Funding Received: 2013
New York, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
July 25, 2013

Sandy left the New York City neighborhoods of Red Hook, the Rockaways, and the Seaport in Lower Manhattan physically, economically and emotionally devastated. When first-­responders departed and short-­term efforts have been completed, long-term recovery continues. These communities hit hardest by recent natural disasters must re-evaluate the meaning and consequences of living and working by the waterfront, as the area’s sense of place has abruptly changed forever.

AIGA/NY — the New York Chapter of the professional association for design —­ developed a program called DESIGN/RELIEF to produce design charrettes, lectures and workshops pairing professional design teams with the local community in order to create design-based solutions to aid these three New York City neighborhoods re-establish their sense of place and identity.

AIGA/NY has led Design For Good summits in recent years, but DESIGN/RELIEF marks AIGA/NY's most ambitious endeavor yet to create a large-scale, city-wide design project involving multiple sites and stakeholders. It signals the organization's turn toward creating multi-faceted programs that offer opportunities for designers to engage in participatory, contextual, and meaningful projects to serve our city's inhabitants.


We continue to refine our execution plan and strategy to establish and oversee a participatory framework of research, discovery, and design. This involves collecting input from neighborhood inhabitants, community organizations, city government officials, local business owners, artists, and designers through community design charrettes. As design is both a noun and a verb that is inherently relational, engages a public, and exists within a context, the collaborative process will allow everyone to listen to experiences and perspectives, identify sites for design responses, research feasibility opportunities and obstacles, and ultimately serve as the foundation upon which Design Fellows will absorb multiple viewpoints and in turn determine appropriate and forward-thinking responses that will reinvigorate each neighborhood.

So far our team has conducted initial site visits for preliminary research, as well as initiated conversations with potential design leaders within and related to the neighborhoods addressed by our initiative and with community partners in each of the chosen areas about their experiences during the initial crisis of Hurricane Sandy, their existing programs, and future opportunities.

Waterfront in the Rockaways. Photo: Manuel Miranda

In the Rockaways, we've connected with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA), who led rebuilding efforts in the neighborhood. RWA continues to work towards the Greater Rockaway 2020 Waterfront Vision, a community-driven plan to enhance the waterfront area, infusing post-Sandy experience and insight to influence the rebuilding of the Rockaways as a more environmentally-resilient community.


In Red Hook, we met with the Red Hook Initiative (RHI) to explore potential areas of activation and engage with community members involved with the organization. As a long-term response post-Sandy, RHI is involved in providing access to resources by enrolling local youth in programs focused on education, employment and health, improving networks and communications through a neighborhood Wifi project (an award-winning project initiated during the Storm) and establishing methods to create community-driven solutions and neighborhood-wide emergency preparedness. We have also made contact with Portside New York, who has sustained efforts toward cultural tourism in the area, bridging the past, present and future.

Closed storefront in Lower Manhattan. Photo: Willy Wong

In Lower Manhattan, we visited South Street Seaport, identified retail storefronts closed for renovations, visited temporary retail installation See Change / New York, a summer street festival of pop-up food, retail, and entertainment venues, and identified differences that set this neighborhood apart from our other two sites. We have also spoken with the Economic Development Corporation, which has just announced Water Street Pops!, a program to enliven privately-owned public spaces in the neighborhood for the summer and possibly beyond.

We’ve also begun our search for a Program Director who will oversee all operational aspects of the project throughout all phases, work closely with AIGA/NY as well as DESIGN/RELIEF participants and Design Fellows, and facilitate conversations among a wide range of constituents and participants, track their activities and responsibilities, and keep lines of communication open. In addition, we’ve initiated the design and development of a project website that will document all of our research, process, thoughts, conversations, design development, and events related to our DESIGN/RELIEF work.

Our next steps are to formalize our community partnerships, identify participants for our charrettes, complete our Project Director search, and launch our project identity and website.

Recent Wins

—Conducted initial site visits and location scouting in all three neighborhoods
—Made contact with several potential community partners, local businesses, designers, and organizations
—Established project phases/methodology
—Interviewed candidates for Program Director
—Initiated design of project identity and website

Please send all Design/Relief inquiries to Laetitia Wolff, lwolff [at]