Helping create equitable cities through inclusive design.
Van Alen Institute helps create equitable cities through inclusive design. In an equitable city, communities are engaged in the conception and creation of their built environment, regardless of income or personal circumstances. Community-driven decision-making builds resilience, social infrastructure, and ultimately, more just cities.
For 127 years, our purposeful community engagement, convening capacity, and global network have produced profound transformations in the public realm of New York City and beyond. With an an interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in architecture, arts and culture, civic advocacy, community engagement, preservation, and public policy.
Our environments shape every aspect of our lives, though we do not yet fully understand how. We must develop a better understanding of how we are affected by them, and work hard to improve those environments for people everywhere.
Design is a crucial tool for tackling complex social, ecological, and cultural challenges. It is a tool for analysis, breaking down seemingly intractable problems into their constituent parts. Design can identify and define problems, and propose new solutions. It can communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively, allowing people to visualize a different future and the steps it will take to enable that change.
We believe that solving persistent and tough problems requires many skills, and that the best solutions come from a collaborative process among different fields. We work hard to connect these disparate groups, translate among communities and disciplines, and catalyze fresh thinking.
And just as we need the skills of many fields, we need a range of tools to address different kinds of problems. For us, these tools are competitions, research projects, and public programs. We believe that they have a symbiotic relationship, and that used together, these three tools will allow us to better understand the ways our environments affect us, and help us to develop projects that impact those environments for the better, both locally and globally.
This interdisciplinary approach must take hold in communities, in schools, among policymakers, and in professional practice. We believe that design professionals must reexamine their collective role in shaping the world we live in, and in how we can improve people’s everyday lives.
Ideas can change the world: We believe that individual projects can be catalytic, and though the processes and thinking they set in motion may take years or even decades to fully mature, these projects are an important part of our work.
Who we are
1894 – 1955
Society for Beaux-Arts Architecture
We started with a commitment to accessible design education, founded in the aesthetics of the Beaux-Arts era.
1956 – 1995
National Institute for Architectural Education
Over time, we expanded beyond a particular style, and came to understand the power of design professionals to do good in the world.
1996 – 2019
Van Alen Institute: Projects in Public Places
With a belief that design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives, we developed research, public programs, and design competitions.
2020 – present
Van Alen Institute, today
We help create equitable cities through inclusive design. Community-driven decision-making builds resilience, social infrastructure, and more just cities.