When it comes to awards, there are three types of architects;
1. The architects that get awards,
2. The architects that don’t,
3. The architects that don’t go after awards to begin with.
Winning an award in architecture involves much more than simply designing and building a great project. There are a host of variables that have influence over which projects receive awards, and which projects don’t.
We’ve noticed this trend over the years and have been able to isolate five variables that go into awards.
Jurors can be wild cards.
Most award ceremonies involve a panel of jurors made up of architects, designers and critics who select the winning projects. What’s important to realize is that these panel members are often brought in from different places; and while this brings fresh perspectives to the discussion, it’s a double edge sword. Different regions have different philosophies of design, different trends, and different methods of design. Often times, jurors also have their own agendas. Maybe they just authored a book on a certain topic, maybe they’re pushing a certain style or cause, or maybe they’ve got an axe to grind with another jury member, who knows.
Submissions imply marketing.
Most award ceremonies require architects to submit a package of information for each project. Along with the submission comes the opportunity to market, enhance or spin the project; subsequently the submission itself can add an exaggerated layer of gloss to a project. With a bit of insight, presentations can also be calibrated to the idiosyncrasies of the jurors (see #1).
Some of the most important project information is never taken into account.
Did the finished project meet the budget? Are the clients happy with the end result? Did the sub-contractors curse the architect’s name from the earthwork to the punch list? As important as these factors are, they are rarely, if ever, taken into consideration with an awards ceremony.
Ideally, the winners represent the institution hosting the awards.
The organization hosting, coordinating and paying for the award ceremony typically wants winners that represent their values. Do the winners pay dues to the hosting organization? Do the winners represent the principles and beliefs of the organization? Do the winners question the nature of award ceremonies on their blog? Whether stated in the criteria or not, these things most likely matter.
The impression of progress.
The very nature of holding an annual award ceremony suggests that the architecture needs to be something new, different and better than last year’s architecture. The nature of an awards ceremony proposes that there is a continued progress. This can steer the jury’s attention toward projects that *seem* racy or cutting edge. New sometimes trumps over good.
We’re not saying that any of these variables are good or bad, but simply that they’re most likely present at an awards ceremony; nor are we suggesting that it should be any other way. To some degree, these factors make award ceremonies exciting and unpredictable. It also takes a clever architectural team to craft a submission with these variables in mind; crafting the project entry requires its own strategy which we admire on a certain level.
The nature of award ceremonies is certainly something we’ve pondered over the years, and after observing many award ceremonies (and even submitting to a few), we finally came to the conclusion that we’re type 3 in the architect breakdown: we simply don’t go after awards. We came to this conclusion based on a very simple reason; that is, time is valuable. The time involved in putting together a submission for an architectural award competition is significant: drawings typically need to be reformatted, images need to be resized, briefs need to be written, bios reworked, etc. For us, the time involved is too significant for a result that is, at best, a shot in the dark (or left up to the variables mentioned above). That same amount of time can be put into efforts that have direct and effective results like updating the website, providing value to readers on our blog, or, most importantly, serving our current clients well.
We’re not suggesting that this stance is right or wrong, nor do we suffer from sour grapes (although undoubtedly some folks will try to take this post there). We’re glad that architectural awards exist and we’ll always be rooting for our favorite entries. With all the hype around awards this time of year, we just couldn’t help but present some alternative thoughts to architecture award ceremonies. As with any of our posts, we look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Cheers from team BUILD