"Branding Islands Making Nations" Case Study Competition at La Biennale di Venezia

Part of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016’s Collateral Events, Branding Islands Making Nations: On Intangible Assets and Value Propositions in Spatial Practice is a public program and case study competition, drawing attention to the application of political power in spatial practice. Intended to open the discourse on added value in design, Branding Islands Making Nations expands upon the 15th International Architecture Exhibition’s call to arms by inviting an extended field of spatial practitioners to Venice. Consultants and communication designers, marketing and advertising experts will gather to speculate on the role of branding in the making of a place.

Courtesy of Unknown

Across Southeast Asia, urbanization at an unprecedented rate has put a unilateral strain on local resources and economy. In order to secure resources to feed the growth of rural and city communities alike, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines have engaged in a conflict of political contestation to claim the resource rich waters of the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the South China Sea, seemingly banal structures and buildings are used to construct artificial islands through which nations claim sovereignty. Rocks, shoals, reefs, banks, and cays are transformed into territorial footprints with the goal of asserting ownership over fishing grounds, oil, and gas believed to lie beneath the hotly contested geopolitical border region. However, the legal status of these islands are contingent on public perception and support, with a growing market of private investors and nation states turning to experts in marketing to approach a publicly palatable branding solution. These new territories become the crossroads at which the politics of representation and marketing determine the success of a built intervention.

In the case of a government seeking to determine the feasibility of a territorial claim, entrants in the Branding Islands Making Nations case study competition will be tasked with the presentation of a branding package surrounding an artificial landmass that legitimizes a nation’s territorial claim. Their goal will be to brand artificial or existing land that will transition to a sovereign state in the eyes of the public as political and economic contexts change. Selected teams will represent the mix of stakeholders and issues at play in the political economy of the South China Sea, exposing growing markets in investment and design throughout the region.

Facilitated by the Vertical Geopolitics Lab, Branding Islands Making Nations will utilize a competition format foreign to architectural design to critique the notion of design as added value, as outlined through the 15th International Architecture Exhibition. Practitioners from a multiplicity of disciplines will thus pitch their approach, and compete on an internationally respected platform for creative excellence and innovation expanding possibilities rather than shifting responsibilities. More than merely an advertisement, in form of visual evidence, Branding Islands Making Nations seeks critical entries that expose the glitches, loopholes, and gray areas in design, as first step towards conflict resolution.


The creative scope of competition entries will not be evaluated upon their moral or ethical stance, but analyzed in their rich interrogation of the role representation plays in its ability to distort, mislead, disguise, or reverse meaning. Branding Islands Making Nations is a case study competition looking for provocative, unrestrained, and foremost innovative responses to its brief. Using morally ambiguous methods to achieve critical aims, it seeks to catalyze a debate that opposes differing agendas and understandings surrounding the notion of value proposition with the prerogative of academic and creative freedom. In fact, the competition shall encourage competing teams to exploit and embrace the disturbing potential of sophisticated visual and verbal language that serves to create false representations of reality in their ability to limit, conceal, corrupt, and prevent thought.


In the South China Sea, the proliferation of island making to secure contested areas of economic pertinence has solidified a growing market of private and public investors. These parties, most notably nation states, seek to rebrand traditionally militarized infrastructures as pro social outposts, securing the public support essential in their perceived legality. Competition entrants are to represent the interests of these parties through pitching a branding package surrounding an artificial landmass. At the bequest of a hypothetical client, being a relevant nation state, multidisciplinary teams will present a compelling branding package surrounding the island structure of their choice. Their goal will be to brand the existing outpost, facilitating its transition to sovereign land in the eyes of the public, as political and economic contexts change.

Through an amoral and unethically grounded critique, entrants are to explore the relevant methodologies in representation necessary to make the negative seem positive and secure public support towards an otherwise illegitimate claim. Competition entrants are expected to differ between strategy and tactics, using a range of medias relative to each individual approach. Entries will be judged on their demonstration of a strong methodological approach, with relevant documentation required to test and prove tactics to be deployed. Final entries will be tasked with a comprehensive proposal for a branding package that should address the following three categories of outcomes:

  • Factual Analysis: Competition entrants are asked to provide information of factual nature relevant to their approach. In selecting an island structure of their choice teams need provide a concise outline of the context and client as proposed. Teams are not restricted to yet may choose from the Contested Island Taxonomy as provided. - Keywords: geopolitics, geoeconomics, market research, SWOT analysis etc.
  • Strategic Pitch: Competition entrants are asked to outline the methodological approach and logic instrumental in the branding package. Entries should demonstrate a clear understanding of the campaigns’ profitable success, providing indicators to support its feasibility. This may include the proposal of additional structure(s), central to the package and the island’s perceived legality. - Keywords: value proposition, road map, operational patterns, decision-making activities, agenda-setting activities, framing, spin, doublespeak etc.
  • Tactical Vision: Competition entrants are asked to provide visual outcomes of the package, highlighting its application and deployment. In the interest of architectural critique entrants are to document the deployment of their package on the ground, utilizing medias relevant to their overall approach. - Keywords: representation, money shot etc.


  • May 26, 2016: The Collateral Event is presented at the Preview Days of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. The event communication plan launches, the competition jury is announced, and pre-registration opens.
  • Oct 14, 2016: Registration - To be submitted electronically via e-mail, applications from multidisciplinary teams in response to the Request for Qualification (RFQ) are due. The RFQ phase concludes with the selection of six teams to participate in a six-week Request for Proposal (RFP) phase to develop a branding package surrounding an artificial landmass instrumental in legitimizing a nation’s territorial claim. A briefing package is disseminated exclusively with the announcement of the teams.
  • Nov 11, 2016: Submission - Members of each team will convene with the Vertical Geopolitics Lab and its advisory board on a regular basis for a kick-off, interim presentations, and reviews, which are possibly held or disseminated in Venice. Working toward their final proposals, the teams will document and share work in progress with the Vertical Geopolitics Lab.
  • Nov 25-26, 2016: The RFP phase concludes with the public presentation of the six final proposals held in the format of a case study competition with a live panel jury at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. As part of its commitment to the competition, the Vertical Geopolitics Lab will release a report summarizing design and policy recommendations as proceedings emerging from the six teams.

Submission and Evaluation

The deadline for registration and submission of a proposal in response to the RFQ is on Oct 14, 2016 at 23:00h (CEST). Proposals are to be submitted electronically as a single multi-page PDF document (portrait orientation, max. 10MB, 161014_rfq_bimn_application_teamleadlastname.pdf) via e-mail (info@vg-lab.net). Please note that hardcopy submissions will not be accepted.

Each competition entrant and team is encouraged to employ a wide range of varied media relative to their respective area of specialization and professional interest. The competition does not expect teams to consist of architectural designers and is open to team configurations geared toward a highly specialized approach. Teams are encouraged to include members with policy-making, place-making, and marketing expertise such as community development, business development, branding, advertising, real estate, and finance. Ideally, competition entrants are able to demonstrate a sound understanding of the intertwined socio-spatial relationships of policy-making, place-making, and marketing in the legal validation, ownership, and exploitation of territory. In a multiplicity of disciplines, relating on matters of contemporary politics and economics, each entrant shall provide a unique analysis into the disciplinary fields operable at interrogating the intangible forces that govern the built environment.

Collaborating through competition to imagine what is yet unseen, applications must include the following content in the order listed:

  • A one-page cover sheet with the name of the team lead which shall include that person’s phone number and e-mail address. Team leads will serve as the sole point of contact and liaison to the think-tank and advisory board throughout the competition.
  • A team description shall include each team member’s name, qualifications, and experience in a one-paragraph short bio, as well as a description of any collaborating partners (if applicable) included on the one-page cover sheet.
  • A letter of intent outlining the team’s proposed project approach as well as an appendix of initial findings. The project approach shall include no more than 500 words of text describing the team’s overall assessment of and approach to the brief, including key opportunities and strategies to be pursued. The appendix of initial findings may include relevant visuals needed to illustrate and support the team’s initial assessment.
  • A portfolio of relevant work samples shall include a maximum of five previous projects, at least two of which should have been realized. Adding up to a maximum of five pages total, for each project, the portfolio shall include a 150-word description of its relevance, innovative design and/or policy strategies, and its implementation as well as a list of participating team members, including their role within the scope of the project.

Primarily based on preliminary evidence of systematic thinking, submissions in the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process will be evaluated by the competition jury according to the following criteria:

  • Responsiveness to key opportunities and challenges facing nation making as well as to the overarching themes behind the competition
  • Overall strength, clarity, and innovation of initial analysis and approach
  • Multidisciplinary nature of team members and partners
  • Demonstrated capacity to develop policy recommendations, or other implementation tools that support design strategies
  • Experience working on critical research and design projects dealing with place-making and marketing
  • Experience engaging diverse public audiences

Once selected, teams should expect to work closely with the Vertical Geopolitics Lab and its advisory board in order to promote the ongoing work through both broader and specialized outlets. Thus, competition entrants are welcome to engage with and at the very least be consciously aware of the retrospective applications to which the submissions may be subject. As entries to the competition will attribute toward an emerging discourse surrounding the notion of value proposition in design, each project will be respectfully inaugurated to an ongoing body of research, which shares multiple undisciplined agendas and yet to be defined outcomes.

Terms and Conditions

The Vertical Geopolitics Lab sets forth the following Terms and Conditions, which shall regulate the Branding Islands Making Nations competition. The Vertical Geopolitics Lab reserves the right to amend these Terms and Conditions at any time without notice. By entering the competition, the entrant agrees to the Terms and Conditions set out below and agrees that all submittal material adheres to theses Terms and Conditions:

To be eligible for participation in the competition, an individual aged under 18 years must be represented by an entrant over 18 years of age. Affiliates of the Vertical Geopolitics Lab, members of its advisory board, or the competition jury and their employees, associates, or family members are prohibited from entering the competition, advising, or assisting entrants in any way. Individuals may participate in only one team submission.

By entering the competition, the entrant grants to the Vertical Geopolitics Lab an unrestricted, irrevocable, and royalty-free license (but not the obligation) to use all statements and any form of work in progress or final submission that may be put forward by the entrant in connection with the competition without additional approval as follows: publicly display by any means and in any media now and hereafter known, copy, modify, translate and/or adapt, archive and distribute in relation to competition and publicity purposes without any further notice or remuneration to the entrant.

In submitting an entry, entrants warrant that the material is their original work, does not infringe upon copyright law, and that they have permission to publish the material. All submission text must be in English.

The Vertical Geopolitics Lab reserves the right to cancel or suspend the competition or alter the competition rules at any stage, if in its opinion it is considered necessary, or if circumstances arise outside of its control.

  • Title

    "Branding Islands Making Nations" Case Study Competition at La Biennale di Venezia
  • Type

    Competition Announcement (Ideas)
  • Organizers

  • Registration Deadline

    November 11, 2016 11:00 PM
  • Submission Deadline

    October 14, 2016 11:00 PM
  • Venue

    Palazzo Ca’ Tron
  • Price


This competition was submitted by an ArchDaily user. If you'd like to submit a competition, call for submissions or other architectural 'opportunity' please use our "Submit a Competition" form. The views expressed in announcements submitted by ArchDaily users do not necessarily reflect the views of ArchDaily.

Cite: ""Branding Islands Making Nations" Case Study Competition at La Biennale di Venezia" 10 Oct 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/796781/branding-islands-making-nations-case-study-competition-at-la-biennale-di-venezia> ISSN 0719-8884

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