Origin & Impact

After Hurricane Sandy impacted 13 states, costing more than $65 billion in damages and economic loss, President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force launched an innovative design competition, Rebuild by Design, that coupled innovation and global expertise with community insight to develop implementable solutions to the region’s most complex needs. In partnership with U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD)Municipal Art SocietyRegional Plan AssociationNYU’s Institute for Public KnowledgeThe Van Alen Institute, and support from The Rockefeller Foundation and other philanthropic partners, the multi-stage competition guided participants through in-depth research, cross-sector, cross-professional collaboration, and iterative design. Participants collaborated with community and local government stakeholders to ensure each stage of the competition were based on the best knowledge and talent and final proposals would be realistic and replicable.

The Rebuild by Design Hurricane Sandy Design Competition changed the way the federal government responds to disaster and became the model now used in other regions to prepare communities for future uncertainties. Its success has also inspired other efforts. In 2014, President Obama launched the National Disaster Resilience Competition, which awarded $1 billion to 13 cities and states across the country to fund resilience-building projects. Internationally, The Rockefeller Foundation, in partnership with the USAID and The Swedish International Development Agency, developed the Global Partnership for Resilience based on the Rebuild by Design competition model and collaborative approach. The competition model’s success also led to the formation of the Rebuild by Design organization, which is helping cities and communities around the globe become more resilient through collaborative research and design.


Convening Talent

From nearly 150 international applicants, 10 teams – comprised of engineers, planners, architects, landscape designers, and scientists – were chosen to work with local government officials, community leaders, residents, and businesses. Instead of asking for ideas as part of the selection process, teams were chosen based on their backgrounds, approaches and willingness to participate in a comprehensive research process.

Collaborative Research

The 10 teams spent three months doing in-depth research to arm them with a greater understanding of issues at stake. Guided by the competition’s four partner organizations and a Research Advisory Group, the teams toured the Sandy-affected region, where they learned what issues were most important to residents, community organizations, activists, business leaders, experts, and government officials. Community events encourage residents to share stories about how they were affected by Sandy, provided perspectives on ongoing response efforts, and offered insights on their priorities for long-term recovery. The teams then explored opportunities to address the overlap between the region’s vulnerabilities and the affected communities’ visions for long-term development.

At the end of the research stage, the teams collectively presented 41 concepts, or “design opportunities,” for possible interventions: early proposals that described a multifaceted vision for a more resilient region. With input from a jury, partners, and local government, HUD selected one design opportunity per team to move to the design stage for further development.

Read the 41 original concepts which lead to the finalist 10 projects.

Collaborative Design

Collaboration with community stakeholders and local government was essential to designing the final proposals. In less than six months, teams convened over 350 small group meetings, workshops, and more than 50 community outreach events throughout the Sandy-affected region to develop and refine their design opportunities into fundable solutions. Each team worked side by side with a coalition of local stakeholders to help them achieve the level of detail needed to drive their ideas forward, as well as gain feedback in larger community forums.

This process also included a series of larger public programs called “Scale It Up,” which were designed to make the teams’ designs accessible and engaging to all audiences. At the end of the competition, Design Teams submitted proposals, evidence of community support, a cost-benefit analysis, an implementation plan, and material for an exhibition.

Winning Designs and Implementation

The 10 teams publicly showcased their visionary proposals at public exhibitions in New York and New Jersey. Following these exhibitions, the teams presented their final proposals to the competition jury. On June 2, 2014, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the competition’s winning designs. In total, HUD awarded $930 million in funding to New York City, the State of New York, the State of New Jersey, and the State of Connecticut to implement the first phases of the six winning proposals, plus one finalist. All of the projects are currently in various stages of this work, which has included re-scoping, environmental testing, and community engagement. Stay up-to-date on each project’s progress and track how they have evolved from competition proposals to their current reality by checking the project page and signing up for our newsletter.  

Read the Hurricane Sandy Design Competition Book.


Rebuild by Design: 2 Years Later

On June 3, 2016, we celebrated the two-year anniversary of the winning Hurricane Sandy Design Competition projects. There has been incredible progress turning the winning proposals—visions for regional resilience—into actionable projects supported by local communities. We brought together a diverse mix of government, practitioners, and community organizations for a celebration of this moment and to look to the future. Presentations covered the progress of the projects to date, best practices on engagement, challenges of implementation, and the lessons learned from the last two years.

Media Archive: 2 Year Celebration Video | Individual Videos | Presentations

Rebuilding With Resilience Policy Report Release

On November 15, 2016, in collobration with The Georgetown Climate Center and The Rockefeller Foundation, we launched the report, “Rebuilding with Resilience: Lessons from the Rebuild by Design Competition After Hurricane Sandy.” We, along with HUD and 100 Resilient Cities, convened a diverse mix of practioners, academics, and state and local implementing agencies to discuss lessons learned from the implementation of the HUD funded projects to inform current and future resilience initiatives and identify needed policy reforms.

Media Archive: Read the Full Report | Read the Ten Key Takeaways | Presentations | Video of the Event



Lead Funder: The Rockefeller Foundation | Additional Funding: JPB Foundation, Surdna Foundation, The Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, The Hearst Foundation, and The New Jersey Recovery Fund.

Partner Organizations

Municipal Arts Society, New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge, Regional Plan Association, Van Alen Institute

Federal and Local Government

Lead Partner: Housing and Urban Development with the Hurricane Sandy Task Force.