Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice

Honor Award 2020

In 2018, after a two-year renovation, the landmark building reopened as the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice; more than a headquarters, the center is a vibrant, accessible hub for champions of social justice. The engaging brand expression program draws inspiration from the building’s 1960s period while visually complementing the organization’s evocative art collection. The design concept “A Bold Whisper” expresses the Foundation’s quiet confidence in its mission and key international initiatives. Foundational messaging and provocative quotes from social justice visionaries are expressed through subtle and sophisticated brand moments. The inclusivity-centric signage and way-finding program with symbol design inspired by 1960s era illustration style seamlessly guides users throughout the building’s 13-floors and atrium.

The project challenge called for Gensler to honor Ford Foundation’s impressive history and let a powerful art collection take precedence. The design team worked with Ford’s President, Darren Walker, and art curator, Lisa Kim, and Ford communications team, to identify the right imagery and narratives for each touchpoint. The brand expression program created a rich, bespoke, and subtle storyline throughout the landmarked building. This project is a benchmark of inclusivity in its design and execution.

Powerful imagery and text support the narrative in all workplace and convening areas. “We Believe in the Inherent Dignity of All People” murals frame the café; an adjacent 22-foot photograph documents the notable 1965 Selma March to Montgomery, layered with messaging from the Foundation. Each meeting room is dedicated to a distinguished visionary whose work reflects the Foundation’s long-standing mission and history. Their stories are told on plaques outside each room. Gensler developed a signage program and wayfinding strategy includes braille integrations to ensure a seamless journey for all persons. A digital and interactive welcome guide identifies resources within the new space.

Gensler designed and managed the implementation of a comprehensive signage, wayfinding, and environmental graphics program for the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice. The project required over 100 unique signage and graphic types to create a seamless and inclusive branded experience across the project’s complex program, which included workplace, conference center, auditorium, cafeteria, as well as a public garden and art gallery.

When Roche-Dinkeloo’s building opened more than 50 years ago, The New York Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, proclaimed it to be a “civic gesture of beauty and excellence” and that Ford had “given New York a superlative work of architecture.” Today, the building renovation ensures that the gift keeps on giving in new and meaningful ways. The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice receives approximately 10,000 visitors per month who come from diverse backgrounds from across the world.

The renovation significantly increased transparency and accessibility, allowing visitors to fully and equally experience the space and acts as a catalyst for Ford and other like-minded organizations to carry out their respective missions to advance social justice. The purposefully designed brand expression program and curated artwork provide the opportunity for each visitor to have a personal and meaningful connection with the organization through the renewed building.

Jury Comments: 

“Sophisticated and strong, this project integrates various spaces together beautifully. I particularly enjoyed the attention to detail.”

“This workplace expression aligns visually with its corporate brand and the issue of social justice. Bold, precise, and engaging—with a modern approach.”

“Refinement and elegance at every touchpoint. This system is quiet, powerful, beautifully curated, and meticulously executed. Bravo!”

Design Firms: 


Project Area: 

250,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

November 2018

Photo Credits: 

Craig Byers, Robert Deitchler, Garrett Rowland (photography)

Design Team: 

Robin Klehr Avia (project principal); Madeline Burke-Vigeland (principal and project director); Ed Wood (principal and design director); Bevin Savage-Yamazaki (project manager); John  Bricker (principal and creative director); Craig Byers (design director, brand); Andrea Plenter Malzone Velez (brand design lead); Kevin Carlin (project manager, brand);  Jocelyn Mastroianni, Jose Troconis (brand designers) 


Henegan Construction Company (construction management), Levien & Company (owners respresentation), Jungles Studio with Siteworks (landscape design), Zanolli Fisher Marantz Stone (lighting design), Cerami & Associates (AV, IT, security, acoustic consultation), United Spinal (accessibility consultation), Amuneal Manufacturing Corp. (metal fabrication & restoration), Miller Blaker, Inc. (architectural woodwork)


DCL (Design Communications Ltd.), International Office Concepts, (interior partition systems, demountable partitions), Miller Blaker, Inc. (cabinetwork and custom woodwork)                

Related Links: 

New Member Offer

Click to access the 2020 "Never been an SEGD member before" $185 sign up offer

Upcoming SEGD Events

2023 Careers in Experiential Design
2023 Wayfinding and Placemaking
2023 Experience Washington D.C.