10 Ways to Improve Architecture Competitions

In conjunction with the release of the results of their "Design Competition Survey", the Van Alen Institute have put forward 10 propositions for the improvement of design competitions. Accompanied by a series of vibrant graphics, the propositions can be read after the break.

1. Show the value of good design.

Designers want more compensation for the time and resources put into a competition entry. Van Alen calls for recognition of the labor and money spent annually on design competitions, as a means of monitoring "how much value design creates." The institute recommends the mandatory disclosure of time and associated costs of every competition entry.

2. It's not just about winning.

Competitions, Van Alen says, should focus less on the winning team, and more on offering opportunities for all entrants. By treating competitions as a starting point for conversation instead of a career springboard for the sole winning firm, it is hoped that the design practice as a whole would benefit.

3. Let the jury speak!

Results of the "Design Competition Survey" highlighted that respondents desired greater feedback on their proposals, winning or otherwise. The publishing of jury notes from every competition would not only provide designers with valuable feedback, but increase the transparency of the competition system as a whole.

4. Let designers design competitions.

"A big secret about competitions, is that designers don't need them," says Van Alen. Allowing designers to create their own brief and constraints would prompt them to consider issues about which they are truly passionate, and provide a creative outlet for "when everyday practice is giving them scraps". Winning proposals could then be awarded stipends to develop their solutions further.

5. Go beyond beautiful objects.

Cultural institutions considering or organizing competitions should do so with the intent of addressing "a pressing cultural, ecological, or social issue." Such a basis would not only provide valuable airtime for the selected issue, but advance design practice as a means of generating proposals both beautiful and functional.

6. Show clients the way.

Abolish the current system which prizes renders and discounts interactions with the client, public, and site itself. In its place implement a two-step process whose first step is an open call resulting in a shortlist based on qualifications. Each shortlisted designer would then be provided with a stipend to develop solutions in collaboration with project stakeholders.

7. No more lonely nights.

Collaboration, particularly of the cross-disciplinary nature, should be valued and encouraged. "[T]he really difficult challenges our society faces," Van Alen said, "The ones that most need designers' skills and efforts, are also the ones that they can't tackle alone."

8. Make it public.

The statement that "[e]veryone knows that public engagement, when structured well, helps produce better design" may be bold, yet it is illogical to produce proposals without consultation with the people who will ultimately interact with them. By engaging stakeholders and local residents in the competition process, design is made more "immediate and accessible", increasing the chances of an end product favorable to all.

9. Give young designers what they want.

Student and and emerging designers are more likely to desire interdisciplinary collaboration, public engagement, and design for "underserved communities", survey results found. Catering to these preferences alongside lowering or removing entry fees and scheduling deadlines so as not to coincide with university review periods could prove a means of "[tackling] systemic societal challenges".

10. Think BIG.

A follow-up to proposition 5, competitions should address issues broader than the design of an aesthetic object. "The federal interstate highway system. Racial segregation in cities. Nursing homes and daycare"; Van Alen challenges institutions to "define clear problems" that will in turn "produce implementable solutions". In "asking the right big questions", design competitions can become an avenue for critical discussions and widespread social impact.

7 Takeaways from Van Alen's Survey on Architectural Competitions

About this author
Cite: Patricia Arcilla. "10 Ways to Improve Architecture Competitions" 01 May 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/626317/10-ways-to-improve-architecture-competitions> ISSN 0719-8884

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