David Adjaye

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East . New York

David Adjaye . 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East . New York Dror Baldinger afasia (1)

Adjaye Associates . photos: © Dror Baldinger

The Public Member Spaces for the new headquarters of the 1199SEIU— the largest health care union in the United States— is a project that aims to embody the principles, ethos and achievements of its tenant. With a galvanizing history since its founding in 1932, the project holds the spirit of the union which works to organize and efficiently consolidate all operations under one roof. As a space of social justice, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself referred to the union as “the authentic conscience of the labor movement”, the design concept is born out of the engaged and politically active community of 1199SEIU.


The original SEIU building contains the Anton Refreigier mural which is replicated in the entry level lobby and is the inspiration for the continuous ceramic tiled walls that unites all of the member facing spaces extending all four floors. The mural acts as an inspiring archive through a depiction of key moments that highlight milestones in the SEIU’s fight for labor rights since its founding. Additionally, another unifying feature is the continuous barrel ceiling vaults made from glass fiber reinforced gypsum (GFRG) cement which allows for ceiling heights that celebrate the resilience of the union. This coalescing element functions as an exhibition space to display the history, strength and mission of the 1199SEIU.

The central circulation void—the beating heart of the new unified space—not only openly connects all four floors, but establishes a quadruple height feature wall. Starting at the ground floor, the original mural imagery depicting Hospital, Guild and Drug division workers transitions to an image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. giving his ‘Salute to Freedom’ speech to 1199ers in 1968 as it ascends the height of the member space.

Along with embodying the purpose of the member facing spaces, the words from Dr. King as well as James Oppenheim (in ‘bread and roses’) also functions as the organizational strategy for the ceramic tile imagery and bronze lettered quotes. The union auditorium and enrollment spaces on level 2 are surrounded by images and quotes celebrating the history and freedom that Dr. King spoke to in 1968, while level 3 represents the ‘roses’ (wellness / pension / retirement) and level 4, the ‘bread’ (training, employment, health care) that Mr. Oppenheim called for.

Crafting all member facing spaces in this new project in a cohesive and historically rooted language not only instills pride but positions the new lobby space as central unifying force and symbol of the goal to empower the community of 1199SEIU.

Location – New York, New York, USA
Client – 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund / 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
Area – 16,500 sf
Materials – Ceramic Tile, Terrazzo, Bronze, Travertine, Perforated Metal, Walnut, Marble, GFRG Cement
Design & Construction Team
Architect – Adjaye Associates (Project Team: David Adjaye, Eric Ball, Ryan Ball, Adrienne Colenburg, Kyungsik Kim, Paula Sanchez)
General Contractor – JRM
Cost & Project Manager – Gardiner & Theobald Structural Engineers – Gilsanz Murray Stefuecek
Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing – Robert Director Associates
Expeditor / Code Consultant – Milrose
Lighting Consultant – Dot Dash
IT Engineer – Robert Derector Telecommunications
AV Engineer – Cerami Associates
Vertical Transportation Consultant – Van Deusen & Associates
Acoustical Consultant – Longman Lindsey Signage Consultant – Gensler
Specifications – The Friday Group
Photography – (C) Dror Baldinger