Lyons, NE


Matthew Mazzotta has won Dezeen’s 'Architecture Project of the Year' award at Tate Modern. Mazzotta, a traveling artist and founding memberof Culturunners, beat some of the most well-known architects in theworld with an unassuming project which brought community life back to anabandoned Main Street in the small town of Lyons, Nebraska. The Storefront Theater also won the ‘Rebirth Project of the year’ award.

"This poetic and powerful project has generated the most interesting conversation and has got us the most excited," said the Dezeen Awards architecture master jury. "Architecture is for the community and this is the project that serves the community the most."

Matthew Mazzotta receiving the Dezeen ‘Architecture Project of the Year’ award from British coimedian and host, Lenny Henry

The Storefront Theater provides the town of Lyons, Nebraska, with a unique open-air event space, which can be hidden away and disguised as part of the streetscape when not in use. Hydraulic cylinders on either side push down the awning and false frontage over the sidewalk, revealing stepped seats. A screen can be wheeled in front by a tractor, then driven away again when necessary. Since the venue was installed, it has hosted events including movie screenings, video-game nights and music concerts, , all programed by the local community.

"Both the seats and the screen retract and disappear when not in use, giving the impression that there is nothing unusual in this town, leaving only word-of-mouth accounts for inquiring visitors," said the artist.

Matthew Mazzotta, an artist who travels around the world to work with communities, was invited to Nebraska by the Department of Rural Affairs to work on a site-specific artwork in collaboration with local people. The result was a 100-seat theatre, which flips down from an unassuming abandoned freestanding storefront in the small Nebraska town.

"During the process of making the Theater, many community members revealed fond memories of a once-thriving downtown and expressed a strong desire to see downtown become the center of community life once again," Mazzotta said. Locals donated money and volunteered their time to help to construct the theatre.

The aim of project, at the intersection of community and sustainability in the built environment, is to help bring life back to downtown Lyons. With a population of 851, and like many other small towns in the US, its main street has suffered decline in recent years.

“What happened in Lyons, Nebraska has happened to communities throughout the world.” Mazzotta said, “Small Town Main Street has suffered as goods, services, entertainment—and the jobs that go with them—move away. Today, the price of bread depends far less than it once did on the cost of wheat and far more on the cost of packaging, advertising, and transportation. The mom-and-pop shops that once made up downtowns are being undercut by international discount retailers that benefit from economies of scale. Buildings that once housed bowling alleys, barber shops, bars, theaters, and restaurants also can no longer compete and have closed their doors. As a result, the social bonds and everyday experiences that these spaces once provided, have virtually disappeared.”

The Dezeen judges concluded, "The Storefront Theater addresses the challenges and opportunities of the changing small town high street in a joyful, witty and communal way. Whilst in itself it’s a small architecture gesture, it changes the character of the whole high street in a meaningful way. It proves that even a simple facade can be as impactful as a big and expensive architectural gesture."

In framing the Awards, Architect and Dezeen columnist Sam Jacob stressed the potential of architecture being politically and emotionally engaged, rather than being purely about construction. "Thinking about architecture as the production of walls is to limit its potential power on the world," Jacob said. "The fact that we can begin to think of it as a much broader, creative, politically and emotionally engaged practice is incredibly exciting."

Paloma Strelitz, another jury member and co-founder of Assemble, said that this year's crop of entries revealed an increasing interest in consulting the public on the use of buildings.

"Many people are asking the question of how a broader range of people can have more agency in how the built environment is produced and run," Strelitz said.

The Storefront Theater has also won the Architizers A+ Award in the category of "Architecture + Community"; World Architecture News (WAN) Awards: in the category of Adaptive Reuse, 2017; The Chicago Athenaeum – American Architecture Award; The Congress for the New Urbanism – Charter Award; World Architecture Community – 20+10+X Award


Matthew Mazzotta works at the intersection of art, activism, and urbanism, focusing on the power of the built environment to shape our relationships and experiences. His community-specific public projects integrate new forms of civic participation and social engagement into the built environment and reveal how the spaces we travel through and spend our time living within have the potential to become distinct sites for intimate, radical, and meaningful exchanges. Through his process, each project starts by creating temporary public spaces for listening – ‘Outdoor Living Room’ - as a way capture voices from local people that might not attend more formal meetings. Stemming from this approach are experiences that involve people from a range of backgrounds working together to create new models of living that contribute to local culture beyond the economic realm.

Mazzotta received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a Masters of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology, and is a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University.


Dezeen Awards is an annual awards programme organised by the world's most popular and influential architecture and design website. The Awards are designed to identify the world's best architecture, interiors and design, as well as the studios and the individual architects and designers producing the most outstanding work. Dezeen Awards are the benchmark for international design excellence and the ultimate accolade for architects and designers everywhere.

The Dezeen Award architecture master jury included Mexican architect, Michel Rojkind. Assemble co-founder Paloma Strelitz, Design Haus Liberty founder Dara Huang and architects Jürgen Mayer H and Michel Rojkind.