Washington DC

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

Submission: November 15, 2020
Registration: November 15, 2020
Language: English
Location: Washington DC, USA
Prizes: Please see details below
Type: Open


On June 5th when Mayor Bowser painted “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street NW in front of the White House and as a temporary fence transformed into a makeshift billboard, it became abundantly clear that the appearance and design 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 city, which brought an extraordinary transfiguration of space by symbolizing unity and hope. We seek to examine ways in which the physical environment of cities can participate and promote civic engagement, sharing in the life of the community and activism in our national capital – Washington, DC.

L’Enfant designed the nation’s capital in baroque style, transposing French colonial architectural elements in the American Landscape. The master 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 in 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 means of voicing frustrations or agreement, people from all over the country travel to 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 a demonstration to direct the attention 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 hundreds of thousands of people, 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 gathering place for people to gather to protest & commune. Congressman John Lewis’s motorcade made sure to pass through Black Lives Matter Plaza where many had gathered to pay tribute and celebrate the life of the civil rights activist, Congressman, and community leader. The White House fence and the threshold between the public and the private realm has become a healing landscape form.


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
11/15/20 Competition Ends. Submissions are final.
End 2020 Finalists are announced, and winner selected

Submission: November 15th 2020 at 11.59PM (EST)
Registration: Registrations open on October 26th 2020


$50 for All other Participants
$25 for Students

Language: English

Location: Washington DC


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:

>>> Go to the competition’s website <<<