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Hitting the Street
Van Alen Institute launches competition for ground floor.
Courtesy Van Alen Institute

The Van Alen Institute is moving—downstairs! The public space think tank is currently located on the sixth floor of an institute-owned building on 22nd Street in Manhattan, which has always made its space somewhat of a secret known primarily to the design community.

The competition is the first major initiative undertaken by new executive director David van der Leer, who hopes to expand the institute’s reach to a larger public. “We’ve been on the sixth floor for nearly 20 years,” van der Leer told AN. “Being on the ground floor will be a much better way to interact with the city.”

Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis designed the sixth floor space, completed in 1998, which includes a gallery and offices. In 2011, the institute opened a small ground-floor bookstore designed by LOT-EK Architecture & Design. The new ground floor space will also include room for selling books, but the volumes will likely be displayed on “mobile units,” according to van der Leer. “We’ll see what the designers come up with.”

Drawing on the institutional knowledge of the previous designers, the institute put Marc Tsurumaki and Ada Tolla on the jury along with Mark Robbins, president of the International Center for Photography, Mark Gardner of Jaklitsch/Gardner, and Winka Dubbledam of Architectonics, Stephen Cassell of ARO, along with van der Leer. The competition registration is open now and portfolios are due on June 13.

The competition is part of a broader effort to reorient the institute toward concrete actions with tangible results.

“Impacting the state of the public realm, and cities in general, can only be achieved if the Van Alen Institute’s different program elements (Competitions, Research, Consultancy, Curatorial Projects, and Public Programs) can be coordinated as one coherent effort to improve the analysis, advice, and activation of designs, public policies, and experiences of the public realm and urban life in the U.S. and beyond,” wrote van der Leer in an email. “We look to develop a program that will go beyond design entertainment or mere theoretical reflections. We hope to sustain successful partnerships and lobby for implementation of the ideas that come out of the Van Alen Institute programs.”

Alan G. Brake