Fast Company: The shockingly fun amenity on the roof of Capital One’s headquarters
Eleven stories up, on a rooftop at the corporate campus of one of America’s biggest banks, grown adults are playing miniature golf. They may have a tiki drink or two. And they’re probably putting over par.
They’re at Perch Putt, an 18-hole mini-golf course complete with bright green Astroturf and undulating greens. It’s one of the more playful, if unexpected, amenities of the corporate landscape.
The course is part of the Perch at Capital One Center in Tysons, Virginia, which includes the bank’s headquarters, a 300-room hotel, and a corporate events venue and performance hall. The Perch covers 2.5 acres of open space on the roof of the performance hall. Developed as a public-private partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority, 1.2 acres of the rooftop space is a public park, in compliance with the county’s open space requirements.
It’s also an effort to differentiate Capital One as an employer. Jonathan Griffith, Capital One Center’s managing director, says the rooftop space is “an amenity strategy that allows us to recruit and retain the top talent, specifically in this market.”
The space includes a large grass field, food trucks that have been craned up more than 100 feet, a beer garden with an amphitheater, and a rum bar with a selection of frozen drinks and classic tiki cocktails.
It’s an unusual place for a park, but Griffith says it’s a way to use the otherwise dead space of a building’s roof in a way that benefits both employees and the general public. “The elevators open up and it’s this whole playground,” he says.
It’s a dramatic reinvention of a previously forgettable corporate office area. Capital One acquired this property in the 1990s and built it into the kind of suburban corporate office that was ubiquitous back then: a 14-story tower overlooking a parking garage, some fields of grass, and a large fence. “It was really saying, ‘stay out’ to anyone who wasn’t here for Capital One business,” Griffith says.
The area is now undergoing a transition away from this suburban past, and Capital One is revamping its 25-acre campus accordingly. An expansion of the Washington, D.C., metro system added a new station right next to Capital One’s headquarters in 2014. Capital One Center is positioning itself as a live-work-play destination more akin to the offerings of a city center, and densifying what was previously mostly unused land. More than 6 million square feet of real estate is either built or under development there, including office space, restaurants, retail storefronts—and mini golf.
Perch Putt, which opened earlier this month, is the second phase of the Perch project, and is situated on a part of the building that was designed to one day hold a planned vertical expansion that would add 600 residential units in a tower rising from the roof. Griffith says the mini-golf course will eventually be removed for that phase of the development, but for now the company is in no rush to build that out, as there are already roughly 2,000 units that will be constructed across the street in the next few years.
“But we didn’t want to leave this rooftop as a gaping hole in the middle of this otherwise vibrant campus,” Griffith says. “Perch Putt was born out of a need to have an interim use.”
Capital One wouldn’t disclose the total cost of the rooftop amenities, but Griffith called it “not insignificant” and a “long-term investment” in the emerging neighborhood and in its own employees.
Perch Putt is already getting use from workers, with some Capital One departments using the course for meetings and team-building exercises. Griffith says he commonly sees Capital One employees working outside in the park, or meeting at the beer garden for drinks after work. On a typical Thursday night he says there might be 300 to 400 people up on the roof, either at the beer garden, playing in the park, or putting on the mini-golf course. The crowds range from office workers to families. “You have people in business suits and ties down to little kids and people in flip-flops,” he says.
Griffith says Perch Putt is meant for all ages, but the course is far from child’s play. “We went in wanting to make it difficult and I think we’ve found we went a little too challenging on some of the holes,” he admits, noting that adjustments will probably be made over the winter. “It’s not for the faint of heart. I guess it depends how many cocktails you had before you started the round as well.”