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Food For Thought: The World Food Prize Foundation's Des Moines Headquarters

  • PROJECT NAME The World Food Prize Foundation Headquarters
  • LOCATION Des Moines, IA
  • FIRM Gensler
  • SQ. FT. 38,000 SQF

Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman E. Borlaug, considered the father of the green-food revolution, launched the World Food Prize in 1986. Today, the World Food Prize Foundation's Des Moines headquarters is appropriately venerable for those leading the fight against hunger. To repurpose the city's 1903 beaux arts public library, the organization turned to Gensler principal and firmwide design leader Carlos Martínez-despite the fact that he's better known for contemporary design. "I love classical architecture," Martínez says. "The biggest challenge was to serve the new program for education and conferences while referencing the building's original use."


Because the 38,000-square-foot edifice is on the National Register of Historic Places, few changes could be made aside from clearing the stacks to create a ballroom. "A pattern in the oak floor traces where they used to stand," Martínez notes. As with most repurposed buildings, particularly those targeting LEED Platinum, the major work is unseen: the geothermal wells beneath the formal gardens, the cistern for rainwater reuse, the photovoltaic roof panels, and the restoration of leaded glass and WPA murals. 


Speaking of artwork, the foundation's international contemporary commissions and acquisitions reference the history of agriculture and the abolition of hunger. "Ultimately," Martínez says, "the building tells about the goals of this organization, this man." An important narrative in America's breadbasket.