Surfacing the work of emerging designers and tests new strategies to bring people together in public space.


Drive-Thru by Soft-Firm. Photo: Cameron Blaylock for DBP

Who we are as a society is defined by how we interact in our public spaces. We must reinvigorate our public spaces in ways that bring people together and strengthen the bonds and networks that help our communities heal and thrive.

61% of Americans — approximately 200 million people — report that they are lonely. Social disconnection and isolation are linked to a host of health ailments, ranging from high blood pressure and heart disease to increased anxiety and depression. As isolation grows, social cohesion declines, causing levels of trust to fall and public life to erode. Americans who are more trusting and civically-engaged are more likely to help improve their neighborhood and offer assistance to neighbors in need. Restoring social cohesion is essential to unite, mobilize and rebuild communities in times of crisis.

Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R+D initiatives transform public spaces into social infrastructure. From community parks to public plazas, social infrastructure refers to the places and spaces that foster trust and social cohesion in communities. Working with the communities we serve, and some of the most innovative practitioners in design, we create spaces that unite neighborhoods by bringing joy to those who live and work there, and give people hope for the future. These spaces may provide new places to play, give support to local businesses, encourage the use of sustainable transportation, provide space for meaningful public discourse, or inspire a shared sense of civic purpose. While the possibilities are vast for each place we work, the desired outcome is the same.

With Your Voice

Coming soon! Created by Juanli Carrión and Rodolfo Kusulas, With Your Voice will envision the major changes coming to Gowanus, Brooklyn.


An interactive public pavilion by artist Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong, with lighting design by Arup.


A reconfigurable outdoor theater, Drive-Thru by Soft-Firm features videos and performances by Brooklyn artists, filmmakers, and cultural organizations.

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Competition 2021

Inspired by New York’s tapestry of cultures and people, Interwoven by Atelier Cho Thompson celebrates the joys of reconnecting in public space.

Breathing Pavilion

Breathing Pavilion by Ekene Ijeoma created a public space of reprieve during this time of intense hardship and loss.

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2020

Point of Action by Studio Cooke John considers how public space can develop bonds and networks that help our city heal and thrive.

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2019

Ziggy is a kaleidoscopic beacon for the people of New York. On view November 18, 2019–January 1, 2020, Ziggy celebrated the holiday season…

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2018

Happy is both a figure and a place. A series of softly shaped and richly colored screens drape down from an open frame…

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2017

Flatiron Reflection, by architecture and design firm Future Expansion, opened to the public on Monday, November 20, on the North Flatiron Public Plaza…

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2016

For the third year, Van Alen Institute and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership called for proposals for the annual Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design…

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2015

SOFTlab’s winning proposal, Nova, was unveiled on November 18th, 2015 as the centerpiece of the Partnership’s annual holiday programming and a highly visible landmark…

Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2014

Van Alen Institute and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership called for proposals for a temporary installation at the Flatiron Public Plaza that was installed…

2014 Times Square Valentine Heart Design Competition

A collaboration with the Times Square Alliance, the 2014 Times Square Valentine Heart Design Competition brought a singular design experience to one of New…