To mark the start of the 25th academic year of Teach for America, the non-profit organization that recruits teachers for underserved communities throughout the United States, Pentagram was hired to design environmental graphics for its headquarters. The organization, which has grown significantly since its conception in 1989, recently moved its headquarters from Midtown to 25 Broadway in the Financial District, located across from the famous “Charging Bull” statue. Pentagram’s environmental graphics reflect and reinforce Teach for America’s educational mission and collaborative spirit.
Founded by Wendy Kopp, Teach for America recruits recent college graduates to teach in schools throughout the country. In 25 years, the organization has grown from serving 6 regions to impacting 52 regions across the continental United States, with nearly 6,000 teachers, or corps members, and over 28,000 alumni. Teach for America’s culture is founded on five core values—transformational change, team, leadership, respect and humility, diversity—which guide the actions and decisions of the corps members and alumni. The designers worked closely with Teach for America to incorporate these core values into the environment of their New York City headquarters.
The furniture and interior finish selections by the project architects, HOK, tie into the theme of education, and elements such as student desks, chalkboards, and wooden surfaces throughout the offices convey the spirit of classic American schoolrooms. When visitors arrive at Teach for America’s headquarters, they are greeted by the organization’s identity signage applied to a wall constructed from reclaimed high school bleacher seats. An installation of five video screens, also inlaid in the reclaimed wall, displays welcome messages and communications information for special events.
Rather than constructing a conventional donor wall, the designers wanted to create an unique form of recognition for Teach for America’s patrons. The team conceived of two custom “donor pencil tables” for the public waiting area, which were skillfully fabricated by Design Communications Limited. The bright red, wooden tables feature a glass surface and a circular trough to hold 240 pencils, individually stamped with the names of major donors and National Board members. Donors’ names are applied to yellow pencils, National Board members to red, and spaces for future donors are reserved with natural colored pencils. The result is an eye-catching display of Teach for America’s numerous benefactors over the last two decades.
The core of the headquarters spans three stories in an open floor plan, with stairs that wrap around the perimeter of the space. The designers worked with the Teach for America team to hand-pick photos of the students, teachers, and classrooms that comprise the 52 American regions the organization impacts. The 487 original photos were selected and placed in matching white frames and arranged to fill the walls around the stairwells. Somewhere within the array lies a framed mirror, representing each individual’s influence in the mission.
Conference rooms throughout the headquarters are named after regional offices, and the doors to the room are outfitted with silkscreen-printed chalkboard panels with statistical information about each location. The stats can be updated in handwriting, giving each room its own character. A supergraphic wall logo made of dimensional letters features a tackable surface, and staff and visitors to the Teach for America headquarters are invited to pin a Polaroid self-portrait to help fill in the logo over time.
Two “pantries” in the offices serve as meeting spaces where staff members can interact casually outside of the typical work environment. One of the pantries has a magnetic wall with oversized “refrigerator magnets” that display words derived from Teach for America’s core values. The second pantry contains an oversized Scrabble board that invites a playful moment during breaks. The silkscreened board is built to the game’s exact specifications using a steel backplate and silkscreen-printed maple tile magnets. Pendant globe lamps hang from the ceilings in both pantries, spelling “EAT” with single letters printed on each. And of course, the IT department wasn’t left out of the program—the help desk is illuminated by its own four globe lamps which spell “TECH” overhead.