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17 October 2013

Van Alen Institute Launches Elsewhere: Escape and The Urban Landscape

Multi-year initiative featuring competitions, public programs, and research to kick off with fall 2013 event series

NEW YORK, NY, October 17, 2013 – Van Alen Institute, an organization dedicated to advancing innovation in architecture and urban design, today announced the launch of Elsewhere: Escape and the Urban Landscape, a multi-year inquiry that will explore the experience of escape in the urban environment. The new initiative will kick off on Tuesday, November 12, with a festival-style week of public programs throughout New York City.

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? The Institute will use this process to expand its focus to the patchwork of suburban, semi-urban, and rural landscapes around cities to better understand the complexities of the extended urban environment, acting beyond the confines of the city and across regions.

Elsewhere will explore a diverse range of issues through the lens of both physical and mental escape,” said Van Alen Institute Executive Director David van der Leer. “Maintaining a highly interdisciplinary spirit, we will touch on topics from vacancy and population loss to recreation in the city, access to green space, the psychological and sensory effects of urbanization, and more.”

Elsewhere will examine how both the form and organization of the built environment influence our need for escape. As part of this initiative, the Institute’s design competitions, research investigations, and public events will leverage partnerships to connect key issues in architecture, design, and planning with insights from fields including public health, technology, economics, and sociology. These collaborations will seek to spark innovations in design, planning, and policy to enhance well-being; ensure balanced and equitable urban transition and growth; and increase urban mobility and access.

Van Alen Institute will kick off Elsewhere with four days of festival-style programs, running from November 12–17, 2013, at the Institute and select venues throughout New York City. Program collaborators include Performa, ISSUE Project Room, Cohabitation Strategies, Columbia University Astronomy Outreach, and Columbia University School of the Arts. With offerings including performances, conversations, tours, installations, and workshops, the fall lineup will engage a diverse range of topics to provoke, enlighten, question, and critically examine the ideas of Elsewhere.

The new initiative builds on the Institute’s nearly 120-year history of investigating the complex challenges facing cities and regions in the United States and abroad. Over the last two decades, competitions such as Urban Voids (2006) showed how cities could productively address abandonment amid rapidly shifting social and economic conditions. The Good Life (2006) explored how urban spaces could be activated for recreation and an expanded public realm. More recently, Life at the Speed of Rail (2011) highlighted the cultural, environmental, and economic impacts of a new high-speed rail network in America, and Parks for the People (2011) reimagined the national park of the twenty-first century—all part of the Institute’s longstanding search for opportunities to transform both the life and form of urban spaces through innovation.

VAI Fall 2013 Public Programs          : November 12–17, 2013

Elsewhere: An Evening of Escape

Tuesday, November 12, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

ISSUE Project Room, 22 Boerum Place Ticket price: $7

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 Richard Sennett, the Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University; Keller Easterling, Professor of Architecture at Yale University and author of forthcoming Extrastatecraft; singer, musician, and artist Joseph Keckler; Ron Shiffman, Professor at Pratt’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, former director and co-founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development; Maria Chavez, curator and sound artist; designer and writer Benedict Singleton; performers Niegel Smith and Jax Jackson; Vyjayanthi Rao, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research; writer, theorist, and artist Evan Calder Williams; Henk Ovink, Senior Advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force; and more, to explore how and why we escape the city, pushing the concept to its edges to see where Elsewhere may take us. The celebration will continue with drinks following the program.

We Live with Animals Friday, November 15, 7:00 – 10:00 p.m.

Van Alen Institute, 30 West 22nd Street

Tours on Saturday and Sunday

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, and Animal Care & Control of NYC Executive Director Risa Weinstock, to explore the relationship between animals and humans in the urban realm—exotic and domestic, hidden and in plain sight. From a tiger found living in a Harlem apartment to a feral rooster in the Bronx, each story transforms our understanding of nature, provoking new relationships with the animal kingdom and offering access to another world in the midst of the metropolis. Plaques detailing these encounters will be on view at Van Alen Institute’s gallery before being placed on buildings across NYC’s boroughs through a series of tours. This event is presented as part of Performa 13, a biennial festival dedicated to commissioning, presenting, and exploring new visual art performance across disciplines. We Live with Animals is generously supported by the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Debt, Design, and Displacement in the City Saturday, November 16, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Van Alen Institute, 30 West 22nd Street

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 Robles-Duran and Gabriela Rendón, founders of Cohabitation Strategies and professors at the School of Design Strategies at Parsons The New School for Design, will host a workshop to bring together researchers, designers, and activists on the forefront of strategizing ways to reverse these cycles of debt and displacement. Through games, short presentations, and discussions, we will build an understanding of the processes at work, in order to analyze the role that government, nonprofit organizations, designers, and cultural organizations can play in addressing this crisis of affordability.

Let There Be Night Saturday, November 16, 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. Columbia University Northwest Corner Building + Pupin Hall, Broadway and 120th Street

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 perception of place. Join us for a conversation with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, along with Margaret Newman, Chief of Staff of the NYC Department of Transportation; Susan Harder, International Dark-Sky Association Representative; Linnaea Tillett of Tillett Lighting Design; and cancer epidemiologist Richard Stevens, followed by a night of stargazing and reflections on the night sky by artists and writers at Columbia University’s Rutherford Observatory. This event is presented in partnership with Columbia University’s Astronomy Outreach and the Columbia School of the Arts.

The Footprint of Escape Sunday, November 17, 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Van Alen Institute, 30 West 22nd Street

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 at Yale University, and more, will examine the fluctuating perceptions of the city’s relationship to escape—tracking its evolution from 19th-century land of opportunity, to 20th-century land of urban flight, and on to today’s megalopolis as a place that people escape to, from, and within.

Cities, Not Nations?

Sunday, November 17, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Van Alen Institute, 30 West 22nd Street

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 If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities; Vishaan Chakrabarti, architect, planner, developer, and author of A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America; and Alexandros Washburn, Urban Design Chief of New York City and author of The Nature of Urban Design: A New York Perspective of Resilience in a conversation exploring the political, economic, and cultural potential of cities as sites of problem-solving and innovation. The discussion will be moderated by Saskia Sassen, the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and author of books including Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages.

All events are open to the public and, with the exception of the launch event on November 12, are free of charge. Registration is required for all events, as space will be limited. Learn more and sign up for the series online at www.vanalen.org/elsewhere.

About Van Alen Institute

Since its founding in 1894, Van Alen Institute has promoted innovative thinking about the role of architecture and design in civic life. Today the Institute’s competitions, research, and public programs shape the public conversation and bring design excellence to the built environment of cities and sites around the world. Van Alen’s widely influential legacy of competitions includes Public Property: An Ideas Competition for Governors Island (1996), which kicked off an international conversation about Governors Island and its redevelopment as a public resource, andTKTS2K: A Competition to Design a New York Icon (1999), which led to the TKTS booth in Times Square and reactivated the public space at the busiest pedestrian intersection in New York City.

The Institute’s current projects include Rebuild by Design, a multi-stage, regional design initiative to promote resilience, public health, and prosperity in the Sandy-affected region through innovative planning and design, a project of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with the collaboration of Van Alen Institute, New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge, the Municipal Art Society, and the Regional Plan Association. In the coming year, Van Alen will relocate its operations to a newly designed, street-level venue that will be more visible, accessible, and participatory in public life, and in 2014, the Institute will celebrate its 120th anniversary as a catalyst for design innovation by conducting a series of events and projects to explore the organization’s more than century-long legacy.

Learn more about Van Alen Institute at www.vanalen.org.