MKDA Pushes Legacy into the Future at YMCA Retirement Fund in NYC
The YMCA Retirement Fund (YRF) recently moved into its new digs in New York City at 120 Broadway, a 38-story National Historic Landmark.
A pension fund established in 1922 with more than 90,000 participants, the YRF is a corporate function of the well-known Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a worldwide organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, with more than 57 million beneficiaries from 125 national associations. Founded in 1844 by George Williams in London, the ‘Y’ aims to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy “body, mind, and spirit.”
Few organizations embody the word ‘legacy’ more than the YMCA. The primary reason legacy entities become legacies in the first place is their ability to weather decades of both triumph and strife, continuously keeping themselves relevant and successful.
And so, crafting a new space for the YRF meant crafting a space that preserves the organization’s legacy, and at the same time pushes it into the future. Space planning and interior design firm MKDA in New York City designed the new offices, located in a 52,000 square foot space across the street from its previous building, on a tight budget but with a bold design approach.
The new YMCA Retirement Fund encapsulates past, present, and future with an elegant, flowing precision.
The YRF Brand
MKDA’s design concept flowed directly from the Fund’s mission to empower YMCA employees to achieve economic security, resulting in loyalty to the YMCA Movement, together with the YMCA mission nationwide to help individuals achieve healthy spirit, mind and body.
“The Fund’s commitment to their mission statement really drove the design,” said MKDA Director of Design Daniel DeSiena. “That mission statement has been in place for many decades, but it embraces the new and the young from a very humane perspective. It was important to them to have a space where people want to come everyday.”
Mr. DeSiena noted both the building’s H-shape and position in a congested area of the city presented space planning challenges. In response, the MKDA design team filled the offices with light and openness.
“Some of the buildings in this area can become dark and cavernous,” said Mr. DeSiena. “We maximized natural light options in the floor plan, chose light finishes and employed glass wherever possible and appropriate.”
The workplace features a fresh, modern tone with glossy white finishes and golden brown toned wood furnishings. Wood floors and ceilings add counterpoint and imbue the office with a sense of permanence, richness and warmth.
Branding of the space also drew on the Fund’s mission statement.
“Branding the space was essential to demonstrating the Fund’s high standards, tradition and principles of wellbeing,” said Mr. DeSiena. “The brand’s blue color, intended to convey financial strength, stability and security, was used as an accent color throughout the space.”
In addition to employing the YRF’s blue color in the space’s custom signage, furniture and finishings, the MKDA design team collaborated with the YRF’s artistic director to curate a selection of the Fund’s extensive collection of period posters and pieces for branding throughout the space.
YRF executives wanted its employees to participate in the design process, particularly in the review of design mockups. MKDA worked closely with a 12-person committee of YRF employees to design workstations and private offices to suit the organization’s departmental needs.
“The planning phase of the project was very involved, and we revisited the drawing board a number of times to come up with the right solution for the departmental planning and workstations,” said Mr. DeSiena. “The YRF committee members were very conscious of their employee hierarchy. We developed an ‘A’ workstation, ‘B’ workstation, and ‘C’ workstation based on that hierarchy.”
The collaboration here shows the oft-unpublicized work of change management barriers that many interior designers face when they come across large-scale projects from legacy companies. There will be many, many projects that are exciting, not because the client will try anything, but because the challenges presented in the work styles the client has require skill and intellect to solve for.
The final workstation solutions – by Steelcase, with some featuring DIRTT wall systems – provide varying levels of privacy and openness and capitalize on natural light. The mix of perimeter offices with glass walls and wood doors, as well as low- and high-rise workstations with doors, create an airy, open environment.
Double-duty and Amenity-rich
MKDA built a number of dual-function spaces and amenity features into the new offices that, even on a tight budget, helped elevate the design.
The team designed a boardroom and a divisible multipurpose room with adaptable furniture, Modernfold wall and audio-visual technology, to meet the organization’s requirement for formal and casual gathering areas for board meetings, special events, luncheons, training and lectures.
The elevator lobby is detailed with glossy white architectural paneling punctuated by blue back-painted glass panels and dramatic circular light fixtures. The reception has a custom textured stone reception desk and patterned glass signage by Studio Arts Service, and the reception waiting area features furniture from Bernhardt, with upholstery in a vivid ‘YRF’ blue, and a custom rug by Jamie Stern.
A café with banquet seating features a 30-foot-long custom mural of the New York skyline. The scene evokes the spirit of the large-scale murals of train stations and other public gathering spaces.
“Because the café was situated entirely on the building’s interior, we wanted to maximize lighting and give a sense of place, of the lower downtown location, with the mural,” said Mr. DeSiena.
In its blend of tradition and modernity, MKDA’s design achieves a new context within which the YMCA Retirement Fund can grow in the coming years. Within the confines of a strict budget, its strategic use of space, aesthetics and branding provided an amenity-rich workplace for employees.