by Jincy IypeDec 20, 2021
Adjaye Associates, founded by Ghanian-British architect Sir David Adjaye, has announced the completion of the Public Member Spaces of the new headquarters of the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest healthcare union in the United States of America. Known for their sensitive and responsive architecture, the firm’s design strongly embodies the principles, ethos and achievements of the 88-year-old union.
“We were commissioned to work on what the public floors would be like for members and new people coming in. I wanted to unfold this incredible story of the SEIU throughout the public space as a kind of permanent gallery of where the history has gotten to,” shares Adjaye, who was recently awarded the RIBA Gold Medal 2020.
The project exemplifies the essence of the union, which serves to coordinate and effectively combine all operations under one roof while building on the legacy of its history. Conceived out of collaboration with the politically active community of 1199SEIU, the project represents a space of social justice where Martin Luther King Jr. himself attributed the union to “the authentic conscience of the labour movement”.
Located in New York City, the four-storey space by Adjaye Associates provides plenty of instances where the unity of the alliance is depicted. The historically rooted design commemorates the SEIU's journey and achievements with its publicly accessible street lobby, an auditorium, classrooms and various tiled murals that express strength and power.
Holding onto the memory of the Anton Refregier mural that ornamented the original SEIU building, the space is inaugurated with a replica at the entry-level lobby. The mural depicts important times that showcase the milestones in the SEIU’s fight for labour rights, inspiring the consequent rooms in the building.
A continuous ceramic tiled wall unites all of the member facing spaces and extends to all the floors. The barrel ceiling vaults made from glass fibre reinforced gypsum (GFRG) cement also serve as a unifying element that hovers over the exhibition space. The displays of the history and the mission of the 1199SEIU and the union’s resilience are further celebrated by the large ceiling height that forms a capacious volume.
At the dynamic centre of the space is a circulation void that openly joins all four floors through a quadruple height feature wall. The original mural ascends the height of the member space, depicting Hospital, Guild and Drug division workers shapeshift into an image of Martin Luther King Jr. giving his ‘Salute to Freedom’ speech.
Apart from embodying the purpose of the member facing spaces, the words from Luther King as well as James Oppenheim (in ‘bread and roses’) also function as the organisational strategy for the ceramic tile imagery and bronze lettered quotes.
On the second floor, images and quotes celebrating the history and freedom that Luther King spoke to in 1968 surround the union auditorium and enrollment spaces. The third floor represents the ‘roses’ (wellness/pension/retirement) and the top-most floor, the ‘bread’ (training, employment, health care) that Oppenheim called for.
The cohesive design language that permeates through the space not only instils pride in the occupants but also creates a central unifying force that seemingly spreads from the heart of the building. Adjaye Associates ensured that the spaces were crafted to symbolise the resilience of the community of 1199SEIU.
Name: 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Public Member Spaces
Location: New York, USA
Client: 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund / 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
Area: 16,500 sqft
Materials: Ceramic Tile, Terrazzo, Bronze, Travertine, Perforated Metal, Walnut, Marble, GFRG Cement
Design & Construction Team
Architect: Adjaye Associates (Project Team: David Adjaye, Eric Ball, Ryan Ball, Adrienne Colenburg, Kyungsik Kim, Paula Sanchez)
(Text by Ankitha Gattupalli, intern at stirworld.com)