Clockwise from top left: Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Weir Farm National Historic Site, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, Steamtown National Historic Site
Van Alen Institute and the National Park Service (NPS) have launched National Parks Now, a competition inviting multidisciplinary teams of young professionals to develop strategies for reshaping the national parks visitor experience. As the National Park Service prepares to celebrate its centennial in 2016, the competition highlights four parks in the Northeast Region as case studies for attracting diverse audiences, telling new stories, and engaging the next generation of visitors at a time of fast-evolving technologies, regional contexts, and audience expectations:
- Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Oyster Bay, NY), the estate of President Theodore Roosevelt
- Steamtown National Historic Site (Scranton, PA), one of the world’s most important monuments to the steam locomotive
- Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (Paterson, NJ), a historic birthplace of American textile manufacturing
- Weir Farm National Historic Site (Ridgefield, CT), the summer estate of the artist Julian Alden Weir
These sites tell complex stories about one of the country’s densest and most diverse urban regions and contain countless layers of the nation’s economic, ecological, and cultural history. National Parks Now calls on teams to propose a broad range of interventions—new learning tools, hands-on workshops, customizable self-led tours, site-specific leisure and exploration opportunities, digital narratives, short or long-term interactive installations, performance events, outreach and engagement campaigns, for example—to create new experiences that connect these parks to larger, more diverse audiences throughout the region, and develop a model for similar parks nationwide.
“As we look back at the 100-year legacy of the National Park Service, it’s also a perfect time to look creatively at the visitor experience at several select park units and consider new ways to share park stories and respond to audience needs,” said Gay Vietzke, Deputy Regional Director, National Park Service, Northeast Region. “National Parks Now is a truly innovative—and necessary—effort to ensure national parks are relevant in the 21st century.”
“Too few people realize what a huge resource these smaller national park sites are for local communities and for larger urban networks—as an escape and as a part of people’s everyday lives.” said Van Alen Institute Executive Director David van der Leer.
National Parks Now is a central part of Elsewhere: Escape and the Urban Landscape, a multi-year initiative of Van Alen Institute exploring how both the form and organization of the built environment influence our need for escape. Through competitions, public programs, and research, this unique multidisciplinary effort is bringing together innovators in design, public health, policy, and the sciences to change the way we understand cities.
Multidisciplinary teams will be selected from an international open Request for Qualifications process. Teams are strongly encouraged to include expertise in fields such as architecture and landscape architecture, graphic and interactive design, exhibition and film production, history, preservation, communications, and the social and environmental sciences. Team leads must be early career professionals with professional degrees obtained within the last ten years, and teams are encouraged to apply with an academic partner that could incorporate the challenges of the competition into studios, independent studies, or other education programs. The deadline for registration and electronic submission of the RFQ is 11:59 p.m. EDT on October 30, 2014 via the competition website.
Four teams—one for each park site—will be selected to receive a $15,000 stipend each to participate in a six-month, collaborative research and design process that explores the themes of region, engagement, narrative, and place. At the conclusion of this phase, one team will be selected to receive an additional $10,000 to create a prototype for one of their strategies, which will be implemented at their site in summer of 2015.
Please visit www.vanalen.org/nationalparksnow for a complete RFQ, including details on the submission process.
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