The Challenge

Theatrum Mundi, in partnership with the AIA New York, launched a Designing for Free Speech challenge centered around designing spaces in New York City that stimulate the rights enshrined in the First Amendment. Applicants were asked to submit design proposals that propose architectural or performative designs (temporary or permanent) that transform spaces in New York City into places for public “demonstration.” This challenge was less about finding the ideal places for free expression than it is about re-imagining and idealizing existing spaces that have the potential for animating the public, especially spaces that are not traditionally considered in this frame.

Design Proposals

This challenge was a one-step open call with no submission fee.

The online applications consisted of three restrictive elements, to both promote ease of comparison and allow teams to create proposals in relatively short spans of time.

  1. Identify a public space in New York City (as large or small as you like) that could benefit from a more active and interactive social or political engagement, and explain why this space is an ideal place for “free speech.” These places can include existing spaces or real or imagined new developments.
    250 words maximum & 1 PDF upload with up to 5 photos
  2. Design plans for a physical transformation of, or performative intervention within, this space, explaining why and how this plan is right for this place.
    250 words maximum & 1 PDF upload with up to 5 visual elements (photos, sketches, models, etc.) Links to videos were also accepted.
  3. Description of how the proposed plan would actually be implemented within the space (logistics, materials, construction, actors, funding, etc.)
    250 words maximum


We encouraged proposals from interdisciplinary teams that included performers, activists, architects, urban designers, planners, and any other perspectives that have a relevant impact on the new design approach.

Participants were asked for a short paragraph detailing the role of each team member in the creation of the intervention and how his or her point of view contributed to the collaboration.
50 words per team member/Maximum 6 team members


To guide the proposals, we offered four items for consideration surrounding ideals for public spaces:

  • Is the space publicly-owned or privately-owned?
  • Is the space flexible for many public uses?
  • Is it open 24 hours a day?
  • Is it anchored by uses that attract movement throughout the day?

Entry Opportunity

Every completed proposal (that met the application requirements) is publicly accessible on this website , and encourages open, constructive discussion of the designs.

A jury of performers, urban designers, architects, activists, and social theorists selected eight of the design proposals to be featured at this exhibition. Two additional designs will be selected to be featured by the public via a voting mechanism on our website.

Awards & Exhibition

Ten selected proposals were awarded $500 toward the implementation of their proposal. These ten proposals were also featured at the ‘Designing for Free Speech Exhibition’ at AIA New York in 2014.

Of these ten featured proposals, eight were selected by the jury, and two were selected via an ongoing online web vote by the public.