Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Building your values

Photo by Simon Luethi/Ford Foundation.

When the Ford Foundation’s 12 stories of mahogany-colored granite, Cor-Ten steel, and transparent glass opened on 42nd Street in 1967, urban observers saw it as a gift.

Designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates with Dan Kiley as landscape architect, the building—comprising offices for the foundation’s several hundred employees, all wrapping a vertical indoor botanical garden—could have been two and a half times larger as of right.

The Ford Foundation didn’t have to open its garden atrium to the public, either. What was considered so benevolent five decades ago, however, doesn’t seem like gift enough in 2018. Good design, quality materials. Public-facing design, quality materials: these remain elements that we praise but, as critics of the time noted, they should be the minimum. For a philanthropic organization like the Ford Foundation, the challenge was to apply those 21st-century values to a monument of the 20th century.