The 400,000 members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the country’s largest healthcare-workers union, founded in 1932, have not had an easy year. But the completion of the public spaces in its new Manhattan headquarters was a high point. Sir David Adjaye, the Ghanaian-British architect, designed the project’s 16,500 square feet of lounges, galleries, meeting rooms, circulation routes, and library as a permanent celebration of the union’s 90-year fight for social justice and quality healthcare for all. The Adjaye Associates founder, renowned for his Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, recently moved to Accra, Ghana, in part to be near several important projects, including a vast national cathedral there as well as a museum in Benin City, Nigeria. But the union headquarters was hardly an afterthought. A trip to Mexico reminded him of the power of public murals and introduced him to a technique of transferring images onto tile by Cerámica Suro so exacting that even the amount of grout used is considered. “This is the first time I’ve used murals like this,” Adjaye says. But it won’t be the last; he says he’s working such “supergraphics” into other projects. One of several such murals at the 1199 facility is a soaring portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., who called SEIU the “authentic conscience of the labor movement.” Another is a likeness of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, bearing his timely quote: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
In honor of Black History Month, the Interior Design team is spotlighting the narratives, works, and craft traditions of Black architects, designers, and creatives. See our full coverage here.