Ford Foundation Aims for Less 'Hierarchical' Building

Ford Foundation Aims for Less 'Hierarchical' Building

Renovation plans for the Ford Foundation's landmark headquarters in New York City reflect an emphasis under the foundation's new president, Darren Walker, on environmental responsibility and inclusion, while also putting transparency front and center in its work, Curbed New York reports.

The $190 million plan — which the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission considered on April 19 —  not only brings the postmodern 1967 building designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates up to code, it reflects the changing definition of public service — in terms of architecture as well as the work of a large social justice foundation. For starters, the renovation will reduce the foundation's actual footprint within the building and free up space on the top floors for meetings and conferences for grantees and on the lower floors for a visitor center, a gallery, and office space for other organizations. The new offices also will be open-plan, with private rooms set in the corners and away from the window-wall overlooking the multi-floor atrium designed by Dan Kiley. In addition, the plan calls for making the building more wheelchair accessible, installing functioning windows at the top and bottom of the atrium, and opening up unbroken views from the visitor center that will showcase the foundation's work to the outside world.

The current architecture "is very hierarchical," Walker told Curbed. "The best offices are distributed to the most senior executives, and that is no longer appropriate for a social justice foundation. We will have very few offices and much greater transparency and openness."

According to Curbed, Walker is a student of architecture, albeit one with a personal understanding of the tension between the aesthetics of power and a philanthropic agenda. "I grew up in a small town in Texas, and I used to get shelter magazines from the family my grandmother worked for," said Walker, "including Architectural Digest and House & Garden. Even though my circumstances were quite different, the photographs in the shelter magazines did open my eyes to this remarkable world, where things felt so foreign to me." So perhaps it is no surprise, Curbed notes, that after he became head of the foundation in 2013, Walker embraced the position as an opportunity to not only "advanc[e] the cause of human dignity, but [to be] the steward for a masterpiece of modern architecture."

Alexandra Lange. "Inside the Proposed Changes to the Landmarked Ford Foundation." Curbed New York 04/18/2016.