The idea behind architecture competitions is that they help improve the built environment by encouraging creative involvement in a whole range of structures and buildings. They should also provide a platform for emerging talent and alternative viewpoints.
They typically attract big names in property, but also those agencies involved in regeneration. And both public bodies and cultural organisations.
However, recently there has been criticism of architecture competitions from within the architectural world. There is a view that because competition entries are unpaid and may sometimes never go beyond the conceptual stage, they are a drain on architects’ resources and devalue their skills.
Furthermore, as a procurement model, architecture competitions are often too imprecise in detail, and too random in their decisions.
Are Competitions Wasteful for Architects?
As a means of winning work, competitions are very much a leap into the unknown. Ideally, architecture competitions should work on merit alone, allowing all entrants a fair chance at the prize.
While the original impetus behind competitions was design-led, increasingly it is financial values that are determining outcomes.
For many architects, competitions are now run on more cautious lines, so while they offer a route to work that bypasses procurement framework mechanisms, they cannot always guarantee results for the winning participants
It is a paradox then, that by being cautious, architecture competitions can also end up being wasteful.
This is because entrants will typically have to work on their entries in their own time, but may find they have spent long hours on a project which will never get beyond the ideas stage.
For architects, spending time for free on something that they are not guaranteed to win as work can feel devaluing.
Some professionals have noted that among architectural students there is a growing scepticism towards competitions, perhaps indicating a shift in values.
Are There Pros to Architecture Competitions?
While competitions may be an inefficient means of procurement, they can help to inspire architects to come up with creative responses to real life problems in the built environment.
Entering competitions gives architectural practices experience and publicity, providing the competition is run properly. This seems to be the crux of the matter.
Design competitions for architects are only worthwhile if they provide genuine opportunities and offer realistic terms of entry
There can be difficulties in aligning the different ways that architects and clients view projects and procurement. Where these viewpoints diverge there can then be gaps through which projects fall.
It is a question both of communication and research – architects must research their clients thoroughly, beyond the competition design brief.
It is through this kind of attention to detail that architects can help ensure the work they do will have a greater chance of coming to fruition.
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