David van der Leer, Principal of DVDL Design Decisions, is a consultant, curator, educator, moderator, researcher, strategist, and writer. David’s passion is reinventing the institutions of yesterday—and dreaming up the most inspirational institutions of tomorrow—through excellent architecture and interdisciplinary programs. David founded DVDL Design Decisions in 2018 after having worked and consulted with institutions, government agencies, corporations, and individuals for 15 years. Creative, intelligent, intuitive, and forward-looking, David has extensive experience in bringing together interdisciplinary teams to create successful design projects. David teaches on the reprogramming of cultural institutions at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation. David has created, chaired, and led nearly 30 design competitions, and he has commissioned numerous design and art projects. He enjoys rethinking conventional design competition and commissioning processes, and actively promotes new practices in events like the Design Competition Conference he developed and co-chaired at Harvard University in 2015. Born and raised in The Netherlands, David is a graduate of Erasmus University Rotterdam, and of the High Impact Leadership program at Columbia University’s Business School.

Photo by Marcus Morris

From 2013 to 2018, David was the Executive Director of Van Alen Institute—a 124-year-old design nonprofit that develops cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions to make cities better places. Prior to repositioning Van Alen Institute, David created and curated the Architecture and Urban Studies program for the Guggenheim Museum from 2008 to 2013. At the Guggenheim, David developed and co-curated the highly publicized BMW Guggenheim Lab that traveled from New York City to Berlin and Mumbai in its own building. He curated projects like stills potting nyc and exhibitions like Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward, among others. In 2012, he co-curated the United States Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, and in 2011 he curated for the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture. In 2010, The New York Times recognized David as one of ten promising curators of the next generation.

Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward installation view. Photo by David Heald
BMW Guggenheim Lab designed by Atelier Bow-Wow at its first stop in New York City. Photo by David Heald

Among David’s former collaborators are AECOM, The Atlantic, The Battery Conservancy, BMW, the City of New York, the City of Miami, the City of Washington, D.C., the City of West Palm Beach, Cornell University, Columbia University, The Flatiron Bid, Harvard University, HUD, Imperial College, the National Park Service, Miami-Dade County, the National Capitol Planning Commission, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, The New Yorker, The (Obama) White House, and The Times Square Alliance.

David has been profiled for Architect, A+ U, Architectural Record, The Economist, Fast Company, NRC Next, Surface magazine, The Singapore Architect, The New York Times, Vrij Nederland, and more. In 2014, David was selected for the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) 40 Under 40 list of leading land use professionals.

Besides academic speaking engagements from Columbia University, to Harvard University, and Tsinghua University, David has spoken at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Guggenheim Museum, Helsinki Design Week, MIPIM, MoMA, SXSW, ULI, the United Nations, UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum, the White House Climate Action Plan, World Architecture Festival, and the World Economic Forum in New York.

David’s projects have appeared in national and international media, including ABC, Abitare, Architectural Digest, Architectural Record, The Art Newspaper, Art in America, Art Forum, BBC, Designboom, Domus, Dwell, China Daily, Forbes, The Guardian, International Herald Tribune, International Business Times, Metropolis, Le Moniteur, the Miami Herald, New York magazine, The New York Times, NPR, The Real Deal, Die Tageszeitung, Time magazine, Wallpaper, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

Flatiron Skyline, Winning entry for the 2016 Flatiron Plaza Holiday Public Design Competition by LOT, 2016—photo by Brian Ferry courtesy Van Alen Institute


DVDL Design Decisions is a networked agency led by David van der Leer. Depending on project needs, we bring together a steady group of independent and experienced professionals for research and visioning, project management, trip coordination, editorial, and graphic design work.

Mahdi Sabbagh
Project Management, Research & Visioning

Mahdi Sabbagh is a practicing urbanist and architect at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. He is the guest curator of the 2019 Palestine Festival of Literature (Palfest). Mahdi was co-editor of Perspecta 50: Urban Divides (MIT Press, 2017), and his work has been published in the Journal of Public Culture, the Jerusalem Quarterly, and Jadaliyya. He graduated with a Masters in Architecture from Yale in 2015.

Dan Muro
Communications, Research & Visioning

Dan graduated from Wesleyan University in 2017 with a B.A. in cultural anthropology. His capstone was an interdisciplinary study of  land development in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Since graduating, Dan has worked at Van Alen Institute, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, and is currently on the production team of an independent feature film. 

Helen Farley
Research & Visioning

Helen Farley is a M. Arch candidate at the Yale School of Architecture. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History from Haverford College and worked as a Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Engineer for a general contractor in New York City before beginning her graduate studies in architecture.

David Bruce
Research & Visioning

David Bruce is an M.Arch and M.E.M. candidate at the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale. He’s worked for a carpenter in Maine, a fabricator in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and pursued a year-long Watson Fellowship, where he painted scenes of coastal cities in the Netherlands, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam.