The Ford Foundation’s Renovation Prioritizes Access

The article “Growing Out of the ’60s: The Ford Foundation Building Gets Renewed” by Justin Davidson was recently published in New York magazine. It details the Ford Foundation’s renovation, particularly praising the holistic integration of accessibility considerations. Davidson, points out an important aspect of accessibility design: it’s often an afterthought. Although the attitude is very much changing (and has to legally), accessibility features (whether addressing variations in mobility, vision, hearing, or learning) are not always given the respect, attention, or funding they deserve. Ford Foundation president Darren Walker proves it can be done and it starts with a desire and intention for it to be done (and, of course, the necessary funding). Marabou likes this idea of “a mission-driven building.”

Below is the portion of the article where Davidson discusses access:

Too often, even expensive overhauls of old buildings accommodate the disabled with grudging afterthoughts, off-the-shelf kits, and wobbly ramps. The message is unmistakable: We comply, so don’t complain. But the Ford Foundation goes much further than the legally mandated minimum, integrating accessibility into the fabric of the design. That’s an achievement that should become a universal goal.

Kiley organized his garden on a slope traversed by stairs, an elegant terracing that gratified the young and the able-bodied but stranded everyone else near the 42nd Street entrance. Fixing that required a few significant modifications: widening doors within the existing frames, removing planters where the vegetation brushed the glass, tucking a new wheelchair lift against a granite pier, and replacing two steps with a ramp so gentle it hardly seems to slope at all. To some preservationists, each of these steps was a violation that chipped away at the design’s integrity. They are not wrong to defend the details, but Gensler’s interventions in the atrium merge almost seamlessly with Roche’s original. The lift, ensconced in a brass and dark metal armature, looks like it could have been there for 50 years. The ever-so-slightly sloping path is paved in the original dark brick. In any case, the tradeoffs far outweigh the loss. The changes preserve the dignity of all those who have trouble walking. Now that they can move through it, the garden transforms from an object into an experience, and that’s all the difference in the world.

The next time you visit a museum or cultural space – or make your way through your neighborhood – think about what it would be like to navigate that space for someone with abilities different from your own. To better address access issues, there needs to be greater awareness and one way to build awareness is through empathy.

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