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Meet NYC’s Design Trust for Public Space: Your Next Employer? | News

Following last week’s visit to precision craftspeople XTEN, we are moving our Meet Your Next Employer series back to New York City this week, where we meet the Design Trust for Public Space.

Founded in 1995 to champion and unlock the potential of New York City’s public and shared spaces, the group collaborates with architects, urbanists, city officials, and the general public on a variety of projects related to public space.

Archinect readers may already be familiar with the Design Trust. In May, the organization partnered with former Meet Your Next Employer subjects SITU on an architectural kit-of-parts for public cultural venues in New York City. The Design Trust has also previously sought architectural input on their “Public for All: Rethinking Shared Space in NYC” initiative.

From their base in Tribeca, the Design Trust is currently hiring for several positions over on Archinect Jobs. For candidates interested in applying for a position, or anybody interested in learning more about life at the organization, we spoke with the Design Trust for Public Space team for a behind-the-scenes look at their studio and mission.

Design Trust hosts current and former project Fellows at their TriBeCa office for a Fellows Forum event announcing the recipients of their latest grants to support health equity projects. Photo credit: Design Trust for Public Space. The Trust’s office space was recently renovated and designed by DT Board Member Suchi Reddy, of Reddymade

How did the Design Trust get started?

The Design Trust was founded in 1995 to unlock the potential of New York City’s shared spaces. Andrea Woodner–a sculptor trained as an architect and a native New Yorker–had a vision for an organization that could transform the life of the city by connecting city agencies with the burgeoning design community. She founded a nonprofit and named it “Design Trust for Public Space” to reflect the mission of bringing design expertise and design thinking to the public realm.

What is the overall mission of the Design Trust?

The Design Trust believes that the cultural and democratic life of the city depends on viable public space. Today, we are a nationally-recognized incubator dedicated to protecting and enlivening public spaces to create a vibrant and inclusive city. We support and realize initiatives that prioritize design innovation, equitable access, civic engagement, and environmental sustainability to make a lasting impact on how New Yorkers live, work and play. 

Design Trust Staff installs Watkins Public Space signage in Brownsville as part of their Neighborhood Commons Project. Photo credit: Design Trust for Public Space.

What is the Design Trust’s role in the design/delivery of projects?

Through the advancement of critical new research and collaborative projects aimed to improve the well-being of residents throughout the five boroughs, we bring together city agencies, community groups, and private sector experts to transform and activate NYC’s public space. 

With every project, we act as a catalyst – we deliver innovative, yet feasible, solutions for our project partner to implement. Our work can be seen, felt and experienced throughout all five boroughs–from parks and plazas to streets and public buildings. Between rotating projects around the city and our Request for Proposals cycles, we aim to serve as an advocate, thought-leader, and incubator of responsible urbanism that can be replicated in cities across the world.

Design Trust Staff at the Restorative City Request for Proposals Winner’s Ceremony. Photo credit: Design Trust for Public Space.

How big is your team?

Our full time staff is around 10 people. As our projects evolve, we also have part-time fellows across a range of disciplines. At any given time, we might have 4-12 of these team members.

Is your team working remote, hybrid, or back full time in the office?

Our team is currently working hybrid, staff typically comes into the office 1-2 times a week and occasionally more for special events.

Design Trust Project: With SITU, Turnout NYC is creating equitable arts access through public space. Turnout Brooklyn hosts an open mic with Brownsville Community Justice Center. Photo Credit: SITU.

Describe the area of New York City your office is located in?

Our office is in TriBeCa, near City Hall. This part of the city is a wonderful central location to access all five boroughs, where our work is spread. It’s near many of the City agencies we work with and is part of a changing and dynamic neighborhood.

What is your favorite thing about working in New York City?

Great public spaces at every corner, whether it’s our local parks, a waterfront walk at lunch, or a funky bench to enjoy a coffee from.

If you were to give each member of the Design Trust one reading assignment, what book would you ask them to read?

The Restorative City by Jenny Roe and Layla McCay

Design Trust Project: Neighborhood Commons mural in Brownsville by C.J. Gabriel. Photo credit: Design Trust for Public Space.

What does your office ‘sound’ like? Do you listen to music or radio at work, can you hear the city life outside, or is it a place of quiet work?

Our office is relatively quiet and peacefully traffic-noise free, with a large conference room and smaller areas for calls (but do expect staff members to be cracking jokes throughout the day and lively full-staff meetings where you will be shown pictures of your colleagues’ pets and new sneakers).

Where is the most popular lunch spot in or around the office?

Everyone loves the bakery, Frenchette, in our building’s lobby. Visitors and guests often know our location because they are addicted to the chocolate croissant or the fresh-baked boule. The small of one of the city’s best french bakeries makes walking through our lobby an exercise in will-power.

Design Trust Project: Turnout NYC. Turnout Queens hosts an audience dance lesson and performance by Fanike African Dance Troupe with Queensboro Dance Festival. Photo credit: Turnout NYC

Give us an example of some organizations/bodies you have collaborated with on projects.

Our project partners are government agencies, community groups or other nonprofit organizations who look to the Design Trust’s long experience engaging multiple stakeholders–and our deep familiarity with how NYC really works–to influence public policy, design practice, or the natural or built environment.

We are currently working on Turnout NYC with SITU, an unconventional architecture practice, on a citywide effort to connect local arts organizations with the potential of public space. We are also in partnership with the New York City Housing Authority on Opening the Edge, a project that is creating new community space with resident-led design.. We are in the Alfresco NYC Coalition with  Regional Plan Association, and TriState Transportation Campaign to ensure that Open Restaurants and Open Streets programs are accessible to all New Yorkers, beneficial for the local communities, and sustainable in the long term.

In past projects we have worked with Brooklyn Public Library, Friends of the Highline, Grand Army Plaza Coalition, NYC DOT, Parks and Recreation, and many more! Take a look at our past partners here.

Related on Archinect: New arts initiative by SITU and Design Trust for Public Space builds architectural kit-of-parts for public cultural venues

If you had one message to give to architects on the topic of public space in New York City, what would it be?

The future of New York City is Public Space.

Tell us about a completed project you are proud of.

Earlier this year, the Design Trust released a new toolkit supported by the NYC Department of Small Business Services as part of the Neighborhood Commons: Plazas, Sidewalks, and Beyond initiative, aiming to provide small business and place-based organizations with recovery tools and strategies to utilize public space. Two pilot projects were developed and launched this Summer to test out these recommendations and bring creative new programming to New York neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Commons partnered with I AM CaribBEING and the Brownsville Community Justice Center to launch the Watkins Public Space, a new community space bringing local makers and vendors to Brownsville this Summer. Featuring I AM CaribBEING’s iconic yellow shipping-container-turned-local-shop, Watkins became a space for public art, food, family days, performances, and more in the neighborhood.

Design Trust Project: Opening the Edge. Resident-led Design Team reviews model for a new public space at Lillian Wald Houses, a NYCHA development . Photo Credit: Design Trust for Public Space.

 The “What’s up, Jamaica!” exhibition highlighted how art and commerce can support each other in public spaces. Working in partnership with Cultural Collaborative Jamaica, 165th Street Mall, and King Manor Museum, “What’s up, Jamaica!” presents a look back at photojournalist Nat Valentine’s captivating work showcasing events and people around the neighborhood. As a photographer for The Times Ledger for nearly three decades and long-time resident of Queens, Nat Valentine’s work is a love-letter to the borough.  Banners along 165th Street Mall in Jamaica displayed Mr. Valentine’s work as local vendors activated the space this past June with music, arts and crafts, games, food and plenty of dancing.

The community joy and celebration of culture fostered by these two summer projects highlight how critical small businesses are to the livelihood and well-being of New York’s neighborhoods. We are meeting a generational moment to rethink how public space can serve every New Yorker.

Design Trust Project: Photo Urbanism. 2020 Photo Urbanism Fellow Barnabas Crosby at the inaugural Neighborhood Narratives Youth Photography Workshop. The workshop was a collaborative effort between Design Trust, the Museum of the City of New York and NeON Photography, initiated by EPS Fellow, Kimberly Mota. Photo credit: Anthony Artis.

What position(s) are you currently hiring for?

We are currently hiring for a Development Associate to play an integral role in the organization’s fundraising program and planning special events, as well as looking for photographers to apply for the 2022-2023 Photo Urbanism Fellowship with our latest initiative, The Restorative City, focusing on themes of health equity and the built environment!

The Design Trust will soon be putting out an application for our yearly Equitable Public Space Fellowship! Every year, Design Trust selects a promising emerging professional whose life and work experience would contribute significantly to the design expertise and design thinking in our work with community-based organizations and public agencies. We seek candidates from historically marginalized groups and underrepresented perspectives who are curious, driven, and passionate about NYC’s shared spaces and transforming the city’s landscape.

The Fellow joins the Design Trust team as a full-time paid staff member for an intensive one-year fellowship, and become a part of the Design Trust community, interact with project fellows, partners, and collaborator

Design Trust Project: Alfresco NYC Coalition supporting safe and equitable outdoor dining and open streets programming. Photo credit: Alfresco NYC.

What project(s) are the new team members likely to be working on?

Our Photo Urbanism Fellow will be working on the Restorative City Request for Proposals, a call to action for urban planning, design, and public policy professionals to leverage built environments to disrupt health inequality in New York City.

The Development Associate will support all of our current projects and be an integral part of fundraising and special events, including our Annual Benefit.

In three words, how would you describe the Design Trust’s ethos?

Equitable, collaborative, and transformative.

Archinect Feature: The Future of Zoning in New York City

Meet Your Next Employer is one of a number of ongoing weekly series showcasing the opportunities available on our industry-leading job board. Our Job Highlights series looks at intriguing and topical employment opportunities currently available on Archinect Jobs, while our weekly roundups curate job opportunities by location, career level, and job description.

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