I dropped by the Ford Foundation building earlier this week, inspired to pay a visit by a recent article in Metropolis magazine…and also by my own recent move to a new office in an office park in New Jersey.
Metropolis called the building a forgotten gem of Modernist architecture, and a fine example of green construction principles, too. It is a beauty, and if you worked there I bet it would almost have you getting up a little earlier each morning, just to get to work in such a beautiful office.
I only saw the lobby/atrium (I think the rest of the building is off-limits to people who don’t work there), but the sight of that alone is enough to win you over. The building is constructed from that iconic Modernist material Corten steel and glass. It’s the same steel used by Richard Serra for his sculptures.
The steel develops a rust patina over time and the glass transmits light and offers views of the surrounding buildings. The glass walls surrounding the atrium are ten stories high. The height of the atrium itself is the entire height of the building, with a skylight surrmounting the tropical garden at ground level.
Facing the atrium are a library, reception area, conference rooms and offices, lit by warm light and offering views of the tropical garden. The entire project was a deliberate effort to avoid a problem with office construction in Midtown: constructing office buildings jammed right up against similar highrises, affording only views of the walls of buildings right adjacent to your own.
You only need to step inside the Ford Foundation Building to see how well it succeeds.
When I got back to the office I work in, I was surprised to see many similarities with the Ford Foundation Building. They both have a landscaped atrium, both have offices facing the atrium, both have a central skylight…
Why does one succeed so beautifully, and the other not? In part, it’s the materials — The steel, glass and stone of the Ford Foundation are gorgeous. It’s also the proportions. The soaring height of the Ford Foundation adds to the beauty of it. In part it’s the abundance of natural light, which is limited in my own office. And then there are those great views of the surrounding buildings through the high glass walls.
The Ford Foundation, by the way, is adjacent to Tudor City and surrounding neighborhood. It’s a little pocket of a neighborhood at the far end of E. 42nd Street, with an exceptional view of the United Nations building, one of those neighborhoods that you may never have seen, even if you’ve lived in New York for a long time.