Politics, Protest + Place: The role of inclusive Urbanism in Civic Activism

On June 5th when Mayor Bowser painted “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street NW ahead of the White House and as a short lived fence transformed into a makeshift billboard, it became abundantly clear that the looks and style of public space can itself be an act of protest and speech. During the recent protest, people expressed their resentment and frustration by reclaiming space through art, text, removal of iconic statues and renaming of squares throughout the town , which brought a unprecedented transfiguration of space by symbolizing unity and hope. We seek to look at ways during which the physical environment of cities can participate and promote civic engagement, sharing within the lifetime of the community and activism in our capital – Washington, DC.

L’Enfant designed the nation’s capital in baroque style, transposing French colonial architectural elements within the American Landscape. The plan features ceremonial spaces and grand radial avenues creating a system of intersecting diagonal avenues superimposed over a grid system. The open spaces were laid during a systematic fashion reserved to feature statues and memorials. This resulted into powerful axial lines topographically connecting and highlighting symbols of power. These symbols of power are seen as places where people can voice their opinion in mass.

The District of Columbia’s complex and storied history is intrinsically tied to protesting. As a way of voicing frustrations or agreement, people from everywhere the country visit DC for marches, protests, and demonstrations. Most notably, approximately 850,000 Black men gathered on the National Mall for the Million Man March in 1995 as an indication to direct the eye of politicians towards issues that directly affect people of color. More recently, the 2016 Women’s March gathered approximately 470,000 women on the National Mall. Although the National Mall holds many thousands of individuals , is it inclusive, safe for all people? Smaller demonstrations regularly occur near the White House at the recently created Black Lives Matter Plaza. The Plaza has become a haunt for people to collect to protest & commune. Congressman John Lewis’s motorcade made bound to undergo Black Lives Matter Plaza where many had gathered to pay tribute and celebrate the lifetime of the civil rights activist, Congressman, and community leader. The White House fence and therefore the refore the threshold between the general public and the private realm has become a healing landscape form.

The Challenge

As architects and urban designers, we are stewards of public space, and it is our professional and civic responsibility to influence change (and our elected officials) toward a more equitable built environment for all. We call on all designers to use the public realm of the District of Columbia as a canvas for provocative conceptualization to facilitate social activism in our public realm in new and novel ways.


10/26/20 Open Registration
11/02/20 Start Competition
11/30/20 Competition Ends. Submissions are final.
End 2020 Finalists are announced, and the winner selected


The winner will receive monetary award and free registration to the next AIA|DC Urban Design Competition, in addition to the opportunity to author an article in this journal and receive a printed copy. The finalists will be featured in UDDC’s annual publication about their submission and will receive a printed copy of the journal. See previous years’ journals here:

Avenues, Issue 1 – Livability + The City
Avenues, Issue 2 – Spatial Equity
Avenues, Issue 3 – Transparency

Entry Fees: Students $20 | All other participants $50

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