Northrop Grumman Corp. unveiled a state-of-the-art "innovation institute" Friday in Linthicum that will be home to more than 450 engineers and scientists and represents its new approach to interior workplace design.

Officials for the military defense contractor said the 156,000-square-foot building was designed to encourage creativity and collaboration among its workers, with large windows and modular office spaces, and conference tables, chairs and whiteboards scattered across the building. The hope is to use this new building as a potential model for renovating other buildings that Northrop Grumman occupies, company officials said.

The new space includes a ground-floor fitness area, complete with treadmills and other kinds of exercise equipment, and an Internet cafe.

"This is the kind of setting we want to create for our employees," said James F. Pitts, president of Northrop Grumman's electronics systems division, which is based in Linthicum and has more than 7,600 employees there.

Since the Chicago-based company works on classified projects for military and intelligence agencies, most of the new building was off-limits to the news media and the general public Friday during a tour, and photographers weren't allowed to take pictures except in a lobby area.

Northrop Grumman officials, however, did show off two virtual command centers, which had large wall displays and live video feeds. They also took visitors, including Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold and state Sen. James D. DeGrange Sr., to a floor where scientists and engineers were seen talking around a table, with a whiteboard in front of them, while sunlight shined in on their discussion.

"If you're in your office, we want to encourage you to come out," said Charles J. Brinkman, general manager of Northrop's Advanced Concepts & Technologies division, which will be based in the building.

Brinkman said that the way the company innovated in the past was typically in direct response to a specific need from a customer. "When a question came in, we'd put together a technical team to address it," Brinkman said. "Innovation today has to involve asking broader questions" to find solutions that customers may not even know they need, he said.

"The speed in which we have to innovate has gone up by an order of magnitude," Brinkman said

The building's construction was managed by Manekin Construction LLC of Columbia. The structure is owned by Corporate Office Properties Trust, also of Columbia, and is one of 15 buildings that Northrop Grumman leases from COPT in Maryland, according to COPT's chief operating officer, Roger A. Waesche Jr.

The building cost $38 million, Waesche said.

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