Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice

Architect: Gensler

Owner: Ford Foundation

Location: New York, NY

With its interior garden and striking mid-century modern furniture collection, the Ford Foundation building in New York was celebrated as a modernist icon when it was completed in 1968. Now, after a two-year renovation, the building has received a much-needed boost in transparency and accessibility while aligning with the city’s safety code and its Landmarks Preservation Commission requirements.

Serving as more than just a headquarters, the renamed Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice is a vibrant hub for those who champion social justice causes. The project began with a request to update the building’s systems and renovate to meet the city’s fire code. However, the complexity of the retrofit prompted an extensive renovation of the building’s façade and interiors in order to meet 21st century sensibilities and higher performance standards.

The team’s approach to the project echoes the foundation’s core values of transparency and empowerment. Private offices that ring the atrium’s perimeter previously offered outside views to a select group of occupants. Today, the remaining private offices have been relocated to the building’s outer edge, leaving the atrium accessible to anyone and providing clear views inside from 42nd and 43rd streets. In an effort to draw like-minded tenants and boost convening space, the team’s reworked floor plan allows more than 50 percent of the building to be dedicated to programs for the public and foundation grantees.

Vision sessions, surveys, and analyses conducted by the team drove the process, and the resulting design interventions evolved organically over four years. Together, the foundation and the team improved accessibility beyond the local ADA requirements to develop an equitable experience for those who work at and visit the building. Entrances to the atrium were expanded to accommodate wheelchairs, and a new drop-off point and wheelchair-accessible ramp are located on 43rd Street.

Just the second of its kind in the city, a touch and smell garden for the sight-impaired provides a fragrant and tactile experience for all visitors. Braille signage helps those exploring the garden identify the varied specimens.

"A true landmark renewal. The design team began with a beautiful space, but effortlessly incorporated high-performance technologies that allow it to feel historic and state-of-the-art at once. It invites an equitable experience for the urban community, and reflects the dignity that is central to their foundation." Jury comment

Additional information

Landscape Design: Jungles Studio in collaboration with SiteWorks

Landmarks Consultant: Higgins Quasebarth & Partners LLC

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing & Fire Protection Engineer: Jaros Baum & Bolles

Exterior Envelope/Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti

Lighting Designer: Fisher Marantz Stone

Audio Visual, IT, Security & Acoustical: Cerami & Associates

Food Service: Cini-Little International, Inc.

Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen & Associates

Fire Safety & Code Consultant: Milrose Consultants, Inc.

Brick Conservator: Integrated Conservation Resources, Inc.

Fitness Consultant: Club Design Concepts

Atrium Fountain Consultant: Delta Fountains

Fire/Smoke Modeling: Code Consultants, Inc./Professional Engineers, PC

Risk Assessment: Thornton Tomasetti/Weidlinger Professional Engineers, PC

Accessibility Consultant: Accessibility Services/UnitedSpinal Association

Modelmaker: Michael Burnett

Visualization/Digital Renderings: Planktongroup

Furniture Manager: EvensonBest

Furniture Restoration: Thomas J. Amato Co.

Architectural Woodwork: Miller Blaker

Lighting Restoration and Fabrication: Crenshaw

Ornamental Metal Fabrication and Restoration: Amuneal Manufacturing Corp.

Wood Flooring: Haywood Berk Floor Company, Inc.

Architectural Concrete Flooring: Azzerone Contracting

Flooring Installation: Architectural Flooring Resources

Drapery and Window Treatment: DFB Sales

Select Manufacturers: Interior Partition Systems, International Office Concepts

Interior Acoustical Ceiling Tile: Saint-Gobain Ecophon

Desking Systems & Meeting Room Furniture: Knoll, Inc., DatesWeiser

Custom Doors: Ellison Bronze, Inc.

Flooring: Tile, Fireclay Tile, Mosa, Nemo Tile

Carpet: Bloomsburg Carpet Industries, Inc., J+J Flooring Group

Architectural, Furniture Upholstery & Window Treatments: Holly Hunt, Designtex, Spinnebeck, Unika Vaev, Knoll

Ancillary Furnishings, Knoll, Inc., Halcon, Walter Knoll, Andreu World, Vitra

Lighting: Designplan Lighting Inc., Edison Price Lighting, Ewo, Focal Point, H. E. Williams, Inc., JESCO, Lighting Group, Lithonia Lighting, Lumenpulse, Reggiani, Tech Lighting, Zumtobel

Plumbing Fixtures: Lacava, TOTO

Construction Manager: Henegan Construction Company

Owner's Representative: Levien & Company


Zena Howard, FAIA (Chair), Perkins + Will, Charlotte, North Carolina

Benjamin de Rubertis, AIA, Flad Architects,  Seattle, Washington

Kelly Haigh, AIA, Design Lab Architect, Boston, Massachusetts

James Garrett, AIA, 4RM+ULA, St. Paul, Minnesota

Kelly Bauer, NCIDQ, FIIDA, White Baux Studio, Phoenix, Arizona

Image credits

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Garrett Rowland

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Garret Rowland

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Garrett Rowland

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Garrett Rowland

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Garrett Rowland