest now, and black instead of the iconic red, but this campus is an upgrade.

“We realized we needed a more efficient headquarters,” said Richard Devine, a spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and one of the five-man committee that oversaw construction of the Witnesses’ massive new headquarters in Warwick, NY. In Brooklyn, “so many buildings were spaced out,” he said. The new campus, where 850 people will live and work and tens of thousands will visit, is designed for efficiency.

The Witnesses bought the 253-acre parcel in 2009 and got to work cleaning up the former nickel mining site. Once Warwick approved the site plan in 2013, an army of 28,000 volunteer Witnesses converged and, along with construction crews, finished the 1.6 million square-foot campus in just three years.

“It was crazy, stressful, and so on when it was happening. But it was a happy time too,” said Devine, 56. “It’ll be one of the highlights of our life for my wife and me.”

When I toured in late September, the campus had just earned four green globes, the highest rating from the Green Building Initiative. The campus’ green roofs are a feature more commonly found in Europe, sad Devine. “This is very fresh,” he said. They are planted with sedum, a maintenance-free succulent that absorbs a lot of water when it rains but can also withstand drought, he said.

Cul-de-sacs paved with permeable pavers let storm water seep through, to be captured by two giant underground caverns and released slowly. The wood for furniture, windowsills, and decorative wall segments was harvested and milled on-site.

The buildings sit on a hill, overlooking Blue Lake – across the lake from IBM offices. They take up only one-fifth of the site. The rest of the property, which backs up to Sterling Forest, is being left as forest or reforested.

Although the Witnesses don’t pay taxes, they helped fix an aging, high-hazard dam on the lake, and donated to Warwick’s parks as part of the conditions of their site plan approval.

Devine declined to share costs, except to say the Witnesses are completely financed by donations. The group is liquidating its Brooklyn holdings, reported to be worth about $1 billion.

The new headquarters’ four residential buildings contain a total of 575 studios and one-bedrooms, arranged around common services like a dining hall. The buildings feel like a cross between a dorm and a hotel, with signs in stairwells for “Beauty” and “Dental.” Most people will live in double occupancy rooms, although widows and widowers might get to live alone.

The “headquarters family,” said Devine, hails from all over the world and speaks 47 languages.

It’s all perfectly manicured, except for where it’s not supposed to be. The landscape designers’ vision was to bring “the forest into the campus as much as possible,” said Devine. “The idea was, we live in a forest, so let’s not pretend we don’t.” Islands of grass were becoming meadows, planted with native saplings and blooming, the day I visited, with black-eyed Susans.

Make text smaller Make text larger


Pool Rules

comments powered by Disqus


2019 Green Schools
50% of schools reported they had a garden

41% said they either had or anticipated putting in a rain
garden or rain barrels

Read more »

The home stretch
Sometimes the nail-biter is the car-ride home

By Pamela Chergotis

It had been a wonderful week in the Adirondacks, alternating days on the trail with days on the...

Read more »

Barely dressed
Ahhhh, summer. This time of year a luscious green canopy sways in warm winds, and large lettuces of every variety show up at the farmers market. For this recipe I chose delicate...
Read more »

Mint’s regal cousin
Summer is flowers’ reign and there are few as regal as bee balm. Plants bear crowns of colorful flowers atop slender square stems that can reach a height of four feet. Bee...
Read more »


* indicates required


A house with no nails
  • Jul 1, 2019
Music lessons
  • Jul 1, 2019
Call it a walkumentary
  • Jul 1, 2019
Sharing work
  • Jun 4, 2019
Cora’s belly birth
  • Mar 4, 2019
Joining the cavemen
  • Mar 13, 2019
In the path of the jaguar
  • Mar 6, 2019
Is solar a good use of farmland?
  • May 9, 2019
West Milford, NJ