1. Ugly Beauties

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    About Ugly Beauties

    March 8–May 2, 2024

    The Plaza at 300 Ashland, Brooklyn

    Curry J. Hackett’s Ugly Beauties champions Black resilience, celebrating the belonging of both Black people and spontaneous plant growth in urban environments. Made of construction netting and steel scaffolding, Ugly Beauties features images of Black people juxtaposed with native and invasive plant species — so-called “weeds” — that flourish in New York City, prompting viewers to consider society’s perception of beauty and belonging. Dandelion, yarrow, burdock, and other wild plants all bear ecological and cultural value, yet are commonly dismissed as weeds. In Ugly Beauties, however, their beauty is championed in a lush collage of imaginary weedy worlds, celebrated in parades, dinner parties, costume designs, and churches.

    Ugly Beauties borrows its name from Thelonious Monk’s haunting ballad: a subtle invitation for views to explore the harmonies between the “uglies” and beauties in their streets and backyards. The tapestry is one of visual jazz — a rich composite made with artificial intelligence using Midjourney’s text-to-image generator.

    Ugly Beauties is part of Van Alen Institute’s Common Build program, intended to surface the work of emerging designers and test new strategies to bring people together in public space. The installation is co-produced by Van Alen Institute and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Presented with support from Two Trees Management Co.

    Lighting design by Jelisa Blumberg. Lighting by Jamaul Douglas, scaffolding by Steel Construction LLC, and mesh by Britten Inc.

    About Curry J. Hackett

    Curry J. Hackett is a transdisciplinary designer, public artist, and educator. His practice, Wayside, looks to undertold histories to inspire meaningful art and critical research. Recently, Curry has been experimenting with artificial intelligence tools, with which he braids Black aesthetics, kinships with nature, and pop culture to imagine surreal scenes of Black joy. This work has been featured widely, most notably in Bloomberg and Architect Magazine. His ongoing research project, titled Drylongso, explores relationships between Blackness, geography, and land. This project has received funding the Graham Foundation, Journal of Architectural Education, and Washington Project for the Arts. Curry earned his Bachelor of Architecture from Howard University, and is currently completing his Master of Architecture in Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

    Curry J. Hackett

    Designer, Artist, and Educator

    Visitor Info

    The Plaza at 300 Ashland is conveniently situated in the heart of the Brooklyn Cultural District, at the intersection of Lafayette Ave and Flatbush Ave. The plaza is easily accessible – located only a short walk from the B, Q, 2/3 and 4/5 subway lines at Atlantic Barclays, the G train at Fulton St, and the C train at Lafayette Ave, as well as a number of bus stops. There is also paid parking along the surrounding streets.

    Tag us in your photos! @curryhackett | @van_alen | @downtownbrooklyn


    Time Out New York

    ‘Ugly Beauties’ by Curry J. Hackett

    Time Out New York

    The best outdoor art in NYC this spring

    Brooklyn Magazine


    Brooklyn Eagle

    AI-Generated ‘Ugly Beauties’ on Display in D’town Brooklyn


    Finalist submissions for the 2024 iteration of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Design Installation.


    Outersides is a stark interactive public sculpture made from aluminum tubes, metal, dye, LEDs, concrete, and wood. The sculpture weaves together historical architectural motifs and cultural migration to reframe our perspective and invite us to reach for future dreams. The form is inspired by the pointed arches that are found in historical temples throughout Asia, religious architecture in Europe, and also the façade of the 1927 Williamsburg Savings Bank that was located in what is now downtown Brooklyn. Outersides transforms the pointed arch, once a symbol of dominance, into an intricate convergence of lines and angles. Outersides’ verticality hints at aspirations beyond reach, slightly tilted to evoke a sense of transition and slippage through dimensions. This permeable installation fosters connection and inclusivity. Outersides radiates joy, togetherness, and community. As we stand within the boundaries of our present circumstances, Outersides urges us to fix our gaze upon the horizon.

    White Space | White Noise

    White Space | White Noise is an multi-sensory installation that encourages visitors to the plaza at 300 Ashland to selectively filter the rich cacophony of city life, providing moments of contemplation and connection through visual framing and aural isolation. It is designed to offer both meditative/individual, and shared/collective experiences. The installation comprises three reflective pavilions with corrugated mirrored exteriors and mirrored seating within, designed to frame and isolate specific urban vistas. The
    interior of the pavilions consists entirely of integrated uniform “whitespace” lighting and is accompanied by isolated and amplified sound elements that correspond to each carefully framed subject. The installation aims to celebrate the sights and sounds of individual elements of the city. It is about observing the things we see and listening to the things we hear.


  2. GLOwanus

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    GLOwanus light installation, 2023. Photo: Cameron Blaylock


    GLOwanus is a public art project designed to inform Gowanus residents about water quality in the Gowanus Canal. When GLOwanus flashes, it’s signaling that untreated wastewater is polluting or has recently polluted the Canal. 

    The recent rezoning of Gowanus will bring approximately 20,000 new residents to the neighborhood, yet the local water management system is already past its capacity. The Gowanus Canal is a site for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) which requires new sewage containment plants to be built around the canal. But in the years before these are completed, a shift needs to occur in public education, awareness, and participation around water quality issues.

    Designed by Brooklyn-based artists Manav Singla and Ridima Jain, GLOwanus is a small lantern that cycles through different colors when the Gowanus Canal is under a City-issued waterbody advisory — meaning there’s a good chance CSO has recently spilled or may soon spill into the Canal. Placed in homes and businesses near the Canal, GLOwanus alerts people to this serious environmental issue. Using less water in your home or business, especially immediately before and during rainstorms, is one way to help reduce the level of CSO.

    The GLOwanus team is led by Gowanus residents Francesca Bastianini and Steven Koller, two fellows from Van Alen Institute’s Neighborhood Design Fellowship program with continued support from Van Alen. They’ve built on their experience in the fellowship to develop the GLOwanus light installation, paired with an information campaign with tips on how to help prevent CSO and hold authorities accountable for the Canal’s cleanup.

    Currently, our storefront windows are displaying information about CSO with illustrations by Martha Hall— stop by to learn more about this issue.

    To request a GLOwanus light installation for your home or business, fill out this form.

    GLOwanus lamps are programmed by an open source code developed by Stuart Lynn.


    For questions about GLOwanus, contact:

    Andrew Brown

    Director of Programs

    What is CSO?

    CSO, or Combined Sewer Overflow, occurs when New York City’s water management system is overwhelmed by rainwater. To learn more about CSO and how this project hopes to raise awareness within the Gowanus community, we spoke with Steven Koller, a Neighborhood Design Fellow and an Environmental Science and Policy PhD student at The University of Miami. He explained:

    “New York City has a combined water management system, partially due to the fact that it’s quite an old system. 60% of the city’s water management is combined, meaning that when you flush the toilet, take a shower, or wash your dishes, all of that water gets combined into the same pipe as the water that’s flowing off the street via grates. Most of the time, that’s not an issue. But when you have a rain event — and it doesn’t need to be a big one — the system gets overloaded.

    “And this water is normally tied to a wastewater treatment plant, of which there are quite a few around the city. But during these rain events, the system can’t pump it all to the wastewater treatment plant. And so it’s released to roughly 700 outfall points around the city in all five boroughs, including at the head of the Gowanus Canal at Butler Street. On average, the canal receives roughly 270 million gallons of CSO annually.”


    Apr – May 2022

    Community Workshops

    Residents and students from Gowanus will learn about how water works through natural systems and city infrastructure to impact our daily lives, and how they might impact our lives in the future. Participants learn how to advocate for change through a better understanding of the problem, knowledge of where they can have an individual impact and where they have an impact at the community level.

    Oct – Dec 2022

    Installation Prototype

    Van Alen Institute will exhibit a prototype of the light installation in our storefront windows at 303 Bond Street.

    Jan – Dec 2023

    Community-Wide Installation

    The light installations will be distributed to residents and businesses in the Gowanus community, raising awareness of water quality throughout the neighborhood.

    Who We’re Working With

    Steven Koller

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies


    Open Sewer Atlas: Independently-run map that uses data from New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) to show where and how much CSO occurs at various outfalls around the city

    Combined Sewer Overflows: NYC DEP’s primer on CSOs, including individual actions that can be taken to reduce CSO

    Waterbody Advisories: NYC DEP’s real-time, site-specific info about water quality, largely driven by CSO events

    Gowanus Rezoning Environment Impact Statement, Water and Sewer chapter: Detailed information on how the rezoning and Superfund cleanup actions will impact future CSO

    Neighborhood Design Fellowship: Gowanus

    Gowanus residents work toward the future they imagine for their community.


  3. Neighborhoods Now

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    April 2020—December 2022

    As the COVID-19 pandemic took root, its uneven impact on the lives of New Yorkers became painfully clear. While our city’s well-resourced communities quickly purchased expertise necessary to navigate a changed world, neighborhoods where many of our essential workers live did not have the same access and resources.

    In response, in Spring 2020 the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute tapped into our collective network of architects, designers and engineers. By building interdisciplinary partnerships, Neighborhoods Now has supported local organizations leading their communities’ recovery. Over three years, the initiative evolved from rapid, tactical responses to long-term recovery strategies on a wider scale. Led by community organizations, seven interdisciplinary teams have enlivened and programmed public space, provided technical support to small businesses, and strengthened cultural activities.

    What began as a responsive six-week sprint developed into a platform for enduring partnerships and collective activism. Scroll down to learn more about each team.

    Neighborhoods Now was made possible through a grant from Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund.

    Who We Worked With

    Community Partners

    Funding provided by


    Additional Expertise

    Wraparound Experts

    2020–21 Report

    The results of our work in 2020-21 were a set of design recommendations and prototypes addressing immediate needs for COVID-19 awareness campaigns, open air dining, and outdoor education and cultural programming. Several prototypes have now been implemented, and Van Alen Institute and the Urban Design Forum are supporting additional implementation through 2022. Neighborhoods’ needs also went beyond design and physical interventions. Working groups organized financial workshops for small businesses, drafted legal templates, and collaborated with senior staff at City agencies to help neighborhoods navigate programs like Open Streets and Open Restaurants.


    Next City

    A Night Market Has Popped Up in NYC’s Chinatown

    Fast Company

    COVID-19 decimated NYC businesses. This free program is helping them recover

    Bedford + Bowery

    The Matchmaking Service That Pairs Visionary Designers With Covid Conundrums


    The Secret to Year-Round Streeteries? What Greenhouses Can Teach Us

    Architect’s Newspaper

    Van Alen Institute and Urban Design Forum launch online design toolkit for COVID-19 recovery efforts

    Public Programs

    Neighborhoods Now Summer Summit

    July 22, 2021

    In our 2021 update, presenters from the Chinatown, South Bronx, and Lower East Side working groups shared their achievements, reflections on interdisciplinary practice, and plans to carry their work forward.

    Sreoshy Banerjea (EDC NYC), Fauzia Khanani (Studio Fōr), Yin Kong (Think!Chinatown), Carlos Naudon (Ponce Bank), and Carol Rosenthal (Fried Frank) then joined to discuss how community organizations, city agencies, funders, and design professionals can best collaborate to help communities recover from the pandemic and thrive going forward.

    Presenting Working Groups:
    Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association; FABnyc; and Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) and Think!Chinatown

    Neighborhoods Now Summit: Strategies for Reopening and Recovery, Day 1

    October 6, 2020

    In this two-part public forum, our participating designers and our community partners reflected on how collaborative design can inform neighborhood recovery strategies.

    Presenting Working Groups:
    82nd Street Partnership, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), and FABnyc

    Neighborhoods Now Summit: Strategies for Reopening and Recovery, Day 2

    October 7, 2020

    In this two-part public forum, our participating designers and our community partners reflected on how collaborative design can inform neighborhood recovery strategies.

    Presenting Working Groups:
    Bed-Stuy Restoration, Bed-Stuy Gateway BID, Community League of the Heights (CLOTH), University Neighborhood Housing Program, and Cooper Square Committee

    Neighborhoods Now Kickoff

    June 26, 2020

    This roundtable session brought together the Neighborhoods Now community partners with diverse panelists to build a foundational knowledge for the working groups’ process and to help inform the public about the issues at hand.

    Community Partners:
    Leslie Ramos, 82nd Street Partnership; Rachel Joseph, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation; Medina Sadiq, J.D., Bed-Stuy Gateway BID; Leah James, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition; Jackie Tesman, Community League of the Heights; Yvonne Stennett, Community League of the Heights

    Luisa Borrell, CUNY; Melissa Fleischut, New York State Restaurant Association; Alison Mears, Parsons Healthy Materials Lab; Andrea Batista Schlesinger, HR&A Advisors; Barika Williams, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development



    Information about sponsorship opportunities can be found here.

    To learn more about how to support Neighborhoods Now, including helping our community partners realize their recovery strategies, please contact:

    Kate Overbeck

    Director of Strategic Partnerships


    This project is made possible with support from






  4. Gowanus Action

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    To do community-centered work, we need to be an active member of our own community. 

    Since moving to Gowanus in 2020, we’ve collaborated closely with our neighbors to support local, resident-led design projects. In order to understand how we could best support our new neighbors, we launched the Neighborhood Design Fellowship, a paid design-training program where residents learn about design justice and work together on Gowanus-based projects that promote equity, inclusivity, and community-driven change. The Fellows identified the Points of Agreements — a comprehensive though non-binding rezoning plan between the city, developers, and the Gowanus community — as the focus of their ongoing work. With our support, they’ve launched two projects that address the Points of Agreement, including the historic and continued Gowanus Canal pollution and the Gowanus Houses Community Center renovation and reopening.

    We also host the monthly Community Board 6 meetings, throw an annual block party celebrating the creativity and culture of Gowanus, and partner with neighboring organizations to address issues identified by the community.


    In the News

    City Limits

    As Gowanus Rezoning Moves Ahead, Are the Sewers Ready?

    Architect Magazine

    Building Relationships to Design Spatial Justice

    Hear from Locals

    Gowanus Houses Community Photo Album

    Help us create a Community Photo Album that celebrates the Gowanus Houses community!

    “This community was always a family”: Voices from NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses

    In Summer 2022, past and present residents of NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses gathered for the annual Old Timers Day. As part of an ongoing storytelling project, we spoke to event attendees about memories from the Houses and what community means to them.

    Q&A with Steven Koller, Neighborhood Design Fellow

    One of our Gowanus fellows tells us about a new project to increase water quality awareness in the neighborhood.

    Annual Block Party

    Photos + Video: Van Alen Block Party 2023

    The Block Party was all about our community of Gowanus — a community deeply and actively committed to ensuring that the needs of every single resident are met. Gowanus is experiencing huge changes right now, so it’s more important than ever to connect with neighbors and get to know the folks who make up this neighborhood right here, right now.

    Van Alen Block Party 2022

    Thank you to everyone who came out for our second annual Van Alen Block Party on October 22, 2022! This spectacular day was made possible by the help of our Gowanus Fellows, along with our generous supporters and the countless performers, vendors, and volunteers who transformed a Brooklyn block into an epic celebration of community and public space.

    Van Alen Block Party 2021

    Thank you to everyone who came out and made Van Alen Institute’s inaugural Block Party in Gowanus an incredible success.


  5. Placemaking Evaluation Fellowship

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    Van Alen Block Party, October 22, 2022. Photo: Argenis Apolinario


    The Van Alen Placemaking Evaluation Fellowship provides hands-on experience evaluating the power of design to bring life to public spaces. Seven undergraduate and graduate students evaluate the quality of public life at 2-3 sites in New York City using the tools and methods of Gehl, a pioneer in understanding how design of public spaces can improve civic life.

    Participants gain the opportunity to learn valuable skills in evaluating public spaces, while exploring the city through Van Alen’s co-produced installations and programs, and sharing their insights and skills with Van Alen’s community organization partners.

    With the support of the Senior Fellow the cohort take its collected data and observations, and produce a variety of creative, impactful images that express the insights they have gained into how public spaces serve communities, and how those spaces might be made more inclusive.

    Core Components

    • In-person training on using Gehl’s Public Life Tools
    • Collecting data on-site at the Van Alen Block Party in Gowanus
    • Collecting data on-site at 2-3 installations co-produced by Van Alen Institute in NYC
    • Educational workshop on methodologies for observing and analyzing public life in public spaces
    • Learning how insights are applied in Van Alen’s partner organizations
    • Optional field trip to share fellows’ observations and skills with Van Alen’s community partners in Albany, NY

    Meet the Fellows

    Who They’re Working With

    What They’re Working On

    Neighborhoods Now: Bed-Stuy Gateway BID

    Building on Winter Wonderland, an open-air holiday market supporting local small businesses.

    Common Build

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

    Van Alen Block Party 2022

    Thank you to everyone who came out for our second annual Van Alen Block Party on October 22, 2022! This spectacular day was made possible by the help of our Gowanus Fellows, along with our generous supporters and the countless performers, vendors, and volunteers who transformed a Brooklyn block into an epic celebration of community and public space.


    Andrew Brown

    Director of Programs


    Comments Off on COMMON GROUND


    March 1–May 1, 2023

    The Plaza at 300 Ashland, Brooklyn

    Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s COMMON GROUND is a site-specific, interactive public artwork comprised of a colorful seating landscape and floor motifs that dance across the plaza. Drawing inspiration from the geometry of shrines and sacred spaces and referencing the terraces of the site, this architectural intervention transforms the plaza into an oasis for sitting, socializing, and gathering by day and by night. COMMON GROUND creates a bold, joyous space, and offers a playable topography to embrace the here and now. As a community hub, COMMON GROUND aspires to cultivate togetherness and resilience, while encouraging moments of pause, reflection and play.

    During the evening, COMMON GROUND creates a shared synesthetic experience. The pavilion is illuminated with color-changing lighting and sensors that register environmental audio. Light animations shimmer across the sculpture in response to nearby sounds — the movements of passersby, footsteps climbing on the structure, voices, the hum of traffic. These dynamic colored lights blend with the vibrant hues of the topography, playing with our perception of color. Here, COMMON GROUND is a place of joy and light, celebrating inclusion, diversity and togetherness.

    Lighting design and programming by Xena Petkanas and Christoph Gisel of Arup. Lighting and controls provided by Nanometer and Electric Lighting Agencies.

    COMMON GROUND is part of Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R+D program, intended to surface the work of emerging designers and test new strategies to bring people together in public space. The installation is co-produced by Van Alen Institute and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Presented with support from Two Trees Management Co.

    Video edited by: Eloise Sherrid
    Footage by: Eloise Sherrid, with selected footage by Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong and drone footage by Selvon Ramsawak


    Ongoing at Van Alen Institute

    COMMON GROUND: FORUM is composed of wooden modules from the temporary installation COMMON GROUND (2023) by Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong and Arup. Post-exhibition, the artists separated COMMON GROUND’s modules from each other and reassembled them at Van Alen so that the original piece can make a longer-lasting contribution to public space.

    About Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong

    Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong is a New York-based artist and trained architect working at the intersection of art, architecture and the public realm. Wong’s work investigates the transformation of space over time and seeks to challenge social and political boundaries through sculpture, installation, performance and site-specific architectural interventions. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Cheryl received her B.A. in Art and Italian at the University of California at Berkeley, studied sculpture at Brera Academy in Milan, Italy and earned her Master of Architecture from Columbia University GSAPP. She has completed public art commissions with various institutions to activate underused public spaces, including: New York State Thruway Authority, New York City Parks, Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, City of Calgary, City of Inglewood and Washington DC Public Schools.

    Visitor Info

    The Plaza at 300 Ashland is conveniently situated in the heart of the Brooklyn Cultural District, at the intersection of Lafayette Ave and Flatbush Ave. The plaza is easily accessible – located only a short walk from the B, Q, 2/3 and 4/5 subway lines at Atlantic Barclays, the G train at Fulton St, and the C train at Lafayette Ave, as well as a number of bus stops. There is also paid parking along the surrounding streets.

    Tag us online using the hashtag #CommonGroundDTBK:

    @cherylwzw | @van_alen | @downtownbrooklyn


    NuTribe Dance Company + Mark Morris Dance Group

    Wednesday, March 1
    6–6:30 pm

    We celebrated the launch of COMMON GROUND with an improvisational performance in the art of Waacking and Krumping by NuTribe Dance Company and Mark Morris Dance Group teaching artists CocoMotion and Luffy.

    Peniel Guerrier and Kriye Bode

    Thursday, April 6
    7–8 pm

    Peniel Guerrier and Kriye Bode brought Haitian Rara to the plaza with an enchanting performance that called all to rejoice in the energy of life as a community.

    Kendra J. Ross

    Thursday, April 13
    7–8 pm

    Kendra J. Ross, dancer, choreographer, and teaching artist, gave us a glimpse of her latest work in progress.

    Soles of Duende

    Thursday, April 20
    7:30–8:15 pm

    Soles of Duende, the all-female multicultural trio, presented a spirited collaboration across disciplines in celebration of Tap, Flamenco, and Kathak dance.


    Saturday, April 22

    Pratt Institute’s fashion department closed out their academic year with JUNIOR THESIS, a fashion performance featuring selected works from year-end collections.


    Brooklyn Magazine

    Colorful new public art in downtown encourages ‘reflection and play’

    Time Out New York

    This new colorful installation in downtown Brooklyn is the perfect Instagram shot


    New public artwork turns a Downtown Brooklyn plaza into a playful, colorful oasis


    This New Installation Is Bringing Vibrant Colors To Brooklyn Just In Time For Spring
  7. Neighborhoods Now: Asian Americans for Equality and Think!Chinatown

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    Launched in Spring 2020, Neighborhoods Now is a collaboration between the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute to connect NYC neighborhoods hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with design firms in our collective network. Over three years, the initiative evolved from rapid, tactical responses to long-term recovery strategies on a wider scale. Led by community organizations, seven interdisciplinary teams have enlivened and programmed public space, provided technical support to small businesses, and strengthened cultural activities.

    Led by Think!Chinatown and Asian Americans for Equality, the team piloted and expanded the Chinatown Night Market, a summer event series showcasing Chinatown’s local vendors and artists. Over two years, they extended the footprint of the market and activated Forsyth Street; increased outreach to potential vendors, small businesses and artists, supporting them through all permitting; designed booth systems for vendors; and designed a multifunctional kitchen studio focused around culinary programming, art, and neighborhood engagement.

    Key Outcomes

    Pilot Event: The “Chinatown Nights” pilot event kicked off on June 18, 2021 with a Chinatown-focused film program alongside local street vendors. On the cusp of NYC’s reopening, Chinatown Nights became much more than an open-air festival — it held space for the community to reunite and celebrate. To create more opportunities for neighborhood-specific cultural programming and a food market model, the team worked on financial mechanisms, marketing, design and construction of vending carts, and administration of regulations.

    Expanding the Market: In 2022, the Chinatown Night Market nearly tripled in size with 8,500 attendees, many of whom visited neighboring small businesses while in Chinatown. Attendees also reported feeling safer at Forsyth Plaza during the Chinatown Night Market compared to days when there isn’t an event.

    New Headquarters: With design work by Leroy Street Studio, Think!Chinatown is building a kitchen and studio space at 1 Pike Street. These new headquarters are their base for future neighborhood engagement efforts, and will be completed with the support of new funding from New York State.

    Looking Forward… The Chinatown Night Market has brought renewed attention to Chinatown’s public spaces, and has helped secure state investment towards Forsyth Plaza through New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. Think!Chinatown also attracted support from Citizens’ Bank, allowing them to further expand the Chinatown Night Market in 2023.

    Who We’re Working With


    Year-End Reports

    2022 Report


    Next City

    A Night Market Has Popped Up in NYC’s Chinatown

    Creative Boom

    The Working Assembly celebrates New York’s Chinatown in this brilliant festival branding
  8. Drive-Thru

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    About Drive-Thru

    February 17–April 14, 2022

    The Plaza at 300 Ashland, Brooklyn

    Inspired by the classic drive-in movie experience, Soft-Firm’s installation Drive-Thru reimagines how shared public spaces can be activated during the winter months to connect communities. By incorporating light through rear projection, Drive-Thru serves as a cinema for pedestrians and is visible from the highly utilized intersection of Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues. The design, fabricated by Datum Zed, echoes surrounding urban infrastructure, such as the rotating Brooklyn Academy of Music sign, billboards, and construction scaffolding — incorporating landmarks signature to the Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood.

    Drive-Thru will showcase film and video by eight Brooklyn-based artists and filmmakers that highlight Brooklyn communities, explore themes of urban life, and connect to Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Live performances will be held to complement a selection of the featured films, starting with a Black History Month celebration event on February 23.

    Drive-Thru is part of Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R+D program, intended to surface the work of emerging designers and test new strategies to bring people together in public space. The installation is co-produced by Van Alen Institute and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Presented with support from Two Trees Management Co.

    About Soft-Firm

    Soft-Firm is an interdisciplinary practice and flexible platform off which to expand design hunches into architectural ideas, spaces, and artifacts. Soft-Firm is speculative and concrete: taking a playful and lo-fi approach to visual perception, elemental forms, and material contrast. Using design as a tool of activism, Soft-Firm engages collaborative and progressive programs to promote equity in institutions and the architectural practice as a whole. The practice has designed interactive exhibitions and installations, residential and commercial projects, and published work in design magazines and academic journals. The Soft-Firm project team includes Lexi Tsien and Talitha Liu with fabrication by Jono Isbell from Datum Zed.

    Visitor Info

    Drive-Thru is best viewed starting at dusk.

    The Plaza at 300 Ashland is conveniently situated in the heart of the Brooklyn Cultural District, at the intersection of Lafayette Ave and Flatbush Ave. The plaza is easily accessible – located only a short walk from the B, Q, 2/3 and 4/5 subway lines at Atlantic Barclays, the G train at Fulton St, and the C train at Lafayette Ave, as well as a number of bus stops. There is also paid parking along the surrounding streets.

    Live Performances

    Wednesday, April 13
    7–8 pm
    Closing Event: Community Iftar (Break Fast) and Q&A

    Iftar: the meal traditionally taken by Muslims at sundown to break the daily fast during Ramadan.

    A Community Iftar: Breaking the fast and dining with neighbors.

    Drive-Thru has showcased film and video by eight Brooklyn-based artists and filmmakers that highlight Brooklyn communities and explore themes of urban life. The final film of the run is Aisha Amin’s Friday (2019), a portrait of a historically Black mosque as it fights gentrification in Bed-Stuy.

    In connection with the film, and as the closing of Drive-Thru coincides with Ramadan, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is partnering with the students of neighboring Khalil Gibran International Academy High School for a Community Iftar.

    Iftars are gatherings held in homes or mosques during the holy month of Ramadan as people sit down to break the daily fast after the evening prayer. We look forward to hosting this Community Iftar at which we can learn about the traditions of Ramadan, experience art together, and meet neighbors and new friends. Everyone is welcome to play jumbo games on the plaza, while enjoying Aisha Amin’s film, Friday.


    • 7 pm: Traditional West African kora, played by Salieu Suso*
    • 7:25 pm: Remarks by Downtown Brooklyn, Van Alen Institute, and Khalil Gibran Academy
    • 7:31 pm: Sunset. After the Adhan (call to prayer), all are invited to break fast, beginning with water and dates. Followed by Maghrib Prayer, led by Luqman Abdul-Rahman, As-Suq/Masjid At-Taqwa
    • 7:35 pm: Dine al fresco with your neighbors on the steps of the plaza. Pre-packaged meals (chicken and vegetarian options) will be available, while supplies last. Please allow priority to go to those who are observing Ramadan.
    • 7:45 pm: Q&A with Friday filmmaker, Aisha Amin and Lexi Tsien of Soft-Firm, designers of Drive-Thru, moderated by producer Aidah Z. Muhammad

    *Salieu Suso was born into a family of traditional Mandinka musicians/historians from The Gambia, West Africa, that extends back nearly one thousand years. He was trained to play the 21-stringed kora (West African harp) at the age of eight, by his father, the renowned kora player of that region, Alhaji Musa Makang Suso. He is recognized to be a descendant of JaliMady Wulayn Suso, the originator of the kora, and performed extensively throughout Africa and Europe before settling in the U.S. in 1989, where he continues to be a leader in the rapidly growing African music scene.

    Tuesday, March 29
    6:30–7:30 pm
    Skeleton Architecture

    In honor of Women’s History Month, performing in tandem with Tanika I. Williams’ video, (construct)Cleaning and Sanctuary, is Bessie Award winning Skeleton Architecture, a vessel of Black womyn and gender nonconforming improvisational movement artists. Skeleton Architecture creates, organizes, advocates, gathers, curates, performs, plays, challenges and teaches through the depths of ancestral knowledge toward the liberated future of our worlds. Performers for this event are: Davalois Fearon, Jasmine Hearn, nia love, Charmaine Warren, and Marýa Wethers.

    Wednesday, February 23
    5:30–6:30 pm
    Launch of Drive-Thru honoring Black History Month
    Senegalese Taneber Sunu Birr (Drum and Dance Circle)

    Mirroring the electrifying Senegalese drum and dance in the opening film, artist Babacar Top led a Sabar dance instruction followed by a Taneber, an open drum and dance circle “sunu birr” (Wolof for “between us”) that celebrated the power and culture of Senegalese tradition and honored African descendants who fought for freedom and liberation, and community.

    Video Schedule

    February 17–23
    Ali Santana, Community: Rhythm / Movement / Joy (2022)
    Filmed on Lafayette Ave in 2012, this scene captures the rhythm, movement, joy and community tradition of BAM’s Dance Africa Street Bazaar.

    February 24–March 2
    Nicholas Fraser, Follow/Unfollow (2016)
    Nicholas Fraser’s Follow/Unfollow captures New Yorkers as they travel the city’s ever-changing streetscape. As their paths cross in frame, a single person grows to two, two form a trio, the trio morphs into a crowd, stopping, shifting, and changing direction to a hypnotic effect.

    March 2–8
    Simon Benjamin, Errantry (2021)
    Named after Édouard Glissant’s theory, Simon Benjamin’s Errantry is centered on the polyphonic rhythms of coastal space, the Caribbean sea, and the life sustained by it in a non-linear narrative that raises questions about time, labor, environmental degradation and the ongoingness of colonialism.

    March 9–15
    Luna X Moya, What the Pier Gave Us (2021)
    In Luna X Moya’s What the Pier Gave Us, a fisherman’s ordinary day at an undisclosed New York City pier becomes a visual metaphor for the immigrant experience in the United States. This short film is part of an upcoming feature-length documentary.

    March 16–23
    Olalekan Jeyifous, The Frozen Neighborhoods (Fly-through) (2021)
    Olalekan Jeyifous’s The Frozen Neighborhoods (Fly-through) depicts a speculative future where poor and marginalized communities are cut off from travel, forcing them to develop advanced ecological technologies This deceptively dystopian vision imagines the potential of community-focused innovation, creating a sustainable and self-contained world in Brooklyn.

    March 25–30
    Tanika I. Williams, (construct)Clearing (2021) and Sanctuary (2021)
    As a meditation on quiet care, intention, intergenerational movement, and labor, (construct)Clearing seeks to understand how we wear and repeat family patterns of silence and separation. Sanctuary illustrates the aftermath of African-Caribbean mothers leaving their daughters to immigrate to the United States, combining academic research, autobiographical expression, and archival interviews.

    March 31–April 5
    Series of shorts by Ezra Wube: Flatbushtopia (2017), Bridge Street (2015), At the Same Moment (2013), Words of Wisdom (2016)
    This series of shorts by Ezra Wube offer snapshots of life across New York. These stop-motion animations, often developed with community input and participation, depict scenes in Flatbush, DUMBO, Jamaica, and on the subway.

    April 6–13
    Aisha Amin, Choir (2020) and Friday (2019)
    Aisha Amin’s film Choir explores the world within one of New York’s most competitive youth choirs, while Friday is a portrait of the community within a historically black Brooklyn mosque as it fights gentrification.


    CBS New York

    Black History Month: ‘Drive-Thru’ art installation in Downtown Brooklyn celebrates Black history on big screens

    New York Post

    A ‘Drive-Thru’ theater is now open in the middle of a Brooklyn street


    A super-cool and free “drive-in movie theater” is opening in downtown Brooklyn today

    Brooklyn Daily Eagle

    Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Van Alen Institute Unveil Soft-Firm’s Drive Thru at the Plaza at 300 Ashland
  9. Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation

    Comments Off on Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation

    About the Competiton

    Launched in 2014, the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Installation was a platform for the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute (VAI) to bring people together and support inventive visions for an iconic urban plaza.


    Past Winners


  10. Interwoven

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    Interwoven by Atelier Cho Thompson. Photo: Martin Seck, Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership


    Van Alen Institute and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership are thrilled to collaborate with Atelier Cho Thompson to create a highly visible temporary landmark at the heart of the Flatiron District. Atelier Cho Thompson’s installation Interwoven will be on view November 22, 2021–January 2, 2022 in the Flatiron North Public Plaza on Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street. The installation is permitted through NYC DOT Art and will be open to the public daily, weather permitting.

    Atelier Cho Thompson was selected by the Partnership and Van Alen from a shortlist of three firms, each recommended by design experts in Van Alen’s network. The other shortlisted firms were AD-WO and Isometric Studio.

    Nominations for the shortlisted firms were provided by Nina Cooke John, Founder and Principal of Studio Cooke John; Justin Garrett Moore, Program Officer, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Mark Gardner, Principal, Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects; and Ashley Mendelsohn, Architecture Curator and Educator.

    The Flatiron Public Plaza Design Competition is part of Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R+D program, intended to surface the work of emerging designers and test new strategies to bring people together in public space.



    November 22, 2021–January 2

    Selected Design

    Interwoven by Atelier Cho Thompson

    Inspired by New York’s tapestry of cultures and people, Interwoven by Atelier Cho Thompson celebrates the joys of reconnecting in public space. Its interactive archways are activated by color-coded sensors; when two or more people pass through sensors of the same color, Interwoven responds with corresponding lights and musical compositions inspired by the installation’s themes from Dylan Schifrin, Nathan Chamberlain, Will Orzo, Marisa Gupta, Dan Weissman and Christina Cho Yoo.

    The installation’s interactive story wall, made of backlit papers hung on a grid, invites visitors to share responses to the prompt: “I dream of a world where together we can…” The resulting narratives will become a patchwork of voices documenting this challenging yet hopeful moment. The prompt was selected by Youth Fellows from the People’s Bus NYC, a community-led, intergenerational initiative focused on engaging people in NYC’s civic life through beauty and joy.

    Inspired by the dynamic geometry of intersections that form the Flatiron Building, Interwoven’s archways, hammock, and benches are constructed with a steel framing, netting, resin panels, and high-density cork. As a firm committed to sustainable design, Atelier Cho Thompson carefully selected Interwoven’s materials including its rapidly-renewable cork and steel, a material made of mostly recycled content.

    About the Team

    Atelier Cho Thompson is a bi-coastal design and concept firm, working between the disciplines of architecture, interiors, graphics and design strategy. Founded seven years ago by Ming Thompson and Christina Cho Yoo, the firm has embarked on a number of ambitious goals: to design beautiful and functional projects around the globe, to deeply engage their community around design, to promote equity in architecture and beyond.

    The project team includes in-kind sponsors MHA Engineering, Lam Partners, Indistinguishable from Magic, Hunter Douglas and 3form, LLI Architectural Lighting, EcoSupply, Fusion Optix, and Cadwell Signs. Grant funding was made possible by Stand with Asian Americans / Asian Pacific Fund and an anonymous donor. Fabrication and site installation will be completed by Smart Department Fabrication, Inc.

    After debuting Interwoven in on the Flatiron North Public Plaza, the firm will partner with community organizations in New Haven, CT to bring the installation to a local public park.

    Shortlisted Proposals

    Spectral Ground by AD—WO

    “Flatiron Plaza is Lenape land; a few blocks from where they traded enslaved Africans and adjacent to what was a vast potter’s field. Below the surface lies the strata of history imagined and erased. There is an intimacy embedded in the ground, in the stories it reveals and hides. Spectral Ground is composed of a large matte black cone that rests, elevated, upon granite boulders. When passersby duck under the lip of the cone, an illuminated gold undercroft opens up above them. The surrounding streets are still seen and heard from within the installation, however, focus is reoriented to what is immediately above and below: to the galaxies that envelop us, and the ground we stand upon.”


    About the Team

    AD—WO is an art and architecture practice based in New York City, and by extension, between Melbourne and Addis Ababa. The practice aims to establish an operational terrain between architecture’s content and container: equally committed to designing buildings and understanding their dynamic sociopolitical contexts. Founded in 2015, AD—WO has undertaken projects in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Korea, Germany, and the United States. Their work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Architekturmueum der TU Munchen, and Art Omi. They are currently developing an apartment building in Addis Ababa.

    Cloud Swing by Isometric

    “New York City is in great need of communal healing, wellness, and joy coming out of the pandemic. For the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Installation, we propose Cloud Swing, an illuminated, accessible swing set that is a powerful statement of inclusion and child-like wonder.

    “Five swings would be suspended from a curvilinear cloud shape formed from a metal tube, supported by five sets of tripod legs. The set would be sited on an accessible SYNPlay playground surface rated for 9-foot falls. Three of the swings would be regular swings, accommodating two people each. The other two swings would be especially fabricated with foldable ramps for wheelchair users. These accessible swings would have mechanical limiters to ensure they do not swing too far. The swing set would be painted a luminous blue color in industrial enamel. There would be a solar powered LED lighting strip along the cloud shape that makes it glow at night. Cloud Swing would offer a sense of belonging and cheer, foregrounding the importance of shared community and mental health.”

    — Isometric

    About the Team

    Isometric unites graphic design and architecture to create empowering visual identities and spatial experiences. Based in New York City, they collaborate with leading cultural institutions, universities, tech companies, and nonprofits to reinvent the way they present themselves visually and strategically. They express the missions of these organizations through visual identities, exhibitions, websites, and signage programs that convey intellectual rigor, aesthetic sophistication, and memorable storytelling. They believe in design that transcends existing expectations by challenging cliches and stereotypes in visual culture.


    Architect’s Newspaper

    Atelier Cho Thompson’s Interwoven wins the 2021 Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition


    ‘Interwoven’ by Atelier Cho Thompson is this year’s winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition


    This colorful piece of interactive public art is now on view in Flatiron

    Secret NYC

    Stroll Through A Kaleidoscope Of Neon Arches At Flatiron’s New Holiday Art Installation


    Team nominations were provided by:

    Mark Gardner

    Principal, Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects

    Justin Garrett Moore

    Program Officer, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

    Ashley Mendelsohn

    Architecture Curator and Educator