Entries due by: May 21, 2011, 6pm EST
> Download the brief (PDF)

How will high-speed rail change American life in the coming decades?

At this critical moment for American infrastructure, Van Alen Institute calls on the international design community to envision the cultural, environmental and economic impact of a new rail network.

President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union laid out a vision of how the United States will “win the future.”

In addition to proposals for increasing broadband access and investing in entrepreneurial innovation, the president called for a new high-speed rail network that will connect 80 percent of Americans in the next 25 years.

We’re ready for your entries! The submission period is open until May 21, 2011 at 6pm EST.

Ten winning entries will receive $1,000. A broad selection of entries will receive honorable mention and inclusion in an online and print publication.



> Carol Coletta, Director, ArtPlace

> Keller Easterling, Associate Professor, Yale University

> Christopher Hawthorne, Architecture Critic, Los Angeles Times

> Gary Hustwit, Director, Helvetica

> Michael Lejeune, Creative Director, L.A. Metro

> Thom Mayne, Founder & Design Director, Morphosis

> Petra Todorovich, Director, America 2050

> Sarah Whiting, Dean, Rice School of Architecture


> Diana Lind & Andrew Colopy


> Fogelson-Lubliner

This project is made possible through the VAN ALEN MEMORIAL FUND and is supported by:

Timeline & Events

Van Alen Institute and the fellows will select 10 of the most inspiring and thought-provoking entries and award them $1,000 each; a broad selection of entries will receive honorable mention and inclusion in an online exhibition. These selected materials will form the foundation of an image library — a resource for print and online media seeking better ways of illustrating and analyzing infrastructure needs. Throughout the summer, the advisory committee will curate the submissions and discuss them with winning entrants in a series of panel discussions Van Alen Institute will host at partner organizations in high-speed rail megaregions around the country.

> MARCH 21: Contest launches

> MAY 21: Entries due by 6pm EST; Regional panel discussions announced

> JUNE: Selection of 10 winning entries and honorable mentions

> JUNE 24: Winners to be Announced


> JUNE 24 WASHINGTON DC: BETTER TRANSPORTATION BY DESIGN at the National Building Museum, 12:30pm

> JUNE 28 ST LOUIS: LAYING TRACKS FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 7:00pm

> JULY 7 HOUSTON: RED STATE RAIL at the Baker Institute, 6:00pm




(Q) What do you mean by a single image? Can I submit plans, sections and renderings like I've done for other design competitions?

(A) We're encouraging bold ideas and participation from as many people as possible. Image submissions might range from comic strips to poster advertisements, one-page manifestos to full architectural proposals (plans, sections, renderings, etc.). If you're submitting an architectural proposal, just consider that the content will be viewed online and ensure that your submission works on-screen. We recommend using a single large rendering, collage or illustration to convey as much about your proposal as possible. These could certainly include plans, sections and elevations, but we'd suggest limiting small-scale text and vignettes that may be difficult to see in an online format.

(Q) If these will be viewed online, why make 24" x 36" images?

(A) We're encouraging digital formats so we can share the information quickly with online media and get this important discussion moving. However, we hope to include full-scale, printed versions of select entries in future exhibitions.

(Q) What is the Image Library?

(A) The design community can lend an important voice in the debate surrounding current issues. Van Alen Institute's Image Library will serve as a warehouse for speculative visions, making them available to print, online and other media seeking better ways to illustrate and analyze these discussions. A selection of entries from Life at the Speed of Rail will form the foundation for this new archive.

(Q) I already developed a design project about high-speed rail for another competition; can I still submit it to Life at the Speed of Rail?

(A) Yes, so long as the project hasn't won another competition and you adapt it to meet this competition's criteria.

(Q) Is there a specific site or location I'm supposed to respond to?

(A) Yes and no. We appreciate a response to your local context, whether that's a city along an HSR corridor or a rural site hundreds of miles away. Specific sites, an old rail terminal for instance, are okay too. We want to know how people will be affected everywhere, and you're uniquely suited to comment on your particular location. Certainly some ideas will be applicable to a broader context and constituency, and therefore unable to be pinned down to a particular location, whether that's the full extent of the proposed HSR network or an idea about what it might be like to live in a high-speed rail America. We also hope to see submissions looking at HSR from an international and conceptual perspective.

(Q) I'm a writer and desperately want to contribute to this project, but I have no design skills. How can I contribute?

(A) You could submit writing in PDF format, be it fictional, poetry or otherwise. But we want to encourage people to form interdisciplinary teams and produce stunning visuals that have a strong narrative component. Consider lending your talents to a collaborative effort.

(Q) I want to make a 24" x 36" poster, but how will the text on it be legible if the poster is viewed from an online gallery?

(A) Good question! You should try to ensure that the text is legible when viewed on screen. Winning entries will be reformatted by Van Alen Institute for presentation in the online gallery at no more than 1200 pixels wide. Use this as a rule of thumb to ensure that your text will be legible. Also remember to avail yourself of the 250-word space in the submission form to describe the image. That text will accompany the online exhibition of images.

(Q) Do I have to register in advance?

(A) Nope. Registration and submission are the same thing, just provide your info when you submit.

(Q) Can I submit more than one entry?

(A) Yes, and please do. Each team or individual can submit up to 3 entries ($30 entry fee required for each submission).

(Q) I live outside the US, can I participate?

(A) Absolutely! Anyone can participate, so long as an entry text is submitted in English. Also, we want entries that focus on American HSR; entries that have a foreign focus should have a strong connection to the US, perhaps through comparison.

(Q) Can I use the 3 submissions to present a single project?

(A) No. We're asking for multiple entries to proliferate ideas. That doesn't mean the ideas can't be related, but each submission should stand on its own merit and will be judged independently.

(Q) Why do I have to pay $30 to enter?

(A) The entry fee helps to cover the cost of processing your submission.

(Q) When can I submit my entry?

(A) Now! Or at any time before the final deadline, May 21 at 6pm EST.


> E-mail our fellows at: thespeedofrail@vanalen.org