For years, competitions have powered the stream of architectural output, producing such icons as the Vietnam War Memorial, Sydney Opera House, Central Park, and Ground Zero memorial. One need only look to the buzz surrounding the Guggenheim Helsinki competition and ArchDaily's own amply filled tag to see that competitions are part of the very lifeblood coursing through contemporary architecture. But what do architects really think about design competitions?
With 1414 responses from 65 countries, the Architectural Record/Van Alen Institute Competition survey is one of the most comprehensive investigations of this question to date. Speaking to the Architectural Record in February, Van Alen Institute competitions director Jerome Chou said that the survey hoped to identify the pros and cons of the competitions process, and offer suggestions for its improvement. "[W]e're hoping to advance the dialogue about the future of competitions, develop new models, and reach new audience," Chou said.
Launched in February this year, the survey sought responses from international design professionals who had participated in a competition during their career.
Read a summary of the survey's key findings after the break.
1. Designers use competitions as a springboard for work that is more creative and less constrained than that of their everyday practice.
"[Competitions] also offer a platform for preserving a more inquisitive and nimble design process," one respondent said. The foremost three reasons for entering competitions were given as: the opportunity to experiment (57%), an interesting brief, and an opportunity for exposure (39%).
2. A lack of compensation— both monetary and in terms of feedback and exposure— for time and resources spent is a major disincentive for participation.
More than three quarters (78.6%) of respondents identified a lack of compensation as the number one limitation to entering competitions, with 29.4% citing a low likelihood of winning and 28.6% a low chance of implementation. The importance of feedback was particularly stressed, noted by 65% of respondents as a factor that would increase the appeal of competitions, particularly for students.
"Our society should value the time it takes a designer to create good ideas and implement good architecture," said one respondent.
When asked what three things would make competitions more appealing, greater compensation for work and time was the most popular response, regarded as most important by 64.2% of survey respondents. In second place was greater feedback, with 47.6%, followed by greater exposure for proposals that did not win, with 46.8%.
3. Competitions have not directly led to increases in commissions and paid work in most cases.
For 67% of respondents, competitions did not generate further commissions or paid work.
4. Designers do not rely on competitions as a key source of income.
For more than 90% of respondents, ≤5% of their annual revenue came from competitions.
5. Designers weigh the opportunity cost when budgeting time and resources for competition entries.
The output of time and money to enter is considered against the prize available for winning, and resources allocated accordingly, said 61% of respondents. For 69.4% of respondents, their firm spent less than 10% of their overall working time on competitions.
Levels of expenditure above $100 000 for a single competition were rare, and incurred by only 6.5% of respondents; this figure was even lower for expenditure above $250 000, incurred by 4.4%.
6. Open design competitions are the most popular.
For 70.6% of respondents, open competitions were the most primarily entered.
7. Designers prefer not to work across disciplines. Those who sought to collaborate did so with interdisciplinary specialists, with most desiring artists as collaborative partners. Students were particularly interested in cross-disciplinary collaboration.
Nearly 20% of respondents never work with other design professionals, while 46.5% "never" or "rarely" do. Over a quarter (26%) of those surveyed "frequently" or "very frequently" work with other design professionals.
The top three most desired disciplines for those seeking collaboration were: art (47.3%), engineering and infrastructure, (33.6%), and the environmental sciences (30.7%).
To read more about the survey and view the Van Alen Institute's ensuing propositions for improving the architectural competition, head to their website.