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29 October 2018

Van Alen Institute Announces Leadership Transition

Board to Launch Global Executive Search

NEW YORK CITY — October 29, 2018 — Van Alen Institute, one of the nation’s oldest not-for-profit organizations dedicated to design and architecture, today announced that David van der Leer has decided to transition from his current role as the executive director to pursue new opportunities in his consultancy business. He remains with the Institute through November 21st and will counsel on specific initiatives into the new year in an advisory capacity. Elissa Black, the current managing director whose career spans over a decade of working with leading non-profit arts and cultural organizations, will continue in a senior leadership role at Van Alen as interim executive director. Van Alen will begin a global search for the new executive director next month.

“David has brought effective change to the organization while challenging us and our partners to find new ways to use design as a positive force for change in cities,” said Jared Della Valle, Chair of Van Alen’s Board of Trustees. “We thank him for his dedication and look forward to Elissa’s continuing leadership.”

“If Van Alen and New York have walked hand-in-hand for decades, David van der Leer has opened up the doors (and the minds) of the Institute to the wider world,” said Paola Antonelli, Museum of Modern Art’s Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design. “He has initiated partnerships that have positioned Van Alen as an important node in the international network of research and debate on the future of cities.”

During Van der Leer’s nearly six years leading Van Alen Institute, the organization has successfully initiated a series of significant interdisciplinary projects that reinforce the importance of design and its positive impact on today’s society. In these years, Van Alen ran more than 25 innovative competitions, dozens of public programs and revitalized its research program.

“It has been a privilege to serve Van Alen,” David van der Leer said. “Together with the staff, board and many collaborators, we have done influential work to improve cities of today and tomorrow. Deciding to leave was difficult, but I am excited to launch my own consultancy and I look forward to observing Van Alen’s next steps.”

In collaboration with its staff and board, Van der Leer expanded Van Alen’s network of advisers and funders worldwide, as well as strengthened the Institute’s extensive domestic and international partnerships. Other notable and ongoing work of Van Alen Institute includes:

  • Developing Keeping Current: a series of open competitions inviting interdisciplinary teams to create solutions and ideas for sea level rise challenges in Greater Miami as the latest iteration in a series of design competitions around climate change issues
  • Establishing partnerships with leading media organizations including The Atlantic and The New Yorker on the Van Alen Sessions short documentary video series
  • Reviving the Van Alen Report with leading journalists and editors and on pressing topics such as the future of America’s infrastructure and the effects of the built environment on brain health and well-being
  • Establishing three interdisciplinary Van Alen leadership councils to develop content, expand networks, and provide inspiration and funds for its projects: the International Council, Climate Council, and Program Leadership Council

“Through innovation and inclusivity, David inspired the vision for the important work of the organization,” said Elissa Black, interim executive director of Van Alen Institute. “I and the entire staff are wholly committed to carrying our mission forward and building on the Institute’s legacy of forward-thinking programs.”

Van Alen Institute is a not-for-profit organization that uses design to tackle complex social, ecological, and cultural challenges. Named for the architect of the Chrysler Building, Van Alen has played a defining role in American society and the architectural community for nearly 125 years. From the redevelopment of Governor’s Island into a contemporary public space to the creation of the famous Red Steps in Times Square, and proposals to protect coastal communities in the Northeast from future superstorms after Sandy, many iconic design innovations have been inspired or directly shaped by Van Alen Institute’s numerous programs, competitions, research, and fellowships.


About Van Alen Institute At Van Alen Institute, we believe design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. We collaborate with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on local and global initiatives that rigorously investigate the most pressing social, cultural, and ecological challenges of tomorrow. Building on more than a century of experience and with the support of a strong Board of Trustees led by Chair Jared Della Valle, Co-Founder and President of Alloy Development LLC, we develop cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions.  For more information, visit

Media contacts:

Sarah Haun, Director of Communications, Van Alen Institute, (212) 924 7000 x12

Matthew Gorton, Hiltzik Strategies, (212) 776-1161