The streets of Washington, D.C., are famously dotted with embassies, memorials, and government agencies, but when you really look around, you’ll notice something is missing. “There aren’t a lot of buildings or monuments that are about what women are doing in the world to make it a better place,” says Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization that’s been investing in women leaders—or, as Nelson puts it, venture catalysts—for 24 years. That’s about to change. On October 11, 2021, also known as the International Day of the Girl, a new hub will join the stretch of diplomatic structures, and this one is dedicated entirely to women.
The Vital Voices Global Headquarters for Women’s Leadership is set to be located in the heart of the capital on 16th Street, just blocks from the White House and Black Lives Matter Plaza. Backed by such notable philanthropists as Diane von Furstenberg (Chair of the Vital Voices Capital Campaign), Hillary Clinton, and Spanx founder Sara Blakely, to name a few, it will be the first-of-its-kind physical space where women change makers can come together to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges, from the climate crisis and violence against women to racial injustice and economic inequity.
Fittingly, an all-women design team is leading the renovation of the seven-story building (originally constructed in 1910), spanning from architects and designers Ashley Maddox, Andrea Lenardin, Marnique Heath, and Katie Schenk to project managers Colleen Scott and Shari Roberts. Even the lighting is by Sandrine Junod Yust. Though the space won’t be open to the public until later this year, we got a sneak peek inside.
The interior will shine a spotlight on artists and craftspeople within the Vital Voices network, such as social entrepreneur Ariela Suster, who founded Sequence Collection to break the cycle of violence in El Salvador (Suster employs young men to create accessories). Maddox and Lendardin will be taking pieces of fabric from her line and working with a furniture company to weave them into chairs, sofas, and other furniture.
Five colors will stand at the core of the 35,000-square-foot space, each one promoting a different feeling. Navy blue in the library, for instance, will spark focus and encourage concentration. “It represents a woman’s driving force,” explains Nelson. In other rooms, like the Hub for Innovation, terracotta is meant to ignite “bold ideas and bold action,” says Nelson. “The idea that just because something has never been done before doesn’t mean it won’t be the very thing needed to tackle our greatest challenges.” Psst: You can get the look with Farrow & Ball’s Blazer paint color.
Similarly, materials like the Kelly tile from Popham Design, which is set to be used on a fireplace surround, was selected for its hidden meaning (the abstract shapes look like “elegant yet powerful female forms,” notes Nelson).
In other areas the design isn’t so literal but just all-around soothing, as in the winter garden. It will be framed by giant windows, bringing in a ton of natural light, and a trove of plants will fill the space with high-quality air. (It’s nothing, though, compared to the enormous skylight that’s planned for the lounge on the top floor.)
The primary forum area will be a place to host heads of state and entrepreneurs to lead discussions and give addresses. Regular programming will be available to the public in person, as well as on a website for those who want to access conversations virtually.
Not unlike the interior, the exterior of the building will be a place for inspiration and empowerment. Already a 40-by-40-foot portrait of the first U.S. youth poet laureate and Vital Voices board member Amanda Gorman, designed by Gayle Kabaker, can be seen by the 20,000-something cars that drive by each day. That’s how you gain curb appeal.
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