Press Releases June 8, 2023

Winners of Perkins&Will’s 2023 Phil Freelon Design Competition Propose Innovative Ideas for Equitable Transit in New York City

  • In its 19th year, Perkins&Will’s internal design ideas competition envisions new approaches to transit through the lens of social equity, community resilience, and environmental sustainability.
  • The 2023 competition challenged design teams to reimagine the proposed Brooklyn College stop of the future Interborough Express, an ongoing light-rail project in New York City.

NEW YORK—Perkins&Will has announced the winners of its annual Phil Freelon Design Competition. Now in its 19th year, the competition invites multidisciplinary teams throughout the firm to develop innovative design solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems. Evaluated by an external jury of renowned architects, civic leaders, and transportation experts, the proposals represent the power of design thinking to make the world a more equitable and beautiful place.

This year’s competition challenged teams to create proposals for the Interborough Express (IBX) in New York City. Currently undergoing a feasibility study, IBX aims to transform a largely unused 14-mile freight railway running between Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and Jackson Heights, Queens into a light-rail system. If completed, the route will connect 12 existing subway stations and add an additional 10 stops to the city’s rail network, creating a new transit option for the close to 900,000 residents in underserved neighborhoods along the line.

The competition focused on the Brooklyn College stop of the IBX line, a mixed-use neighborhood with a robust demographic. However, proposals needed to be adaptable throughout the system. In addition to ensuring that the station provides a rewarding journey for commuters, the goal was to create a healthier, sustainable, and more equitable space—fulfilling what the firm calls

The external jury looked at the submissions based on the uniqueness of the proposal, the quality of the experience it provides, the overall benefit it offers to the community, and the feasibility of implementing it. The jury included Robert Freudenberg of the Regional Plan Association; Jing Liu, co-founder of SO-IL; Marc Norman, Chair and Associate Dean New York University, Schack Institute of Real Estate; Masamichi Udagawa, co-founder of Antenna Design; and Claire Weisz, founding partner of WXY. Out of 37 submissions, the jury selected first, second, and third place winners, and awarded three citations.

Here’s a glance at the winning proposals and honorable mentions:

1st Place

Green Link
Designed by Stephanie Matkaluk, Yann Tregoat, Megan Stenftenagel, Thomas Vanderkruk

In “Green Link,” the rail line shares the right-of-way with a multimodal path and greenway. Stations act as social hubs, topped by multifunctional roof structures that generate energy, offer wayfinding, and provide adaptable spaces for the community.

“We approached the brief empathetically, focusing on the site’s character and needs of the community and city,” the design team says. “Connecting the city, neighborhood, and the individual became a unifying thread for our project.”

Juror Masamichi Udagawa, co-founder of Antenna Design, praised this concept and the team’s decision to include plantings along the entire track. “The difference in approach for this one was having nature in parallel with the track, as opposed to having it decked over the track. It felt like the most overall balanced proposal,” he says.

Juror Marc Norman, Chair and Associate Dean New York University, Schack Institute of Real Estate, was impressed with how the roof of the station extends out to the neighborhood. “It beautifully brings all elements of sustainability, transportation, and culture together,” Norman says.

2nd place

All of this will be yours
Designed by Gaia Cella, Anish Reddy, Camilla Wisborg, Diana Chang

“All of this will be yours” imagines the transit station metaphorically as a forest, providing a calming and immersive experience in nature for transit riders and members of the community. It also improves air quality, reduces stormwater runoff, and supports biodiversity. The only visible built component is a minimal wooden structure that rests lightly on the land.

“In an attempt to reverse the encroachment of consumerism, the transit station becomes zero footprint: a new ecosystem where we can give more of our land back to nature and still receive more in return as a community,” the design team says.

“This linear infrastructure in the city is so valuable and hard to achieve,” says juror Jing Liu, co-founder of SO-IL. “But when achieved, it offers a more connected infrastructure. The simple act of combining with ecological corridors can provide an enormous amenity for neighborhoods.”

“Bringing nature back into the built environment is important for health and climate benefits,” says juror Robert Freudenberg, Vice President of Energy & Environment at the Regional Plan Association. “I think this was wildly imaginative and really inspirational. Getting a piece of something like this on the IBX line would be doing our city a service.”

3rd Place

Designed by David Salinas, Wendy López, Yaressi Trevino

“AGORA” draws inspiration from ancient Greek agoras. central public spaces for assemblies and markets. From this ancient precedent, the design team proposed a contemporary plaza that connects people, fosters diverse experiences, and strengthens societal bonds.

The main features of the proposal are mass timber canopy modules that support solar panels for on-site energy production, glazing for daylight transmission, and a stormwater catchment system for reducing runoff. The modules form semi-private areas in the open plaza that serve as shelters for the community and transit users.

“What I appreciated the most about this proposal was the beauty of simplicity,” says Liu. “They provided just the essentials to invite the evolving communities to define the activities under the roof.”

“Coordination and community made the whole experience worthwhile and enjoyable,” the design team says. “We were in the studio for the whole weekend, which was a valuable opportunity for us to discover how our individual skills complement each other. We feel honored by the acknowledgment and the support from Perkins&Will.”


Equity Crossing
Designed by Derek Shin, WenJie Zheng, Xianming Sang, Yiqi Song             

“The Equity Crossing” aims to create a multicultural space that promotes connectivity and sense of community. The proposal features a bridge that connects the grounds on both sides of the trenched station with ramps that facilitate easy movement. Recycled shipping containers serve as pods that can be easily assembled, stacked, and expanded for various purposes, such as vendor stations, cultural hubs, or even temporary mobile homes.

“What I liked about this prototype is how it can be expandable to other stations,” says Masamichi Udagawa, co-founder of Antenna Design. “It also has good access to the other side of the track, which surprisingly, others did not have.”


Get Sidetracked        
Designed by Christine Gao, Dan Qin

“Get Sidetracked” aims to be a destination and place of social gathering, rather than a space of transition. Its public plaza gently descends into an amphitheater for various public events, such as performances, markets, or open-air movie nights.

“I especially appreciated its unique approach on night lighting as a primary need,” says Claire Weisz, juror and founding partner of WXY. The design team also considered safety and access from different streets, integrating the station and the community under a minimalistic but iconic roof.


Pak Lakansyel (Rainbow Park)        
Designed by Nina Feng, Stephen Conschafter, Aditi Subramanian             

“Pak Lakansyèl,” Haitian Creole for “Rainbow Park,” is a transit hub, park, and playground for the Little Haiti community and the many other groups who live in the area. The proposal integrates the park and the station, while creating a cultural hub for and by the people.

Freudenberg and Norman appreciated how the design team celebrated the existing community and brought out its cultural heritage through their concept.

To view all the submissions and learn more about the design challenge, visit our Phil Freelon Design Competition website.

About the Phil Freelon Design Competition
The Phil Freelon Design Competition honors the eponymous late architect and Perkins&Will design director who championed design for humanity. Launched firmwide in 2004 as the Design Leadership Council (DLC) Design Competition and renamed in 2019 in Freelon’s memory, the annual contest is part of the firm’s culture of curiosity, creativity, and innovation.

About the Jurors

Robert Freudenberg; Regional Plan Association
Robert is vice president of RPA’s energy and environmental programs, leading initiatives in areas including climate mitigation and adaptation, open space conservation and park development, and water resource management. He oversees projects and policies to improve public health, quality of life, sustainable development and climate resilience in the New York metropolitan area.

Jing Liu; SO-IL
Jing is co-founder of SO–IL, a New York City-based architecture and design firm that creates spaces and objects for future culture. Her keen skills in combining digital technology with traditional craft and firm belief in design’s ability to re-engage people with the physical world around them allow the buildings she designs to become places of exchange that welcome interpretation and transformation.

Masamichi Udagawa; Antenna Design
Masamichi is co-founder of Antenna Design, which aims to make the experience of objects and environments more meaningful and exciting. In the public space, Antenna has extensive experience ranging from the design of New York City and Washington DC subway cars to ticket vending machines and public information kiosks, affecting the urban experience of millions of people daily.

Marc Norman; New York University
Marc is the Chair and Associate Dean of the Schack Institute of Real Estate at New York University. Marc is a renowned urban planner and a veteran in the field of community development and finance. He is also the founder of Ideas and Action, a consulting firm. A former Loeb Fellow, Marc has extensive experience in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Claire Weiss, FAIA; WXY
Claire is a founding partner of WXY. Her work as an architect and urbanist focuses on innovative approaches to public space, structures, and cities. WXY is globally recognized for its place-based approach to architecture, urban design, and planning, and has played a vital role in design thinking around resiliency.