Archive

  1. 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.

    Schedule:

    • 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.

    Press

    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

    TimeOut

    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
  2. Flatiron Public Plaza Design Competition 2021

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

    About

    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.

    #InterwovenFlatiron

    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.

    Press

    Architect’s Newspaper

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

    Archinect

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

    TimeOut

    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

    Collaborators


    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


  3. Neighborhood Design Fellowship: Gowanus

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    About

    Offered in partnership with Dark Matter University (DMU), our Neighborhood Design Fellowship: Gowanus is a paid, six-month program for up to 12 Gowanus residents — designers and non-designers alike — to work toward the future they imagine for their community. In 2021, our first cohort of Fellows considered ways design and art can make Gowanus a more equitable, inclusive place, and are sharing what they learn with local officials and the wider community.

    2021 Fellows

    Who We’re Working With


    Supporters


    Our Space Gowanus

    Together, the fellows are collaborating on an action campaign to bring attention to an underinvested, underutilized community center part of the Gowanus Houses NYCHA complex. With Dark Matter University, the fellows drafted and assembled this pamphlet outlining the history of disinvestment that has plagued the community center and their visions for the future of the space. In October 2021, the pamphlet was distributed at our inaugural Van Alen Block Party and displayed in large format on the street-facing windows of our office in Gowanus. The fellows are now currently planning the next phase of their action campaign.

    Hear from Dark Matter University

    Nothing so far!

    Project Timeline

    May – Jun 2021

    Learn

    • Learn about local inclusion and equity challenges by talking to neighbors, business owners, community groups, and public officials, among others
    • Learn from DMU faculty about ways to support social justice through design
    • Study design projects that advance equity and inclusion in NYC and the US

    Jul – Aug 2021

    Make a Plan

    • Using prototypes and community feedback sessions, create a list of design ideas and recommendations to support social justice in Gowanus

    Sep – Oct 2021

    Put Ideas into Practice

    • Collaboratively bring design ideas to life with Van Alen and DMU faculty
    • Working with Van Alen and DMU, apply design recommendations toward the redesign of Van Alen’s office into public space that serves the community

    Oct 2021

    Share Work

    • Share work with the wider neighborhood for more feedback, and engage community members in ways that can advance fellows’ efforts forward

    Resources

    Project Contact

    Andrew Brown

    Director of Programs

    Supporters


  4. Breathing Pavilion

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    About Breathing Pavilion

    Breathing Pavilion comprised a 30-foot circle of 20 nine-foot two-tone illuminated inflatable columns. These columns slowly modulated in brightness to illustrate a deep breathing technique designed to bring calm. Visitors were invited to breathe in time with the changing light and attune themselves to a shared rhythm of respite.

    Created in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial injustice in the United States, Breathing Pavilion offered sanctuary at a time of intense hardship and loss, suggested a paradigm shift towards communion and meditative stillness, and created an accessible space of reprieve when the act of breathing itself is under siege.

    Breathing Pavilion 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 Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Design Installation is co-produced by Van Alen Institute and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

    Presented with support from Two Trees Management Co.

    About the Artist

    “Between the ongoing struggles in the racial and political movements in the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to find the time and space to breathe deeply and rest well. I held my breath for most of last year, waiting to exhale into a new administration and new vaccines. It will still take some time before we see large-scale change. Until then, in these next few weeks, this pavilion is here to invite the public to breathe into the change within each of us, in sync with one another.”

    —Ekene Ijeoma

    Ekene Ijeoma is an artist, professor of Media Arts and Science at MIT, and founder/director of the Poetic Justice group at MIT Media Lab. Through both his studio and lab at MIT, Ijeoma researches social inequality across multiple fields including social science to develop artworks in sound, video, multimedia, sculpture and installation.

    Ijeoma’s work has been commissioned and presented by art institutions including Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, The Kennedy Center, Museum of the City of New York, Neuberger Museum of Art, and Annenberg Space for Photography. Ijeoma’s practice has also been supported by grants, fellowships and residencies including Creative Capital, Map Fund, Wave Farm, The Kennedy Center, and New York Foundation for the Arts.

    Press

    dezeen

    Inflatable pillars pulse with light to encourage deep breathing in Brooklyn

    Secret NYC

    Meditate At This Calming New Art Installation In Downtown Brooklyn

    Brownstoner

    Take a Breath With New Art Installation at 300 Ashland in Fort Greene

    TimeOut

    This futuristic new Brooklyn art installation is meant to calm you down

    Archinect

    Ekene Ijeoma’s latest public installation reflects on social inequality to create a place of ‘sanctuary at a time of intense hardship and loss’

    Events

    Breathing Pavilion hosted a weekly music series of site-specific performances featuring solo wind and percussion jazz musicians in meditative sets. View archived live streams of the performances below.

    Kalia Vandever, Trombone
    Tuesday, 3/23

    Melanie Charles, Flute
    Tuesday, 3/30
    View archived live stream.

    Joel Ross, Vibraphones
    Tuesday, 4/6
    View archived live stream.

    Baba Don Babatunde, Percussion
    Tuesday, 4/13
    View archived live stream.

    Neil Clarke, Percussion
    Tuesday, 4/20
    View archived live stream.

    Lakecia Benjamin, Saxophone
    Tuesday, 4/27
    View archived live stream.

    Participatory Drum Circle led by Mr. Fitz of the Brooklyn Music School
    Tuesday, 5/4

    Keyon Harrold, Trumpet
    Saturday, 5/8
    View archived live stream.

  5. Van Alen Council Trips

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    Brooklyn, NY

    Private Means to Public Ends | Oct 29–Nov 2, 2019

    Over the past two decades, Brooklyn’s growth has generated immense economic investment and opportunity — contributing to the borough’s dynamism, while also raising the critical question of “who benefits?” that fuels a citywide public debate. The Council directed their attention to Downtown Brooklyn and Sunset Park, two neighborhoods that are hubs of the emerging innovation economy and reflect the complex conditions that underpin Brooklyn’s evolution.

    Van Alen also hosted a special capstone session, bringing the Council together with the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) to grapple with pervasive design challenges in cities across scales. As host of the 2019 MICD Regional Session, Van Alen convened mayors from small cities across the US to educate them about the strategies for fostering inclusive growth in their hometowns. At Brooklyn incubation space A/D/O, the Council helped this groups of civic leaders think creatively about design solutions, drawing on global precedents and best practices.

    Participating Mayors:

    • John D’Amico, Mayor of West Hollywood, California
    • Vince Williams, Mayor of Union City, Georgia
    • The Honorable Christian Price, Mayor of Maricopa
    • Arizona Shawn Maldon, Mayor of Capitol Heights, Maryland

    Itinerary

    Trip Recap

    Van Alen Council: Private Means to Public Ends (Part II)

    Downtown Brooklyn and Sunset Park reflect the complex conditions underpinning Brooklyn’s evolution.

    Attendees

    Daniel Elsea

    Director, Allies and Morrison


    London, UK

    Private Means to Public Ends | May 15–17, 2019

    How do we reconcile the trend towards privatization with the goal of fostering inclusive growth in cities? The Van Alen Council looked to London as a city in which private money has long had a significant role in shaping the city. The Council’s exploration of the private sector role’s in city-making focused on two modern developments: King’s Cross and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Both regeneration projects aimed to spur private investment in underutilized land to create new, economically viable pieces of city that would cater to a diverse urban populace.

    Itinerary


    Media

    Christine Murray, Editor-in-Chief at urban design media platform The Developer, was the resident journalist during the Council’s time in London. This collaboration resulted in an article, “Oxymorons and Idiosyncrasies: London’s Private Public Spaces,” and a short video piece that chronicle the trip’s takeaways.

    Van Alen also collaborated with The Urbanist, Monocle’s podcast that seeks to communicate strategies for city-building to an influential audience of city mayors and urban planners. Monocle followed the Council during their excursion through London and invited select participants to sit down in their studio with host Andrew Tuck, for a conversation about the role of private development in inclusive urban growth. Listen to Part 1 and Part 2.

    Attendees

    Daniel Elsea

    Director, Allies and Morrison


    Seattle, WA

    An Exploration of Climate Change and Fisheries | July 17–19, 2019

    With bustling waterfronts, famous seafood markets, a robust culinary scene, and an estuary rich with marine life, the Puget Sound region seems to be the picture of seafood security. But look closer at the web of people, the sea, and the climate, and the fragility and vulnerability of this system comes to light. In partnership with Professor Edward Allison of the University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, Council members visited this region to explore the seafood supply chain from ocean to table and engage in a systems assessment of the seafood supply chain.

    Academic Partners

    • University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs
    • Washington Sea Grant

    Itinerary

    Trip Recap

    Van Alen Council: Future of Food Systems

    Exploring Seattle’s seafood supply chain from ocean to table. By Brittany Hoedemaker

    Attendees


    Central Valley, CA (2019)

    Designing the Future of Food | Jan 9–11, 2019

    As climate change compromises food production and access the world over, “breadbaskets” like California are among the most vulnerable regions, primed as case studies to explore innovations and alternative strategies. The Van Alen Council returned to California’s Central Valley for the second installment of a two-part trip, investigating the potential of design to foster a food system capable of carrying us into the future.

    Itinerary


    Trip Recaps

    Van Alen Council: Designing the Future of Food, Part II

    The complex web of relationships that comprise the food system in California’s Central Valley. By Sahoko Yui

    Van Alen Council: Design Challenges of Climate Change

    How climate change is influencing food systems in California’s Central Valley.

    Central Valley, CA (2018)

    The Council gathered in California, the source of most of the nation’s produce production, to learn about the nation’s food system. Their three-day visit to various farms and food production facilities in California revealed the complex interplay of structural, social, and environmental issues in the food chain.

    Academic Partner

    • Innovation Institute for Food & Health (IIFH) at UC Davis

    Itinerary

    Van Alen Council: Designing for the Future of Food, Part I

    The complex interplay of structural, social, and environmental issues in California’s food chain. By Sahoko Yui

    Attendees


  6. Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 2020

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    Point of Action by Studio Cooke John. Photo: Cameron Blaylock

    About

    Van Alen Institute and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership are thrilled to collaborate with Studio Cooke John to create a highly visible temporary landmark at the heart of the Flatiron District. Studio Cooke John’s installation Point of Action is currently on view through January 1, 2021 in the Flatiron Public Plazas on Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street in Manhattan. The installation is permitted through NYC DOT Art and will be open to the public daily, weather permitting.

    Studio Cooke John was selected by the Partnership and Van Alen from a shortlist of seven firms, each recommended by design experts in Van Alen’s network. The other shortlisted firms were Architensions, Austin + Mergold, Bryony Roberts Studio, Office Lou Arencibia, Studio Ijeoma, and Studio Zewde.

    The Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation 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.

    #PointOfAction

    Dates

    November 23, 2020–January 1, 2021

    Selected Team

    Studio Cooke John: Point of Action

    “We are at a threshold during this pandemic. Now that our eyes have been opened to realities that have been with us all along, how do we move forward? My hope is that Point of Action makes people think about how we connect to the people we see every day so that we can move forward together.”

    —Nina Cooke John, Principal and Founder, Studio Cooke John

    Studio Cooke John is a multidisciplinary design studio with a broad range of expertise that values placemaking as a way to transform relationships between people and the built environment. Led by founder Nina Cooke John, the Point of Action project team includes fabricator Charlie Spademan of Spademan Fabrication; Braulio Duran of NY Lighting Group, which is donating in-kind fabrication services; lighting consultant Jimmie Drummond of Drummond Projects; and installation contractor Kathy Lysikowska-Diaz of KLD NY Inc.

    Throughout the design process, Studio Cooke John’s collaborations with clients yield insights that inform how they, alongside a network of craftsmen, fabricators and consultants, transform spaces within the home and in the public sphere. What emerge are spaces tailored to each client’s needs, revealing elements of serendipity and surprise that last a lifetime.

    Point of Action invites New Yorkers and visitors to contemplate the experience of seeing one another—and being seen. Once the viewer steps out of their usual routine and into the installation’s threshold, there are multiple opportunities for connection with fellow viewers and with passersby. Six-foot circles affixed onto the Flatiron Public Plazas create nine “spotlights,” each with its own vertical metal frame. Ropes weave through each frame and part, like a curtain figuratively pulled aside, to make room for the viewer to take the spotlight, connect with other viewers across the Plazas, and take action as they move out and beyond. Lighting emitted from a halo above each circle strengthens the framing; lights embedded into the sides of each frame add another layer to the viewer.

    As the first Flatiron Public Design Installation to be spread throughout both the North and South Plazas, Point of Action’s larger footprint allows for more socially distanced engagement. However, the installation’s concentric circles ripple out from each spot, eventually connecting with other circles, and thus other viewers, across the Plazas.

    Press

    Architect’s Newspaper

    Point of Action brings people together at a distance for the 2020 Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation

    Time Out New York

    There’s a new interactive holiday light display in the Flatiron District

    Untapped New York

    Flatiron Plaza Art Installation Inspired by Social Distancing

    AM New York

    Flatiron/23rd Street BID unveils art installation and previews annual ’23 Days of Flatiron Cheer’ program

    NBC New York

    Point of Action: Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation, Inspired by Social Distancing

    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.

    Collaborators


    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


  7. Neighborhoods Now: Cooper Square Committee

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    About Neighborhoods Now

    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.

    Cooper Square Committee worked with Curtis + Ginsberg Architects (C+GA) to carry out several retrofits to their office on East 4th Street in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for their staff and clients, including improved ventilation and safer physical barriers between staff and the public.

    Who We’re Working With


    Coordinating Firm


    2020-21 Goals and Outcomes

    Redesigned Reception Area
    C+GA designed a new reception area using simple materials including wood, sheetrock, plexiglass. A glass paned door also maintains maximum visibility between the lobby area and the office, adding to a bright open ambiance.

    Enhanced Safety Recommendations
    C+GA also recommended installing operable side storefront windows and purchasing air purifiers. They designed the new windows and assisted CSC with filing the permit to obtain approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which was successful.

    Signage and Protocols
    C+GA worked with CSC to develop staff safety protocols and signage to post in the office, encouraging the public to wear a mask, stand six feet apart, and use hand sanitizers when visiting the office.

  8. Neighborhoods Now: Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association

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    About Neighborhoods Now

    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.

    In 2021, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, The Greenest Fern, and BD Feliz joined Banana Kelly to reactivate community gardens in Longwood, Hunts Point, Morrisania, and Mott Haven, allowing for safe outdoor activities and services that address neighborhood needs.

    Who We’re Working With


    Coordinating Firm


    Supporting Firms


    2021 Goals and Outcomes

    Community Building
    The team collaborated with garden leaders and used Neighborhoods Now funding to hire youth organizers to become stewards and leaders in their communities and spur engagement of younger residents.

    Community Garden Plans
    The team assessed five community gardens on Banana Kelly properties, which each presented unique opportunities and constraints. They created site-specific visions for each garden, plus toolkits that can be deployed across many sites. Visions range from the simple—such as turning readily available buckets into modular rolling garden beds—to complex, such as creating new and ADA-accessible access points that require negotiation with an adjacent property owner, now in progress.

    Transformation and Activation
    Through an arrangement with New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Banana Kelly plans to acquire a vacant lot on East 163rd Street. Transformation and activation strategies ranged from rearranging garden bed layouts to dynamically fit real-time needs, to building kiosk structures for information sharing and sun protection.

    Accessibility
    BD Feliz developed a series of vinyl stickers to optimize wayfinding and enhance gardens’ visibility on the street. The markers can be easily installed or removed at a moment’s notice to guide visitors to entrances and contribute to the greater garden identity.

    Sustainability
    The Sustainability Index Plan (SIP), developed by The Greenest Fern, is a guide to facilitate the long-term planning of community gardens as well as the sustainable reporting and management of these spaces.

    2021 Presentation

    The use of the information contained in this proposal document, “Neighborhoods Now- Banana Kelly,” is at the sole risk of the user, and Van Alen Institute shall not be responsible for, or liable in any way for, the accuracy, completeness or any other matter with respect to the contents herein. The user hereby assumes all risks of the use of the information, and irrevocably and unconditionally waives, releases and discharges Van Alen Institute and its direct and indirect members, directors, officers, employees, agents, affiliates, volunteers and representatives, from any and all liability of any kind or nature whatsoever, in connection with the matters contained herein, and the use of the information contained herein.

  9. Neighborhoods Now: University Neighborhood Housing Program

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    About Neighborhoods Now

    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.

    Dattner Architects and MBB collaborated with University Neighborhood Housing Program to create plans to update and reopen their main office in accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols.

    Who We’re Working With


    Coordinating Firm


    2020-21 Goals and Outcomes

    Redesigned Reception Area
    C+GA designed a new reception area using simple materials including wood, sheetrock, plexiglass. A glass paned door also maintains maximum visibility between the lobby area and the office, adding to a bright open ambiance.

    Enhanced Safety Recommendations
    C+GA also recommended installing operable side storefront windows and purchasing air purifiers. They designed the new windows and assisted CSC with filing the permit to obtain approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which was successful.

    Signage and Protocols
    C+GA worked with CSC to develop staff safety protocols and signage to post in the office, encouraging the public to wear a mask, stand six feet apart, and use hand sanitizers when visiting the office.

    2021 Presentation

    The use of the information contained in this proposal document, “Neighborhoods Now: University Neighborhood Housing Program,” is at the sole risk of the user, and Van Alen Institute shall not be responsible for, or liable in any way for, the accuracy, completeness or any other matter with respect to the contents herein. The user hereby assumes all risks of the use of the information, and irrevocably and unconditionally waives, releases and discharges Van Alen Institute and its direct and indirect members, directors, officers, employees, agents, affiliates, volunteers and representatives, from any and all liability of any kind or nature whatsoever, in connection with the matters contained herein, and the use of the information contained herein.

  10. Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge

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    The Brooklyn Bridge is one of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, and holds a special place in our collective imagination.

    Since opening on May 24, 1883, the bridge has taken on near-mythic significance in New York City. Its striking form has captured the imagination of some of the nation’s most prominent artists. Its enduring iconographic power makes it one of the most photographed locations in New York. In popular culture, the bridge is a symbol for the city itself, used in countless establishing shots in films and television.

    But that iconic status comes at a cost. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, at peak hours the promenade was crammed, uncomfortable, and sometimes unsafe. Thousands of pedestrians and cyclists crossed the bridge every day. In response to these conditions, the New York City Council and Van Alen Institute launched Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge, an international design competition that aims to spark a new public conversation about New York City’s infrastructure.

    Overview

    Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge challenged participants to rethink the iconic Brooklyn Bridge walkway. As made even more clear by the pandemic, the design of our streets and shared spaces must be responsive to the present moment and work to correct past injustices. They must foster equitable, accessible, and sustainable transportation options, create a healthy and safe environment for all New Yorkers, and opportunities for small businesses and vendors to flourish.

    The Brooklyn Bridge has the potential to serve as a testing ground for designs that serve our communities in need — not just in an imagined, idealistic future — but now. With these considerations at heart, the six finalist proposals are a compelling and optimistic set of ideas for responsive short-term interventions and longer-term, large-scale reconfigurations of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    The competition had two finalist categories:

    • Professionals: Three finalists, 22 years of age and older. Each finalist will receive $13,000. Ultimately, one winner will be selected.
    • Young Adults: Three finalists, 21 years of age or under. Each finalist will receive $3,000. Ultimately, one winner will be selected.

    The competition’s finalists were selected by an interdisciplinary jury representing a wide-ranging set of perspectives on the Brooklyn Bridge. The jury considered the following factors: team composition; accessibility and safety; environmental benefit and security; respect for the bridge’s landmark status; feasibility; and “magic”—i.e. new ideas that surprise, delight, and fascinate.

    Professional Winner: Brooklyn Bridge Forest

    Pilot Projects Design Collective, Cities4Forests, Wildlife Conservation Society, Grimshaw and Silman

    Brooklyn Bridge Forest reimagines the bridge as an icon of climate action and social equity, improving mobility while respecting the landmark structure. The historic wooden walkway is expanded using planks sustainably sourced from a “partner forest” community in Guatemala that protects a 200,000-acre rainforest. A dedicated bike path and reclaimed traffic lane create new space for cyclists and low-carbon transit, while biodiverse “microforests” at either end of the bridge bring nature to New York City and serve as green spaces for underserved communities.

    Project website: brooklynbridgeforest.com

     

    About the Team

    Brooklyn Bridge Forest is a multidisciplinary team made up of architects, a landscape architect, an urbanist, two renowned ecologists, a structural engineer, a forester and environmental lawyer, educators and researchers, a community engagement facilitator—and all systems thinkers. The team’s collaborations span over a decade across multiple continents, with a shared mission to co-create a better world by synergizing the built and natural environment through design and culture change.

    Team Members

    Scott Francisco; Dr. Sarah Jane Wilson; Christine Facella; Dr. Jeremy Radachowsky; Justin Den Herder, PE; Ben Fryer; Aaron Vaden-Youmans, Noah Garcia, Alexandre Rossignol, Arianne Pizem

     

    Young Adult Winner: Do Look Down

    Shannon Hui, Kwans Kim, and Yujin Kim

    Do Look Down’s installation of a glass surface above the bridge’s girders creates a whimsical new pedestrian space activated through art installations and seasonal programming. The lower roadway is converted into additional walkable and human-powered transport space that also offers opportunities for local vendors and performers. Powered by kinetic paving, an LED and projection system is mobilized to honor the city’s cultures, histories, and identities.

    About the Team

    Born and raised in Hong Kong, Shannon Hui is a rising junior at Barnard College studying architecture and psychology.

    A Bay Area native, Kwans Kim is a rising freshman at the NYU Gallatin School with interests in film, music, and television.

    Also from the Bay, Yujin Kim completed his B.A. in Mathematics at Columbia University and is currently a PhD candidate at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, NYU.

    Professional Finalists

    Back to the Future

    BIG + ARUP
    Back to the Future seeks to return the bridge to its original state, both architecturally and functionally, and pilots innovations in autonomous mobility and public space design. By removing cars and related ramps, and providing more space for pedestrians, bikes and transit, this proposal moves more people and creates a stronger connection between Downtown Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and beyond.

    Bridge X

    ScenesLab + Minzi Long + Andrew Nash
    Bridge X proposes a Brooklyn Bridge that evolves in response to public feedback and adapts from a pandemic to a post-pandemic era. Through a phased approach, Bridge X reimagines the upper and lower decks to reclaim space for greater pedestrian and cyclist access, to make room for vendors and small businesses, and to offer new modes of engagement with the bridge. Digital tools and design interventions enable visitors to more easily access, explore, and reflect on their experiences of the bridge.

    Young Adult Finalists

    The Artery

    Lukas Kugler
    With sensitivity to different user groups, The Artery creates a contiguous modern transportation corridor between boroughs. On the bridge, the design incorporates designated spaces for vendors and three separate pathways for cyclists, runners, and pedestrians. The substantial incorporation of greenery provides natural borders between these paths, creating an improved experience while encouraging native plants and wildlife to inhabit the bridge.

     

    The Cultural Current

    Aubrey Bader and Maggie Redding
    Using a brightly colored path and cultural markers, The Cultural Current proposes a fluid integration of surrounding neighborhoods into a transportation and public space network that crosses the bridge. The proposal uses color in a playful way that’s also helpful for wayfinding, reuses existing wood boards and recycled plastic, and plans to phase car traffic off the lower roadway.

    Videos

    Design Showdown
    On August 23, each finalist presented their proposals to a jury and the general public.

    Young Adult Finalists Proposals
    A look at the proposals from each of the Young Adult finalists.

    Young Adult Jury Session
    Each Young Adult finalist presented their proposal in a closed-door jury session.

    Jury

    Andrew Brown

    Director of Programs

    Peg Breen

    President

    New York Landmarks Conservancy

    Marla Gayle

    Managing Director

    SOM

    Jonathan Gardenhire

    District Leader

    NYS Assembly District 65, Part B

    Danny Harris

    Executive Director

    Transportation Alternatives

    Helen Ho

    Co-Founder

    Biking Public Project

    Isabella Joseph

    Student

    Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York

    Regina Myer

    President

    Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

    Amy Plitt

    Writer and Editor


    Press

    designboom

    ‘reimagining brooklyn bridge’ competition winners propose glass walkways and urban forests

    Wall Street Journal

    Glass Walkways and Green Spaces: Designers Reimagine the Brooklyn Bridge Experience

    Wall Street Journal

    Can a Design Contest Fix the Brooklyn Bridge? Cyclists Hope So.

    The Guardian

    New Yorkers vote in special contest to reimagine famous Brooklyn Bridge

    Daily News

    NYC Council speaker seeks salvation for cyclist, pedestrian-clogged Brooklyn Bridge