The Women’s Building aims to capture the imagination of and inspire a new generation of girls. The building itself aspires to be a symbol of the change that will transform a site of incarceration to one of opportunity, action, growth and vision. Its creation marks a moment in time, and makes tangible and visible on a prominent site in the city of New York, much of what women are fighting for and working to protect. It is undoubtedly a moment to be celebrated and seized. To that end, it is crucial that the architecture should both rise to the symbolic importance of the moment and through its design, embody the mission and ideals that animate it.
Strength in Unity
The new Women’s Building of New York marks an important milestone for those who believe that action can change society for the better. The project invites a vision of an institution aiming at maximizing opportunity through community. Organizations that have until now operated in relative physical isolation, can share resources and infrastructure, and even more importantly, enjoy a chance to evolve and reinvent themselves in a new constellation of interactive cooperation and friendship. The building will resemble several buildings holding and supporting each other, projecting an image of strength in unity and freedom in individuality.
The project is respectful of the 1931 YMCA building, with matching floor heights, integrated functional interior spaces and analogous window configurations, improved with more light.
Above the existing structure four sections create a multi-level garden oriented to the west and north to open diagonal views of the city and the Hudson River. Accessed from adjacent office spaces, this garden is transverse by a continuous path of stairs that allows entry to all levels. The building’s form shelters parts of the garden from rain and excessive sunlight, and in days of good weather, people can work outside, lunch al fresco or wander through garden levels in search of inspiration or company.
These different levels create a psychological memory map: “My office is by the cherry trees” or “We work near the forsythias.” These distinctions give character to adjacent interiors and domesticate the workplace, making it more relaxed and unique, humanizing it.
The Voice of Women
The Auditorium of the Women’s Building is located directly above the Main Entry in the new tower and faces outward with a large opening proposing itself as “The Voice of Women.” This flexible separation between interior and street can be controlled with conventional theater technology to isolate or integrate city and stage, offering a symbolic and striking connection between building and the city.
The project proposes boldly inhabiting the accelerating skyline of Manhattan while at the same time critically challenging the hierarchical implications of the verticality and the floor-to-floor disconnect of typical high-rise buildings in New York. Here, the primacy of the vertical and the rigor of the grid are domesticated by diagonal movement of people freely traversing space and by the horizontality of the plane of cooperative action.
We offer here a creative vision, a conversation-starter, a tease to the receptive imagination, whose promise can only be gleaned through collaborative action of the design team, future users and the expanding community, to celebrate the women and girls of New York and the world.