Adjaye Associates capture history through tiled murals at 1199SEIU healthcare union HQ

Adjaye Associates’ new project celebrates the resilience and unity of the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union at their new headquarters in New York City.

by STIRworldPublished on : Oct 30, 2020

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.

The design strongly embodies the principles, ethos and achievements of the union | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
The design strongly embodies the principles, ethos and achievements of the union Image: Dror Baldinger

“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 firm designed the space to allow the history of the union to unfold in it | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
The firm designed the space to allow the history of the union to unfold in it Image: Dror Baldinger

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”.

The project effectively combines all operations under one roof | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
The project effectively combines all operations under one roof Image: Dror Baldinger

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.

Tiled murals that express strength and power adorn the space | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
Tiled murals that express strength and power adorn the space Image: Dror Baldinger

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.

Some murals depict milestones in the SEIU’s fight for labour rights | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
Some murals depict milestones in the SEIU’s fight for labour rights Image: Dror Baldinger

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.

Continuous ceramic tiled walls unite all of the member facing spaces | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
Continuous ceramic tiled walls unite all of the member facing spaces Image: Dror Baldinger

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.

The four-storey space by Adjaye Associates is located in New York City | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
The four-storey space by Adjaye Associates is located in New York City Image: Dror Baldinger

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.

The barrel ceiling vaults additionally serve as a unifying element | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
The barrel ceiling vaults additionally serve as a unifying element Image: Dror Baldinger

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 design instills pride and a sense of unity in the occupants | 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Headquarters | Adjaye Associates | STIRworld
The design instills pride and a sense of unity in the occupants Image: Dror Baldinger

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.

Project Details

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)

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