Ecologies of Addiction is an interdisciplinary research initiative into the complex relationship between addictive behaviors and the physical environment of the city. Van Alen is collaborating on the first phase with Imperial College London’s Sustainable Society Network (SSN+), and has selected a research team based at King’s College London to investigate how a person’s vulnerability to addiction may be impacted by his or her environment. The public is invited to join the project team and advisors for a presentation and discussion of the project at Van Alen Institute on January 29, 2015, 7pm (registration below).

Winter 2015 Events

Thursday, January 29

Ecologies of Addiction

Designers know that people are shaped by their environments, but how far does it really go? For our new international research initiative Ecologies of Addiction, Van Alen is collaborating with Imperial College London’s Sustainable Society Network to investigate how a person’s vulnerability to addiction may be impacted by the environment. With a focus on the landscape […]

Fall 2014 Events

Monday, December 8

City Screens: GET LOST!

Get Lost! presents a collection of cinematic love letters to New York from three seminal filmmakers: Jonas Mekas, Robert Frank, and Manfred Kirchheimer. As European immigrants, they brought an outsider’s curious eye to documenting their adopted home. Whether you’re hanging out on a Brooklyn corner, crashing at a Bowery apartment, or riding an elevated subway […]

Tuesday, December 9

Influx and Exodus: Two Conversations on Urban Density

Rust Belt cities struggle to repurpose vacant land and adapt the delivery of fundamental services, and cities like Mumbai and Lagos sprawl ever outward with dense informal communities: In both cases, adapting to sudden population change presents a massive challenge. How can city infrastructure and policy keep pace with the dramatic shifts brought on by […]

Wednesday, December 10

New York, Just Like I Pictured It

What was your experience of arriving in New York? What did it feel like when you got your first glimpse of the skyline? Join us for an evening of live comedy and true stories about arriving in New York City to make it—barely or in grand style—and the sadness (or relief!) that comes with the […]

Thursday, December 11

Ultimate Exit: the Architecture and Urbanism of Tech-Secessionism

Can the titans of tech engineer an escape from government oversight? Initiatives like Seasteading and talk of Silicon Valley’s “ultimate exit” are part of a growing tech-secessionist movement in which a variety of actors from venture capitalists and companies like Google to cloud-based communities of individuals are imagining city-state-like sites escaping state jurisdiction. What might […]

Friday, December 12

City of Cities

Like many great places, New York is a city of cities: It is constantly in flux, its population ever-changing. Each day over one and a half million workers commute into Manhattan, and of New Yorkers, one in three is foreign born. In a medley of music, conversation, and performance we’ll reflect on New York’s pulsating […]

Saturday, December 13

Door to Door: Neighborliness

Update: Both walks are sold out. View more event listings here. How can a commute become an energizing, community-affirming experience? Long commuting times are seen as one of the most robust predictors of social isolation. According to the political scientist Robert Putnam, every ten minutes spent commuting reduces a person’s social connections by ten percent. […]

Saturday, December 13

Door to Door: Subway Games

Update: This event is sold out. View more event listings here. Can we use games to help us experience our commute with fresh eyes? Come experience three different visions for how play can transform the subway system and your structured, repetitious daily commute into something exciting. We invited three game design teams down into the […]

Saturday, December 13

Door to Door: Innovating the Commute

How can we harness existing data to reimagine our transportation infrastructure without starting from scratch? Join us for a presentation of projects that use data to improve access to information and the commuter experience on a collective scale. We’ll hear from the creators of digitalMatatus, which leverages mobile technology in developing countries to collect data, […]

Sunday, December 14

Escape Routes: High Bridge History

Update: This event is sold out. View more event listings here. In 1899, Jesse Lynch Williams of Scribner’s Magazine wrote of High Bridge: “There is a different feeling in the air up along this best-known end of the city’s water-front…This is the tired city’s playground.” What can we learn about the social, cultural, and economic […]

Sunday, December 14

Escape Routes: New Itineraries

Sometimes the bustle and excitement of the city is best appreciated from a distance. Focusing on short visits to or away from the city, we asked six forward-thinking designers to consider escape in and around New York and develop new routes and experiences. Come and be inspired for your next trip out by these exciting […]

Spring 2014 Events

Sunday, April 27

Research Workshop: How Does the Brain Respond to the City?

How are new technologies deepening our understanding of how people relate to place? And how can our evolving understanding of the brain improve how cities are designed? The last decade has seen the emergence of mobile electroencephalography (EEG) based brain computer interfaces (BCI), which are able to quantify our subjective experiences of the world around […]

Friday, May 9

The Imprint of the City

Read the event report→ How does the physical and sensory richness of the city shape who we are—for worse or for better? To launch Van Alen Institute’s Spring 2014 Events, the Institute and ISSUE Project Room present a fast-paced medley of music, poetry, personal reflections, conversations, and performances by designers, artists, musicians, writers, social scientists, […]

Saturday, May 10

Emerging Public Spaces

Read the event report→ As neglected, underutilized urban sites are reactivated as spaces for public use, how can we retain the playful, experimental, unscripted, and the open-ended? Van Alen and Public Workshop, an organization that creates engaging opportunities for youth and their communities to shape the design of their cities, invite you to join us for […]

Tuesday, May 13

How Does the Brain Respond to the City?

Read the event report→ What grabs our attention in the congested city? The latest research in neuroscience is revealing fascinating things about human perception and the relationship between what we see and what we experience. And with inexpensive but high-powered tools such as electroencephalography-based (EEG) brain-computer interfaces (BCI) now increasingly accessible, it’s getting easier to […]

Wednesday, May 14

What Is Well-Being, Really?

The discussion of well-being is growing stronger across fields such as design, policy, business, and the sciences, but are we all talking about the same thing? With competing definitions, rubrics, and objective and subjective markers to measure well-being, how can we build a shared conversation about what it means to enhance the quality of urban […]

Saturday, May 17

Urban Mindfulness

The technique of “mindfulness” is on the rise via an industry of self-help manuals, mobile apps, and private classes—but is it substance or fluff? Originally rooted in eastern philosophy, mindfulness has been popularized as a remedy for everything from anxiety and stress to overstimulation and lack of focus. Could “urban mindfulness” be a meaningful tool […]

Sunday, May 18

Embodied Architecture

You may be familiar with practices such as yoga and meditation, but have you thought about their potential to expand our thinking about how we design and inhabit space? This guided session led by Richard Allon, yoga and meditation instructor and principal of Richard Allon Architect & Associates, will work with the body, mind, breath, […]

Monday, May 19

Outside In

What qualities of a place shape us, consciously and unconsciously? This film screening, presented with Times Square Arts, draws on a range of cinematic approaches to examine the links between environment, sensory experience, and well-being. The selected films take us on a journey through varied urban landscapes—from the density of Times Square to the sublime […]

Wednesday, May 21

Van Alen Institute Spring Party

To conclude our Spring 2014 Events season, please join us for the Van Alen Institute Spring Party on Wednesday, May 21 at The High Line Hotel. We’ll celebrate our 120-year legacy and the years to come with festive cocktails, light food, and great music. 8:00pm – 9:00pm: Concert by Australian-born and NYC-based artist White Prism “Dreamy, breathy vocals layered over […]

Fall 2013 Events

Tuesday, November 12

Elsewhere: An Evening of Escape

Van Alen Institute is pleased to present an evening of performances, talks, and reflections to celebrate the launch of Elsewhere: Escape and the Urban Landscape, an exploration of escape in the urban environment. Hosted in collaboration with ISSUE Project Room Artistic Director Lawrence Kumpf, the evening will bring together a diverse lineup featuring Keller Easterling, Professor of […]

Friday, November 15

We Live with Animals

We Live with Animals is an installation developed by Catherine Seavitt and Denise Hoffman-Brandt that uncovers and compiles surprising tales of human and animal interaction in the city. Join us for an evening of storytelling with performers including artist Aki Sasamoto, 18-time MOTH StorySLAM champion Adam Wade, multimedia artist Tamar Ettun, veteran news photographer John […]

Saturday, November 16

Debt, Design, and Displacement in the City

New York City is a place where one in three children live in poverty, and where more than 50,000 citizens sleep in homeless shelters. Increasingly, middle- and low-income citizens find it close to impossible to secure a home, often thwarted by spiraling debt and the encroachment of real-estate speculation. Van Alen Institute, in partnership with Miguel […]

Saturday, November 16

Let There Be Night

For many city-dwellers, connecting with the splendor of the night sky demands an escape from the ever brightly lit landscape of the built environment. This evening event will unpack the complex issues of urban lighting, investigating the impact of light pollution on human well-being and ecological systems, and exploring how light and dark influence our […]

Sunday, November 17

The Footprint of Escape

Join us in an urban field game followed by a discussion of the past, present, and future of escape in the city. Brent D. Ryan, Associate Professor of Urban Design and Public Policy at MIT; Jeffrey Shumaker, Deputy Chief Urban Designer for the City of New York; Elihu Rubin, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urbanism […]

Sunday, November 17

Cities, Not Nations?

In the face of networked societies and economies that defy national borders, some argue that cities are superseding nations in their ability to address our most pressing challenges: the need for environmental sustainability, the provision of key resources and services, and the maintenance of effective governance. Join Dr. Benjamin Barber, political theorist and author of […]


National Parks Now

National Parks Now is a competition inviting multidisciplinary teams of young professionals to develop strategies for reshaping the National Parks visitor experience. As the National Park Service prepares to celebrate its centennial in 2016, the competition highlights four parks in the Northeast Region as case studies for attracting diverse audiences, telling new stories, and engaging the next generation of visitors at a time of fast-evolving technologies, regional contexts, and audience expectations. The National Parks Now sites tell complex stories about one of the country’s densest and most diverse urban regions, containing countless layers of the nation’s economic, ecological, and cultural history.

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Future Ground

Future Ground is a design competition inviting multidisciplinary teams to generate flexible design and policy strategies to reuse vacant land in New Orleans, transforming abandoned landscapes into resources for the current and future city. Future Ground will develop strategies to bring small, piecemeal projects to scale at the neighborhood and citywide level; craft policy to support promising design strategies; make these strategies flexible and participatory enough to be sustained into the next generation; and share resources with a growing network of pioneers who are reusing vacant land in cities around the country.

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Tuesday, September 30

Building the Future City, Lot by Lot

BY JEFF HEBERT Executive Director, New Orleans Redevelopment Authority View the competition→   The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) has a huge resource in its inventory of land—thousands of vacant sites scattered across the city, the majority of which were flood-damaged properties sold to the State of Louisiana through a voluntary buyout program after Katrina. […]

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Monday, June 23

Seeing the Unseen: the Cacophonous City in Four Films

BY MERCEDES KRAUS. View the event→   “In the day-to-day experience of living in cities, you begin to think about what you tune out and what you are aware of,” said film programmer Paul Dallas, introducing four films screened by Van Alen and Times Square Arts as part of the Institute’s spring events series. The […]

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Wednesday, June 18

Sharpening Mind and Body: the City-Dweller’s Everyday Tools

BY MERCEDES KRAUS. View the event→   “The dean at my architecture school, John Hejduk, always talked to us about how important the tools were for our work,” relays Richard Allon to an intimate group that sits across from him, mirroring his cross-legged pose—all of us on yoga mats in the vault-like space at Brooklyn’s […]

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Saturday, June 14

Improving Well-Being in the City, Starting with Understanding

View the event→ “We all understand what well-being is, but when asked to talk about it, it’s difficult,” said Bob Richardson, adding, “which is probably some measure of just how deeply lived it actually is.” Richardson, a senior director at Control Group and professor of philosophy at Pratt Institute, was speaking to a crowd gathered […]

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Wednesday, June 11

Early Neurological Measurements of the Urban Experience

BY MERCEDES KRAUS. View the event→ Recently, Van Alen Institute and Columbia GSAPP’s Cloud Lab hosted a tech demo and dialogue that asked, “How Does the Brain Respond to the City?” That the event was posed as a question was suggestive of its initial answer: We’re only just beginning to understand. “An era of crowd-sourced […]

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Tuesday, June 3

Escape from the “Land of No”

BY ANNE GUINEY. View the event→ Drenching rains may have forced Saturday’s Emerging Public Spaces building workshop indoors, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the 60 or so participants who had come prepared to build furniture for a temporary public gathering space amidst the bustle and energy of Albee Square in Downtown Brooklyn. Instead, the […]

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Tuesday, April 15

Spring 2014 Events: How Does the City Impact our Minds and Bodies?

Van Alen Institute invites you to join us for our Spring 2014 Events, running May 9-19 in New York City. With a line-up featuring hands-on construction workshops, films, tours, performances, conversations, tech demonstrations, and more, we’ll investigate how urban life affects the mind and body, expanding the conversation about how the design of cities can […]

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Tuesday, March 18

Q&A: Linnaea Tillett on ecological lighting design and human perception

As part of the Let There Be Night event on November 16, 2013, Linnaea Tillett, Founder and Principal of Tillett Lighting Design and Ph.D. in environmental psychology, spoke on how lighting design affects human perception, sharing some of her own work to create a sense of place with environmental needs in mind. Watch the video, […]

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Photo by Sarah Blee

Elsewhere: Escape and the Urban Landscape is a multi-year initiative of Van Alen Institute exploring escape in the urban environment.

Elsewhere is comprised of competitions, public programs, and research that investigate key questions of the contemporary urban experience: How and why do we escape from urban life? What prompts us to escape to the city? What forms of escape can we find within the urban environment? And how might the experience of going “elsewhere” contribute to our well-being?

Elsewhere will examine how both the form and organization of the built environment influence our need for escape. This unique multidisciplinary effort is bringing together innovators in design, public health, policy, and the sciences to change the way we understand cities.

The Institute launched Elsewhere with four days of festival-style programs on November 12–17, 2013, at the Institute and select venues throughout New York City. With offerings including performances, conversations, tours, installations, and workshops, the fall lineup engaged a diverse range of topics to provoke, enlighten, question, and critically examine the ideas of Elsewhere. In May 2014, Van Alen Institute continued Elsewhere with our Spring 2014 Events running May 9-19 in New York City. In December 2014, Elsewhere programs looked at the way we move through the urban realm by framing the city as both a destination and departure point.

In January 2015, Van Alen will launch Ecologies of Addiction, an interdisciplinary research initiative of Elsewhere into the complex relationship between addictive behaviors and the physical environment of the city. Van Alen is collaborating on the first phase with Imperial College London’s Sustainable Society Network (SSN+), and has selected a research team based at King’s College London to investigate how a person’s vulnerability to addiction may be impacted by his or her environment.

Join the Van Alen mailing list to receive updates on upcoming competitions, events, and more.


With support from our Program Leadership Council, co-chaired by: Stephan Jaklitsch and Mark Gardner (Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects), Joel Sanders (Joel Sanders Architect), Susanna Sirefman (Dovetail Design Strategists).

Media Partners:

Media and Presenting Partner







archinectPlatform for Pedagogy

The Institute’s events are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

NYSCA and NYCulture

Drinks provided by Brooklyn Brewery.

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