On Thursday, May 13, the AIANY WIA Committee was delighted to host the women-led project team of the recently completed Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice. We learned about the process and challenges that transformed the Foundation’s workplace and public spaces into a manifestation of its mission: to promote the inherent dignity of all people.

The speakers included Denise Ferris, Associate Vice President Design Management, Columbia University, Manhattanville Development Group; Maureen Henegan, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Henegan Construction; Lisa Kim, Gallery Director, Ford Foundation; and Bevin Savage Yamazaki, Senior Associate and Firmwide Leader for Foundations, Associations + Organizations (Culture + Museums), Gensler, who also moderated the conversation. They presented the story of the Ford Foundation building, how an exercise in upgrading a Landmark building to current codes and standards grew in scope, into a complete “renewal” with a holistic vision. The Guiding Principles, established at the beginning of the project—of an inclusive, and welcoming design; a commitment to social justice; sustainable planning; and stewardship of people and the environment—provided the critical framework for decision making and direction for every phase of the complex project. The result was a building that evolved to greater social relevance, one that is more accessible, accepting of diversity, and advocates for a better future. All of this was accomplished while navigating strict building codes and Landmark requirements.

Through each of their unique lenses—Client, Owner’s Representative/Project Manager, Construction Manager, and Design Manager—we learned about inclusive design features and collaborative workplace space planning; responsible building and landscape refurbishment; non-traditional employment of women and under-represented groups; and community engagement through artwork and public spaces— demonstrating how the project embodied its Guiding Principals at every level.

We thank the speakers as well as all those who attended and participated in the Q&A. We are motivated by the mission-driven approach to design and construction and hope to see more architectural projects embodying the principles of inclusion, equity, diversity, and social justice.

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