The Ford Foundation can now move forward with the planned revamp of its iconic Midtown building, after the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the proposal Tuesday afternoon.
The $190 million undertaking will bring the building up to city code, and make it more ADA-friendly. When the Foundation learned that it had to bring itself up to code, it decided not just to focus on technical improvements but also carry out some structural changes to make the building feel "less hierarchical," as the president of the foundation, Darren Walker described it.
Most of the exterior and the interior of the landmarked structure will remain intact, but the changes the design team has proposed led by Gensler and Raymond Jungles (landscaping) deal with modifications to the hardscape and planting areas originally created by Dan Kiley; installing an barrier-free access lift, and modifying existing windows and doors.
Some of the other changes include upgrading the garden lighting, the railings at the grand stair, removing some of the planters designed by Dan Kiley, creating a new visitor center, and an art gallery.
"We need to ensure that the space is open, transparent, and welcoming," Walker said.
Some concerns were raised by the Municipal Art Society and the Historic Districts Council. The former was troubled by the wheelchair lift, and the removal of a planter on the 42nd Street entrance, whereas HDC was concerned that the Foundation had not explored all the alternatives before moving forward with the current plan.
The proposal however had a lot more supporters namely the Tudor City Association (neighbors of the Ford building), the New York Botanical Garden, the local community board, and several elected officials.
The Landmarks Commission was thoroughly impressed as well.
"The Ford Foundation has one of the most memorable and striking public spaces," Meenakshi Srinivasan, the chair of the LPC said. "This was historically intended to be a public space, and the proposal is modest and in keeping with the original design. They've treated it with great dignity and they've done it in a focused manner."
The building was designed by Kevin Roche and his engineering partner John Dinkeloo while they were heading Eero Saarinen's architecture firm. The project was completed in 1968, and the building was declared a New York City landmark in 1997.