Van Alen Institute Joins Beyond Granite

December 8, 2021

Van Alen Institute Joins Trust for National Mall, National Capital Planning Commission, and National Park Service on Beyond Granite

Two-year project to bring new temporary commemorative works to the National Mall and Washington, DC

Van Alen to design and steward processes for stakeholder engagement and artist/designer selection, with DC-based organization The Urban Studio

National Mall, Washington DC

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(New York City—December 8, 2021)—Van Alen Institute is honored to join Beyond Granite, a program led by the Trust for the National Mall, National Capital Planning Commission, and National Park Service, to create 8-10 new temporary commemorative works on the National Mall and around Washington, DC in 2022 and 2023. Beyond Granite will use in-depth community engagement and dialogue to help inspire this series of installations, with a goal of reflecting the diversity of the American people and elevating underrepresented national and local stories in the commemorative landscape.

“A welcoming public realm is the foundation of democracy. Our interactions in public space exemplify who we are as a society,” said Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute. “Through Beyond Granite, Van Alen Institute is honored to help expand the stories we tell about our people and to illuminate strengths we share.”

Acting as the program designer, Van Alen Institute will work with stakeholders who speak authentically to narratives that have been underrepresented in the American commemorative landscape. Through a series of workshops, these stakeholders will develop themes grounded in their expertise, lived experience, and cultural histories. Selected installations, to be chosen by a jury composed of experts in art, culture, history, and community, will respond to one or more of these themes. 

In close collaboration with The Urban Studio, a DC-based group of interdisciplinary practitioners and educators in art and design, Van Alen will also steward the design solicitation process, conduct public community engagement, and advise on design and installation of selected works.

“For The Urban Studio, this project is a reclamation of the National Mall, our nation’s front yard,” said Maisie Hughes and Kendra Hyson, Co-Founders, The Urban Studio. “We’re excited to work with the Trust for the National Mall, Van Alen Institute, and others to engage our community in a collaboration that will ultimately help artists share untold stories that better reflect all Americans. As native Washingtonians, these new monuments will become part of our community identity and therefore truly extend ‘Beyond Granite.’”

Details on the design solicitation process and selection criteria will be announced in 2022.

Van Alen Institute and the Public Realm

Van Alen’s commitment to the transformative power of temporary commemorative works has been institutionalized as Public Realm R&D, a program that tells new stories by surfacing the work of emerging and BIPOC designers and tests strategies to bring people together in public space. Recent Public Realm R&D installations in New York City include Studio Cooke John’s Point of Action (2020), which encouraged interaction at a safe distance during the height of the pandemic, and Ekene Ijeoma’s Breathing Pavilion (2021), which created an outdoor space for communal meditation and respite. In collaboration with the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, Atelier Cho Thompson’s Interwoven is currently on view at the Flatiron Public Plaza; Interwoven is a series of arches that visitors can activate through light, sound, and an interactive story wall.

Founded in 1894, Van Alen Institute has a long track record of shifting the paradigm of public realm design. With Public Property: An Ideas Competition for Governors Island (1996), Van Alen instigated a citywide discussion about this former military base, a precursor to the vibrant Governors Island of today. TKTS2K: A Competition to Design a New York Icon (1999) challenged designers to reconceive Times Square for pedestrians, resulting in the plaza’s iconic red steps by John Choi and Tai Ropiha. In 2016, Van Alen collaborated with the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission on Memorials for the Future, an initiative to reimagine how we experience memorials. Notably, among the key findings from Memorials for the Future is that ephemeral monuments can be a powerful tool for surfacing a multitude of narratives.

Van Alen’s Executive Director Deborah Marton also serves on New York City’s Public Design Commission. Along with fellow Commissioners, Marton reviews proposals for public art and permanent structures on city properties and advocates for the equitable design of public spaces.

About Beyond Granite 

Beyond Granite is organized by the Trust for the National Mall in partnership with the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service. Contributing organizations include the District of Columbia, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Smithsonian Institution. The project is made possible by a multimillion dollar grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Trust for the National Mall, as part of the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project.

Read the Trust for the National Mall’s announcement of Beyond Granite.

About Van Alen Institute

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 interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in architecture, arts and culture, civic advocacy, community engagement, preservation, and public policy.

See our work at

About The Urban Studio

The Urban Studio is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization composed of an interdisciplinary group of practitioners that works to create more inclusive cities. The Urban Studio currently has projects in Baltimore, DC, and Los Angeles. 

See their work at