Charles Holland, director at UK based firm FAT Architecture (see their public bathroom proposal for London) runs Fantastic Journal, an interesting blog on which he recently published the following open letter to us, the other architects:
Please stop entering design competitions. It’s sheer folly. Here’s why:
1. It’s massively wasteful of your time and resources. Can you think of another comparable industry, or, more pertinently, profession, that spends so much time and money on bidding for work? Do doctors undertake a number of unpaid, speculative operations in order to convince people that they really need a hip replacement? No.
2. It gives away your main asset – your ideas – for free. After that, the rest is routine.
3. You are highly unlikely to win. This is just a fact. Some are better at them than others but no one wins them all and most lose often.
4. Even if you do win, it’s still unlikely that the building will be built. Most competitions are speculative, not in the sense that the client is looking for experimental architecture, but in the sense that there is little or no funding in place and they have not informed you of all the impediments still in the way of the project.
5. Therefore, there is often only one thing more disappointing than losing a competition and that’s winning one (in the long run).
6. They are a pretty terrible way of procuring a building. Imagine a system where you want something but you’re not sure exactly what it is. So you make a list of things you think you want and invite everyone in the world to send you their ideas for what it looks like. You have no other interaction with them, communicate – if at all – by email and, in the end, hope for the best and pick the one you fancy. This is the architectural competition process. It’s similar to internet dating, but less fun.
7. Competitions momentarily flatter you into thinking that you are designing, say,Oslo Opera House or a New Town outside Madrid but, in reality, you’re not. Until you get the commission it’s just pretend.
8. No one else in the world understands why you’re doing it. They just get used to you not coming out or refusing to take a holiday or forgetting to wash for five days. But they still think you’re mad.
9. You could do without the stress. All that time. All that effort. The all-nighters and the break-neck journey to the printers to get the boards made up! The intern dispatched to Inverness to hand them in because you’ve missed the courier’s deadline! The anxious wait for the results that sometimes never come! Honestly, you could do without it.
10. Remember: it’s not the failure that will kill you. It’s the hope.
So, if you’re thinking of entering a competition, don’t! Take your office down the pub instead. It will be more fun and cost a lot less. You might even meet someone down there who wants to give you a job. Remember: if you stop, I can too.