Free speech is essential for a vibrant culture and a democratic society, yet spaces for public expression seem harder and harder to find in the places where we live, work and play.

What does a space for free speech look and feel and sound like? Can they be designed? Are there places in New York City where we can design them?

Designing for Free Speech: The Challenge

Theatrum Mundi, in partnership with the AIA New York, launches a ‘Designing for Free Speech’ challenge that centers around designing spaces in New York City that stimulate the rights enshrined in the First Amendment. Applicants will be 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 is 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 will be a one-step open call with no submission fee.

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

The online form asks you to:

  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 will also be 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 encourage proposals from interdisciplinary teams that include performers, activists, architects, urban designers, planners, and any other perspectives that have a relevant impact on the new design approach.

You will be 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 offer 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

Submissions will be accepted until March 31, 2014. The submission deadline has been extended to May 15, 2014. This will be the final deadline.

Every completed proposal (that meets the application requirements) will be publicly accessible on our website on a rolling basis during the submission process, and we will encourage open, constructive discussion of the designs.

Each completed proposal will also be represented at the ‘Designing for Free Speech Exhibition’ at the AIA New York Chapter. A jury of performers, urban designers, architects, activists, and social theorists will select 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. Ten proposals will be featured in all.

Awards & Exhibition

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

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

All submitted proposals that meet the criteria will be projected in a slideshow during the ‘Designing for Free Speech Exhibition’.