Following an international competition, we were selected to design The Women’s Building, a new global hub for the women’s and girls’ rights movements. The project would transform the former Bayview Correctional Center, an abandoned women’s prison, into a place of activism and action. It would offer those working on behalf of girls and women the space, resources, and support they need to drive critical change. The project was led by the NoVo Foundation, a social justice foundation.
The original 1930s Art Deco building was designed by the architects of the Empire State Building, Shreve Lamb and Harmon, as a YMCA for sailors and merchant marines. It was converted to a medium security prison for women in 1974. Bayview was a site of pain and confinement that also inspired a spirit of resistance and resilience. The project aims to honor and build on that spirit, and transform a space of women’s incarceration into a space that is dedicated to equality, liberation, and justice for girls and women everywhere.
At the earliest stages of our design process, we spent a year-long period listening, workshopping and building consensus about how best to envision an inclusive, welcoming, and empowering space. We engaged with representatives of the building’s future users ranging from women’s rights activists to formerly incarcerated women, all of whom continue to provide invaluable perspective on the project. This process has enhanced the project’s program and adjacencies, its balance between security and openness, and its treatment of the building’s deep history and discomforting past, but moreover, it has contributed to forming a community of future users with a sense of belonging and ownership.
Breaking Bayview’s darkness, a bold new opening that spans the lower community floors would draw in natural light through the base of the building. We prioritized delight in the new design. Art will be ever present– in flexible gallery spaces and integrated along paths of movement. Storytelling will be closely woven through the spaces to tell the stories of female empowerment and the building’s transformation.
The exterior design responds to the uses within. Spaces for quiet work are pulled inward and sheltered. Spaces for socializing are more open to the street and built-in window seats encourage gathering. The material tones and pronounced verticals of the new facade draw from and respond to features of the historic facade.
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