Clockwise: DD Allen, Ted Berger, Deborah Berke, J. Carter Brown, Andrea Woodner, Claire Weisz, Raymond Merritt, David Childs

20 years, 20 champions. Each instrumental in Design Trust's lasting impact on NYC's public realm. Each another journey.

Hear each champion's story, one every day here on our blog, culminating with a grand celebration on October 14, at Christie's. While enjoying a festive evening of music by AndrewAndrew, cocktails by Templeton Rye, custom photo shoots, hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction of art and design objects, you'll also meet the 20/20 Public Space Champions in person.

Join us to celebrate our champions, who have tirelessly been working to improve the daily lives of New Yorkers for two decades. Jumpstart the next 20 years of urban innovation by buying a ticket to the gala today.


Twenty years ago, an artist and native New Yorker named Andrea Woodner had a vision for an organization that could transform the life of the city by connecting city agencies with the burgeoning design community. She named it "Design Trust for Public Space" to reflect the mission of bringing design expertise and design thinking to the public realm. 

Andrea enlisted the leadership and support of designer DD Allen, arts leader Ted Berger, architect Deborah Berke, museum director J. Carter Brown, architect Claire Weisz, philanthropist Ray Merritt, and architect David Childs to become the founding board of this new nonprofit organization. 

These eight individuals are champions in the truest sense of the word, banding together to build an entire organization dedicated to a concept that few people had heard of – "public space." Meet DD, Ted, Deborah, J. Carter, Andrea, Claire, Ray, and David. 

Let's start with a fill-in-the-blank question. Public space is vital because…? 

Ted Berger: Public space is vital because we need to connect with – and be connected to  others.

Deborah Berke: Public space is vital because shared physical places are essential for civic well-being.

Andrea Woodner: Public space is vital because it gives us fresh eyes. Also, it accommodates the unexpected and permits the unscripted. 

David Childs: Public space is vital because it gives purpose to a city, fulfilling the daily lives of its citizens, and providing the civic pride and dignity people rightly expect.

Andrea, Can you share a little more about what inspired you to start the Design Trust? 

Andrea: Twenty years ago "public" was not a word associated with either space or design. Yet New York's public sector was, as it had always been, full of talented designers, planners and policy makers who were drawn to the great and interesting possibilities of designing public libraries, esplanades and parks, but were overlooked by architecture and design advocacy groups, and perennially lacking in resources. 

At the same time, cities -- New York prominent among them -- were being newly valued by planners, largely due to their rich connective tissue of public space and infrastructure, even as suburbs were going through negative social change and evidencing their poverty of planning. 

Similarly, the academic architectural community was beginning to value context as an antidote to heroic structure: "urban fabric", "connectivity", scale and proportion were all being newly accredited; moreover, the disciplines of landscape architecture and urban and regional planning were gaining in status and being treated almost equivalently with architecture. 

The Design Trust was created to connect the burgeoning interest of the architecture community in cities and urban fabric with the great potential locked within the public sector. 

How has public space evolved since the early days of Design Trust? 

Claire Weisz: Making the most of New York City’s greatest asset, the city itself, takes a real partnership between public and private interests. So many current projects in New York City, whether driven by public agencies or private design studios, owe their traction to the Design Trust’s first key initiatives: the guidelines and toolkits, the buildings and public spaces that were implemented from these guidelines, the reclamation of the High Line, and even the Taxi of Tomorrow. These initiatives catalyzed a plethora of commissions that are now being built and discussed today.

Ted: When Andrea Woodner conceived of Design Trust and asked me to join its founding board twenty years ago, I’m not sure I fully understood the journey I would be starting. These years have been extraordinary for me, discovering the dimensions of what “public space” means for me personally and for us collectively. Through my ongoing involvement with Design Trust, I’m continually excited by the Design Trust process , for it means we’re always trying to learn  with and from others as we explore and advance new possibilities inherent in the multiple nuanced meanings of “public space.”

What is your take on becoming a "public space champion"? 

Deborah: Enthusiasm! I have always been interested in public spaces and I enjoy getting others excited about them too.

Claire: It’s a great feeling to be a 20-year+ advocate for the concept and realization of the Design Trust for Public Space. Over this time period, there has been an awakening to how “Design” and “Public”, when stirred together, can have a powerful effect.

Ted: While I’m certainly honored at this anniversary moment to be designated a “Public Space Champion” for past efforts and deeply grateful to be included among such illustrious company, I realize that I and we still have much more to learn and do regarding public space. Everyone must become a Champion of Public Space. 

As cities throughout the world evolve and respond to escalating populations, as technological advances demand greater understanding and policy development regarding private and public space, as so, so many ideas and concerns about space continue to develop, we must all  better understand  the challenges of what is at stake and what role our individual and  joint responsibilities in championing the role public space must be in our lives.

What projects are you working on now? 

Deborah: In all we do, from ground-up architecture and interior design to master planning and urban design, we strive to design authentic, life enriching, true to place projects. Our current projects show our commitment to this “whole vision” approach. Our renovation and addition to New York’s 122 Community Arts Center is under construction in the East Village. Our latest 21c Museum Hotel will open in downtown Lexington, Kentucky in early 2016; the project transforms a landmark McKim Mead & White tower that is adjacent to the city’s main square into a 24/7 free art museum.

Claire: In private practice with my partners at WXY we continue this trajectory of city-building by exploring the civic; in action and in the commons. Efforts like the Brooklyn Strand, the Queensway, Astor Place, and the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan are inspired in part by the Times Square Streetscape Improvement project and the Reclamation of the High Line

David: 35 Hudson Yards here in NYC. A one million square foot mixed use development to include retail; restaurants; major health club/spa; specialty office; hotel; and residential. And all that on a site with live rail beneath its entirety. Quite a Chinese puzzle! The building’s program will ensure a lively public 24/7/365 activity and the building is an important section of the frame of the main public space with its center sculpture focus and rich landscape.

Andrea: I've just started the Hercules Art/ Studio Program, providing affordable studio space and art community for emerging artists: Let's try to keep NY a center of cultural production, not just commodification!

Public space is vital because it gives purpose to a city, fulfilling the daily lives of its citizens, and providing the civic pride and dignity people rightly expect.

David Childs, Chairman Emeritus, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)