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 transforms the former Bayview Correctional Center, an abandoned women’s prison, into a dynamic facility for activism and action. It includes an auditorium, galleries, lounges, a café, a media center, wellness facilities, co-working spaces, and offices.
The old prison building was dark, cramped, and forbidding. The Women’s Building is welcoming. The design brings natural light deep into the building’s core, turning a space of confinement into an environment of empowerment. A series of terraces extends the experience outdoors with expansive views of the city and the Hudson River.
Collaborators

Deborah Berke Partners

Architect

Silman

Structural Engineer

Arup

MEP/FP Engineer

Philip Habib and Associates

Civil Engineer

Scape

Landscape Architect

Thornton Tomasetti

Façade and Restoration Consultant

Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

Sustainability and Universal Design Consultant

SBLD Studio

Lighting Designer

Cerami

Acoustical, Audio Visual, Information Technology and Security Consultant

Theatre Projects

Theater Consultant

Ellana

Cost Estimator

Hopkins Food Service

Food Facilities Consultant

MGMT

Branding Consultant

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Originally built in 1931 by the commercial docks on Manhattan’s west side, the Seamen’s House was a YMCA which sailors and merchant marines. It was designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, architects of the Empire State Building, in a gracious, understated American art deco style. The building accommodated 225 single sleeping rooms and spacious common areas and amenities, providing a place for seamen to rest, gather, and socialize.
As Manhattan’s port activity decreased dramatically in the mid-20th century, the empty Seamen’s House was converted to a medium security prison for women in 1974. This dark, discomforting period of the building’s history saw a welcoming hospitality facility transform into a site of pain and confinement.
The building stood as a women’s prison in the middle of Manhattan for nearly 40 years, when hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. The building was evacuated, and due to extensive flood damage, it was later decommissioned. In 2015, New York State granted the NoVo Foundation the opportunity to reimagine and transform the empty prison into The Women’s Building, a physical home for the women’s rights movement.
At the earliest stages of our design process, we spent a year-long period listening, workshopping and consensus-building so we could best 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 discomforting past, but moreover, it has contributed to forming a community of future users with a sense of belonging and ownership.