Weeks after the federal government enacted the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, two students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Wayne Congar and Troy Therrien, have convened an open ideas competition, dubbed Imagining Recovery, devised to integrate design into the conversation of how and where stimulus dollars should be spent.

Imagining Recovery

Calling the competition an attempt to "make sense of these numbers that are being thrown around," Congar hopes that the submissions will help interpret the 1500-plus page American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and create visions for the future. In a larger sense, the organizers hope to reorient how design is seen in a policy setting: Architecture and planning ideas should be present in the initial stages of policy creation, Congar says, rather than be part of a reactive process, in which designers are handed projects long after the government has allocated funds for them.

In addition to the competition, the organizers have created a live online forum in collaboration with the Morningside Post and ten students from Global Public Policy Network, whose members come from several universities. Therrien says the impetus behind the forum, which runs through March 15, is to “find a common language” between the usually separate worlds of public policy and design, creating a conversation they hope will inform the competition entries.

Those entries, according to the Imagining Recovery Web site, may be ideas “in any form, from physical, built objects, to technological applications and interfaces, to campaigns to affect social behavior, to the design of phasing strategies, and beyond.” Submissions are to center around one “experiential image,” which Therrien calls describes as a vision of “what life might be like after that money is spent.” This image should be accompanied by up to six accompanying text, visual, or video documents.

The competition is open to everyone, regardless of age, nationality, or profession. Submissions are due on April 29—the 100th day of the Obama Administration. The jury, which will include MoMA curator Barry Bergdoll and architect Bernard Tschumi, among others, will announce winners on May 13.

Three winners will be given cash awards (amounts are yet to be determined; the organizers are still fundraising). The winning concepts, along with a number of honorable mentions, will be published in a forthcoming issue of Volume Magazine and be featured in a traveling exhibition to be shown in New York, Beijing, and Amman, Jordan.