At new Witnesses HQ, bringing the forest in


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  • 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.









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