77 Water Street: A Brief History Of Office Perks

New York City, New York (NY)

A pioneer of office culture, 77 Water Street doesn't inspire its workers with ping pong and free beers after 5, it has a replica WW1 fighter plane instead!

First opened in 1970, 77 Water Street was meant to be a bold new alternative to the bland and sterile offices haunting NYC's financial district. Unlike its counterparts, it had a plane on its roof!

The visionary behind it, William Kaufman, was decades ahead of today's start-ups in working out how best to reward workers, without having to shorten their hours or raise their wages.

- © John832

77 Water Street: The Office Block That 'Disappears'!

'Our objective at 77 Water Street was to make the building disappear,' he's quoted as saying. 'The scale of any large office building is impossible for a human being to relate to- it's oppressive. Our plaza is inviting, exciting, warm and friendly. It makes people forget they're at an office building.'

Maybe he should have designed hospital wards; made people forget they were in pain.

How was Kaufman planning to perform his disappearing trick? With office perks, of course.

77 Water Street: Office Perks

Besides the replica WW1 Sopwith Camel on its roof, 77 Water Street boast a lobby adorned with honey locust trees, streams, foot bridges and an old-timey candy store.

These are nice things to have, sure, but probably nicer for recruiters than for the workers who have to hurry past them everyday.

77 Water Street's website describes the plane as 'an endless source of delight and fascination for visitors'. And it probably is.

For the builing's workers, on the other hand, it likely doesn't take all that long to become little more than 'that thing on the roof'.

And the same can be said of many of today's common workplace perks.

- © frog17

77 Water Street: How To Sell An Office

Would you rather work in an office with a coffee machine or without? Ping pong table or no ping pong table? Beer trolley or no beer trolley. WW1 fighter or just boring old roof?

Its a no-brainer, right? With, with, with, with!

But how often do you actually get to round to using that ping pong table? Does the beer make up for the late nights? Do you even notice that WW1 fighter anymore. And is that mindfulness just making you okay with what, to be honest, is not a great situation?

Okay, admittedly, the coffee has got legs; it's not all doom and gloom. There are good companies out there and maybe Kaufman had 77 Water Street's workers' best interests at heart, but the fact remains: ping pong, beer, candy stores, honey locust trees and WW1 fighters all look fine on paper, but they only place they really shine is in promo shoots.

They're great for selling offices and hiring new recruits, and they're whimsical, and fun to write about, but the bottom line is: where's the bottom line?

A good pay cheque and a four day working week beats a plaza full of streams and candy any day.

And, regardless of whether or not Kaufman meant well, its well worth approaching any company or workspace that sells itself based on its perks with a healthy dose of scepticism. That's not to say that all companies/workspaces with perks are necessarily bad, just that perks alone do not make a good company.

Visit the 77 Water Streets of the world, marvel at their planes and candy stores, but, if you're considering them as potential workplaces, check there's a decent frame beneath those bells and whistles too.

One More Thing...

On the other side of Manhattan, 767 Third Avenue, another Kaufman building, boasts the world's largest chess board, another fun, pointless thing you'd never use, but would love to have.

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our NYC Scavenger Hunts in Manhattan - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of NYC.


What you need to know

77 Water Street: A Brief History Of Office Perks
77, Water Street, Manhattan, NY, USA
Official Website
Tips before you visit