We Build the ___________ City

Sylvia Harris Award 2014

Civic construction work—generally maligned while in progress, and taken for granted once finished—rarely receives the recognition it deserves for providing the necessary foundation for a thriving city. In 2013, the New York City Department of Design and Construction participated in the New Museum’s Ideas City Festival, and wanted to communicate the benefits of its work directly to the public. The DDC’s Office of Creative Services conceived of a “Civic Values Walking Tour” of a variety of DDC projects within the immediate vicinity of the New Museum. The projects represented a range of work—from police stations and fire houses to infrastructure, to cultural construction projects—demonstrating the ecosystem of services and culture provided by the city embedded in the very built environment.

The in-house team identified a shared civic value for each of these projects—the Safe City, Creative City, Healthy City, etc.—demonstrating the lofty ideas that the very concrete construction projects bring to life. We also gave booth visitors the opportunity to record their civic values and what kind of city they’d like to build. People filled in the blank on post-it notes printed with the “We Build the ________ City” theme of the event, and by the end of the day the booth was covered with an impressive collage of citizen-generated civic values.

Because the event had to be set up and taken down in one day, the team focused the design around the iconic and available: reflective orange-striped construction signage. We repurposed striped barriers into signage with the addition of vinyl lettering, balloons, and oversized posters. Volunteers wore matching t-shirts to complete the package. The uniformity of the design stood out from the urban fabric, and linked all of the distributed tour spots with the main booth in the heart of the festival.

We Build the _________ City was awarded the inaugural Sylvia Harris Award, SEGD's annual recognition for a project that addresses accessibility of design and enhancement of communication for projects in the public realm. The award was instituted in memory of Sylvia Harris, a long-time SEGD member and advocate for user-centered design.

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Jury Comments: 

“Sylvia would smile! Intervention into the everyday experience of a city dweller. It’s a double disruptive in that it disrupts what’s already disruptive! The whole system is well considered, building on the pride of the city. It builds citizen awareness of an urban issue, and it’s a call to action to take the walking tour. It’s an integrated program from top to bottom on a very conservative budget.”

Design Firm: 

New York City Department of Design and Construction, Office of Creative Services


New York City Department of Design and Construction

Location City: 

New York

Project Area: 

8x10-ft. exhibit booth; project tours over 1 sq. mile

Open Date: 

May 2013

Project Budget: 


Photo Credits: 

Kate Howe

Design Team: 

Kate Howe (design lead), Victoria Milne (creative director, writer), Julio Foronda (3D production), Xenia Diente (external liaison), Helena Lee (print production)





Linco (newspaper printer), Peeq Media (vinyl lettering), Ooshirts.com (t-shirts), Ballon Saloon (balloons)

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