A little over three years ago when the Ford Foundation’s president, Darren Walker, announced that the headquarters, based in New York, had hired Gensler to bring the 1967 structure into the 21st century, the news prompted a sense of dread. Nothing against the architectural firm, but what might be lost? Designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates (and first published in RECORD in 1968), the granite-clad steel-and-glass 12-story building, wrapped around a 174-foot-high, skylit atrium, was revered as a gracefully elegant exemplar of architecture’s late Modern era.

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While the foundation needed to meet current codes for fireproofing, asbestos abatement, and accessibility by 2019, Walker had a bigger reason for a redesign, one that would go to the heart of a shift in the Foundation’s mission. Ford originally bestowed grants to strengthen democratic institutions and reduce poverty worldwide—as well as foster the arts—but Walker believes it needs to be more collaborative, working closely with partner organizations on issues of social justice. That meant a building plan with more transparency and less hierarchy—and jettisoning most private offices. “We will be tearing down the walls separating us,” he claimed in a video interview with RECORD in February 2016.

By switching to an open office scheme, the Foundation could gain two floors to rent out to like-minded not-for-profits. The reconfiguration of the building’s total 415,000 square feet of space would also mean an increase of area for meetings and for the public. The philanthropy’s new name expresses these aspirations: the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice.

Walker planned other changes as well: his presidential office suite on the 10th floor was so big it could be converted into three conference rooms, while he moved to a smaller office one floor below. The executive dining room would go; only a communal cafeteria on the 11th floor would remain. Finally, a space next to the main entrance would be transformed into a glassed-in lounge and café for those using the building.

But how could these architectural changes—particularly with workstations replacing the Midcentury Modern offices, with their custom leather, linen, brass, and mahogany furnishings and finishes—occur without sacrificing the original aura of glamour? Only the building’s exterior and the indoor atrium were protected by landmark status. Kevin Roche, who was not involved in the renovation, sounded wistful in RECORD’s video: “There are virtually no buildings or very few ... that have survived renovation. What building can you think of that hasn’t been fiddled with over the years?”

He need not have worried so much. Gensler managed the entire process of restoration and renovation, with the open plan that was critical to the project’s success. The original private offices had surrounded the glazed atrium, directly overlooking the garden. But they and the offices edging the perimeter of the building were enclosed by gypsum board walls and divided by a central corridor; there were few sweeping vistas from one side of the atrium through to the other.

In tearing down those walls and opening up each of the floors, Gensler created circulation paths along both the building’s exterior glazed walls and along the atrium, placing low workstations in between. “There was no vocabulary for workstations in the original design. We had to make it up—so we took cues from the legacy furniture and the architecture,” says Robin Klehr Avia, project principal of Gensler. Fabricated by Knoll, the 42-inch-high custom cubicles are impressive: made of an FSC-certified mahogany and leather panels with brass touches, their design took cues from existing furniture and even elevator-cab details. The architects also worked with Fisher Marantz Stone on the design of handsome custom linear brass light fixtures that are suspended over the desks.

Many original furnishings do survive. Gensler restored 1,500 pieces—more than half of those designed by Warren Platner—and otherwise replicated or reinterpreted the originals, keeping the dark brown, rust, gray, beige, and cream palette found throughout. The bold splashes of color that now punctuate common spaces come from the Foundation’s new collection of contemporary art, which focuses on work by women artists and artists of color, such as Kehinde Wiley, Carrie Mae Weems, and Dinh Q. Le. Even Nelson Mandela’s own drawings are on display.

To meet fire safety laws, Gensler installed a fire curtain, concealed in the ceiling, above the open steel railing of the 11th floor. An exhaust system on the same floor can draw smoke out of the atrium, and sprinklers—which never existed before—have been subtly inserted around the atrium walls.

For the public, the most significant aspects of the renovation will be the revamped atrium garden and a new double-height gallery on the first floor, which will present exhibitions on the theme of social justice. The garden, originally designed by Dan Kiley, used plants geared for a temperate climate, but they did not thrive in the enclosed space. Now reconceived by Raymond Jungles and his Miami-based Jungles Studio, the plantings are subtropical but chosen to resemble the original garden: ficus Amstel King trees with twisted trunks stand where magnolia trees once were located, while elsewhere a variety of plants such as Powderpuff and Shady Lady black olive trees and Creeping Charlie fill out the verdant setting. “We were trying to interpret what Kiley wanted—a quiet forest,” says Jungles, who also wanted to retain Kiley’s “processional movement through the space, with concealed and exposed views.” [Read an interview with Jungles in the February issue.]

Addressing ADA codes was central to that processional circulation. The atrium garden drops 13 feet in grade from the main entrance on 43rd Street down to the secondary one at 42nd. Only a broad brick stair brought people down one level before. Now a small glass elevator, discreetly tucked into the southeastern corner of the garden, will make this public space accessible. And standing inside the glazed atrium, the visitor will get glimpses of the surrounding urban context including Tudor City’s Gothic-style apartment towers.

Walker considers himself a tough client. Either that quality or his ebullient optimism—or both—has paid off: the building retains its serene identity and seems more translucent and transparent, and less forbidding, than it used to be. To be sure, the success of the renovation may not be apparent for some time, as the Foundation staff adapt to the open plan and enhanced conference space. But for those concerned that dragging this landmark into the 21st century would ruin it, they should acknowledge that the building has kept its elegance and stateliness. The sensitive renovation has left the ineffable aura intact.

Architectural Record Tours the Renovated Ford Foundation for Social Justice with President Darren Walker 


The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice's "Then and Now" Video


Architectural Record's 2016 Ford Foundation Tour with Architect Kevin Roche and Foundation President Darren Walker 





1700 Broadway, Suite 400

New York, NY 10019

(212) 492-1400


Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Robin Klehr Avia, FIIDA, Project Principal

Madeline Burke-Vigeland, AIA, Principal and Project Director

Ed Wood, IIDA, Principal and Design Director 

Lydia Gould, CID, IIDA, Principal and Design Director

Ambrose Aliaga-Kelly, AIA, Principal and Technical Director

Johnathan Sandler, Principal and Strategy Director

Bevin Savage-Yamazaki, Assoc. AIA, Project Manager

Jonas Gabbai, LEED, Design Director

Karen Pedrazzi, AIA, LEED, Technical Architect

Thomas Turner, AIA, Architect

Meghan Magee, CDT, LEED AP BD+C, LEED-AP, Designer

Obi Elechi, Designer

Anthony Harris, AIA, LEED, Architect

Ian Korn, AIA, LEED, Architect

Kate Sherwood, AIA, Design Manager

David Briefel, LEED, Sustainability Director

Lissa Krueger, Designer

Brand and Graphics:

John Bricker, AIGA, SEGD, Principal

Craig Byers, Design Director, Brand 

Andrea Plenter Malzone Velez, SEGD, Graphic Designer

Kevin Carlin, Project Manager, Brand


Interior designer:




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

Exterior Envelope/Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti



Owners Representative: Levien & Company

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, Professional Engineers, PC

Risk Assessment: Thornton Tomasetti / Weidlinger

Accessibility Consultant: United Spinal

Brand and Graphics: Gensler


Specialty Contractors

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: Azzarone Contracting

Flooring Installation: Architectural Flooring Resources 

Drapery and Window Treatment: DFB Sales


General contractor:

Construction Manager: Henegan Construction Company



© Ford Foundation / Richard Barnes


Exterior Cladding

Metal panels:


Other cladding unique to this project:

Core-Ten: Amuneal  

Dakota Granite: Pullman



Built-up roofing:



Pavers: Hanover Architectural Products








Ellison Bronze, Inc.

Metal doors:


Wood doors:

MillerBlaker, Inc.

Sliding doors:

International Office Concepts

Special doors:

Interior Doors: Dawson Doors

Glass Doors: Beletz Bros. Glass Company Inc.  

Upswinging doors, other:

Custom Doors: Ellison Bronze, Inc.




Rixson, LCN, Glynn-Johnson, Tormax 

Exit devices:

Von Duprin



Security devices:


Other special hardware:

Smoke Curtain: McKeon


Interior Finishes

Acoustical ceilings:

Saint-Gobain Ecophon


Suspension grid:

Saint-Gobain Ecophon

Demountable partitions:

International Office Concepts

Interior Partition Systems

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:

MillerBlaker, Inc.

Paints and stains:

Benjamin Moore

Pratt & Lambert

Wall coverings:




Plastic laminate:



Solid surfacing:

Dupont Zodiac

Dupont Corian

Special surfacing:

Corian Wall Panel

Floor and wall tile:

Fireclay Tile


Nemo Tile

Resilient flooring:

Marmoleum: Forbo  


Bloomsburg Carpet Industries, Inc.

J+J Flooring Group

Raised flooring:

Tate Flooring



Furniture Manager: EvensonBest

Office furniture:

Knoll, Inc.

Reception furniture:

Legacy Furniture: Warren Platner


Legacy Furniture: Warren Platner


Legacy Furniture: Warren Platner


Holly Hunt

Other furniture:

Legacy Furniture: Warren Platner


Walter Knoll

Andreu World




Legacy Lighting Restoration and Fabrication: Crenshaw

Dimming system or other lighting controls:

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




Consultant: Van Deusen & Associates

Construction: Nouveau Elevator

Accessibility provisions:

United Spinal Association



Various Products: Lacava

Various Products: TOTO



Energy management or building automation system:

BMS: Skyline Automation, Alerton

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:

FSC certified white oak wood floors

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:

Targeting LEED platinum including overall 25% furniture reuse (includes 50% reuse of legacy furniture)