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CertainTeed’s Ceiling Tiles Help Preserve Original Look of a Landmark NYC Building

02/16/2020 By Adrian Thompson

When the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice opened in 1967, its design was considered ahead of its time. The New York building included features like a 12-story atrium garden, floor-to-ceiling windows and biophilic design elements that are more commonly seen today than they were in the mid-1900s.


Photo: CertainTeed’s Ecophon Focus Dg tiles are available in 16 colors and a wide selection of sizes, including large format panels, to enable design freedom. They can be integrated with Focus Wing, a unique perimeter treatment, to create clouds or peninsulas; Credit: Garrett Rowland, courtesy of Gensler

Nearly 50 years later, the Ford Foundation Center underwent a renovation in 2015, led by architecture and design firm Gensler, to preserve its original character while making it more open, inclusive and environmentally friendly.

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The renewed building, opened in 2018, is a reinvented and expanded hub for social good that features modern finishes, fixtures and amenities. Key features in the updated building, according to the center’s website, include:

  • Two full floors dedicated to meetings and events
  • Historic atrium garden that is open to the public
  • New gallery focused on artists whose work engages with justice, dignity and fairness
  • Collaborative, open workspaces
  • Increased daylighting and views of the central atrium and garden on every floor

The Ford Foundation Center’s transformation also preserves the building’s historic design and landmark status—an honor designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee. This required Gensler to select products that closely replicated the building’s original features, such as its ceiling panels. The firm chose CertainTeed’s Ecophon Focus Dg Tiles for all the building’s panels, as they were near replicas of the originals.


Photo: Enhanced light reflectance properties from the tiles’ finish, even on the panel’s semi-concealed edges, bolster daylighting, adding to the bright, airy design aesthetic; Credit: Garrett Rowland, courtesy of Gensler

Robert Marshall, senior technical manager for CertainTeed Ceilings, shares more details on the renovation project and how it retained this iconic element.

interiors+sources: What were the design criteria going into this project? How did CertainTeed meet the demands?

Robert Marshall: One of the main goals of the project was to move hundreds of employees to open workspaces and collaboration areas, allowing for increased daylighting and providing views of the central atrium and garden on every floor. However, because the building holds landmark status, any renovations to office spaces would require a nearly exact replica of building materials. 

In search of a ceiling panel that could be used across all 12 floors, architecture and design firm Gensler invited several manufacturers to produce mock-ups of finished spaces. Ecophon Focus Dg tiles from CertainTeed so closely mimicked the building’s existing ceiling, the company was selected to provide all panels. 

i+s: Describe the CertainTeed product chosen for this space and why it was selected.

RM: Ecophon Focus Dg tiles are smooth, fiberglass panels with a semi-concealed edge that provide unique aesthetics coupled with superior sound absorption in a wide selection of sizes and colors. The surface of the Ecophon Focus Dg tile so closely matched the original tile that it was almost uncanny. 

i+s: How do the Ecophon Focus Dg tiles enhance the overall interior? 

RM: In addition to mimicking the building’s existing ceiling, Ecophon Focus Dg tiles from CertainTeed offer several design and performance benefits. Thanks to reflectance properties from the superior finish, even on the panel’s semi-concealed edges, the ceiling enhances light and bolsters daylighting – adding to the bright and airy design aesthetic. The superior sound absorption of the panels allows for maximum usage of the open office space by reducing noise reverberation, increasing productivity. And the downward access also allows easy accessibility and greatly limits the panel’s damage from repeated plenum access.

i+s: Were there any design challenges faced along the way involving the ceiling? 

RM: A significant challenge during the renovation was the methodical undoing and then redoing of the building’s infrastructure to bring all systems up to code—including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, sprinkler and fire alarm systems—without sacrificing the building’s modernist aesthetics. This was a primary reason why Ecophon Focus Dg tiles from CertainTeed were specified.

(Photo: When the Ford Foundation Center opened in 1967, it was a triumph of midcentury design. It’s 12-story atrium garden was the first of its kind at the time, according to the center’s website; Credit: Garrett Rowland, courtesy of Gensler)

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