Architecture is one of the unique fields where competitions are constantly being held and promoted to ensure large-scale participation. These competitions are held across the world with tight deadlines, criteria, and even paid admission. Yet, these architectural design competitions have been surviving as long as there are designers who are still willing to participate in them and accumulate the pros of architectural competitions. But to truly answer the question as to whether architectural competitions are essential, we must first understand the purpose of conducting these competitions.
In general, competitions are conducted to bring out fresh ideas, new techniques, and different approaches. Architectural competitions are held by companies that require unique designs with multiple variations and meanings. Both the company and the participating architects benefit mutually from this method. The conducting company gets to choose a design and an architect or architectural firm that creates the design and also provides the requirements needed. There are various guidelines provided by the architectural council of a country which has to be instilled to protect the company conducting the competition and the participants. The assessors are usually well-known people. These competitions have great rewards for the winners, and some even give recognition to the participants. In most cases, these competitions have a registration fee that limits the number of participants. But there are a few organisations like ethos that promote free architectural competitions that allow both students and architects to participate freely. As the conducting organisation already knows what they need, they provide the project brief, submission guidelines, rewards, selection criteria, and the entire schedule well in advance. This allows participants to plan accordingly and see if they will be able to participate and decide whether or not to register. Yes, these competitions are well organised and have a lot of pros for the participants. But why are there an equal number of architects who prefer as well as disregard participating in architectural competitions? There are an equal number of pros and cons to participating in architectural competitions, which are listed below.
As young budding architects, we use our design studios to explore our creativity. But in reality, architects cannot afford to unleash their creativity at its full potential because you cannot make a single mistake. Through architectural design competitions, both students, architects, and architectural firms can explore their creativity and new techniques with no practical constraints. This allows us to know our strengths and potential. This newfound freedom also helps one boost the potential of their portfolio.
At least 90 per cent of the architectural competitions have an early bird and regular registration fee, which is usually a high amount. In my opinion, these competitions should be free or have a minimum fee for registration. If a competition is affordable and easy to enter, then there would be multiple entries, which could generate several design options. Sometimes, the entire brief is not released at once. After shortlisting the designs from the first stage, the entire brief is released, which could affect the budget estimated by the participating architect or firm based on the initial firm. There are rarely a few architectural competitions that give proper criteria for budget and allow open competitions, which engage different types of architects to work together and propose new concepts and designs.
Pro: New challenges
Working in a world where you cannot make a mistake, these competitions provide a unique way to express our ideas. They allow participants to find new ways of expressing their design through videos, software, and other presentation methods. Architecture competitions create unique project briefs too, which are entirely conceptual and allow the participants to explore designs to their fullest extent. For instance, some competitions ask participants to design spaces to live on Mars, memorials, etc.
Con: Strenuous deadlines
Architectural design competitions have a strict deadline which, when combined with our daily work, will become tedious. But even if we comb through these difficulties, sometimes these competitions may end up being a waste of our valuable time and resources.
“Part of competition culture is making the proposals public through exhibitions, where they become the object of critical review in a form of worthy emulation of each other. […] The public presentation of architectural projects in competitions via home pages, journals and exhibitions lend communal character to knowledge production.” ― Jonas E. Andersson, Architectural Competitions – Histories and Practice
The most important thing these architectural competitions can give the participants is recognition. These competitions are generally conducted at an international level and assessed by prestigious firms, organizations, and architects, which could lead to being recognised by leading firms and the winning participants getting jobs easily and even getting internationally recognized. Sometimes the winning entries are even brought to life. Some of the most famous buildings were designed and constructed by conducting competitions.
Con: Failure of uniform recognition
Even though winners are given recognition, it is important to recognise and appreciate all the participants. A participation certificate will also do. In some architectural design competitions, they have a special category to recognise the top 50 entries and promote them on social media.
Pro: Improves personal self
By participating in architectural competitions, we gain confidence in ourselves and our abilities, which can make us shine and boldly come forth with new and fresh ideas for a sustainable future. This also helps in improving our presentation and language skills, which can prove to be useful during client meetings. Architectural competitions in general improve the participants’ overall personalities and help them accomplish wonders.
Architectural competitions provide an option to participate as a team or as an individual. Teamwork helps in collaboration and gaining new ideas and fresh perspectives on design, and it helps the participants provide new solutions. Sometimes, these competitions allow participants to collaborate with people from other countries, which can have great mutual benefit.
“Participating in architectural competitions is associated both with a playful learning process, delight, collaboration and with competition in dead earnest. The tension of the chase for the fundamental idea that will resolve the design project has been testified to among practicing architects. […]. A sense of curiosity and delight fills the exhibition room. A new world is being opened before the eyes of the jury. The future is at stake.” ― Jonas E. Andersson, Architectural Competitions – Histories and Practice
The pros outweigh the cons of architectural competitions. So to answer the question of whether architectural competitions are essential, they are indeed essential. But it is important to analyse the scope of the competition and list out the pros and cons of an architectural competition before participating in it because not all architectural competitions have the same outcome.
- Title: The pros and cons of design competitions by Kathleen O’Donnell. Available at: https://www.metabuild.io/en/the-pros-and-cons-of-design-competitions/. Last updated: 05/02/2019. Accessed date: 24/07/2022
- Title: Architecture competitions… Everything you need to know. Available at: https://www.archisoup.com/architecture-competitions. Last updated: 06/06/2022. Accessed date: 24/07/2022