Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Inside the Proposed Changes to the Landmarked Ford Foundation

Photograph by David Leventi (2013), courtesy Cultural Landscape Foundation.

On Tuesday, April 19 the Landmarks Preservation Commission is set to consider a proposed $190 million renovation to the Ford Foundation, the 1967 building by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, with a landscaped atrium designed by Dan Kiley, that is New York’s youngest interior landmark. Although many aspects of the building have long been outdated—interior designer Warren Platner thought telephones would forever fit his brass-stemmed walnut tables—it is health and safety, not aesthetics or technology, that initially drove the foundation’s plans.

The city has given Ford until 2019 to bring the building up to code for fire safety and handicapped accessibility. But since they had to scratch the building’s surfaces, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker and his staff decided to go further, upgrading not just by adding sprinklers to the ceilings and greater access to the atrium, but new security, new lighting and mechanicals, and a new spatial organization.

“The building is very hierarchical, very 1960s,” says Walker. “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.”