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Project Compass: 'Design contests are not complex and lead to better buildings'


Design contests are an ‘unbeatable’ route to better architectural outcomes for clients and society, according to built environment intelligence service Project Compass

The organisation has released a guide for architects along with public and private sector clients to running successful design contests.

The document points to RIBA research showing that, since 2000, 57 per cent of projects built following a competition have gone on to win an award.

However Project Compass claims UK clients are using the selection process less frequently due to a lack of understanding over its effectiveness as well as mistaken perceptions about the cost and complexity.

The report said: ‘Design contests have a long and successful history having been used to select consultants for many of our most successful and cherished architecture, from prestige buildings such as the 2012 London Olympics and the Palace of Westminster to municipal buildings, housing, bridges, artworks and temporary structures.’

Project Compass said contests can be used to improve dialogue and choice, drive up quality, and incentivise creativity and innovation while generating a range of ideas.

‘They can offer all parties - clients, stakeholders, competitors and end users - the opportunity to expand options, challenge presumptions and engage with empathies, generating distinguished and appropriate resolutions,’ it said.

According to the research, the cost of running a design contest only takes out 0.09 per cent of a construction project’s total cost.

The 66-page report outlines recommended routes for private and public clients wishing to undertake a design contest.

It also addresses how to mitigate risk when young architects win design contests, and provides advice on how to organise fully digital design contests.

Project Compass Community Interest Company was set up to provide UK construction procurement intelligence and service for architects and their clients.

It said intended to develop further guidance for other architecture and construction industry tender procedures.

Click here to download the document for free


Readers' comments (6)

  • Just out of curiosity, what makes you think industry awards are indications of success? I know loads of architects with awards who have struggled and are still struggling to make a living.
    As I have said here before - competitions are great for just about everyone - except architects for who It is almost inevitably a disastrous business strategy.

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  • Paul, it depends on your definition of success. This article clearly states in the first sentence that it is talking about "better architectural outcomes for clients and society".

    However, if you are defining success as business success for the architect (which is a very important goal), competitions are the way that many practices become known or break into a new sector. It is otherwise virtually impossible to get work in a new sector as you are lacking in experience. For example in Richard Murphy's monogram you see that they on several occasions have entered competitions in a sector they have no experience in. As soon as they win one, other commissions come flowing in.

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  • Paul your comments seemed somewhat disparaging particularly as I couldn't believe you'ld have even read the guide, so wanted to send copy if this in fact you

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  • Well-run competitions with clients of integrity can produce excellent results. Unfortunately the sorry history of failed competitions suggests that every announcement of a new one should carry a health warning. I would like to see the RIBA competitions office scrutinising all competitions and issuing a star rating based on site ownership, client track record, evidence of funding, and the proposed competition rules. That could save architects time and money.

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  • Competitions work for certain types of projects. I can see how many successful practices - but it is a rather complex area. I would like to see the evidence of how the location of the entrant affects the decision making process. In other words is it 'sexy' to award overseas/european practices as a great PR strategy for the city - I would hesitate to rule out emotional decision making in this context. But what is actually happening is that clients think this is a way to get a number of architects to 'pitch' for work more generally.This is far from healthy and may create better architecture - but that is not the same thing as being a good business strategy for architects. In fact I would go further and say in many cases it is disastrous. It is also a mistake to believe that it is a level playing field.
    It is in the RIBA's interest to run competitions, after all they charge fees for it. They also are useful to the media world surrounding the profession as it creates good copy. But again, these are not the same thing as representing the interests of architect members. Remember that RIBA has Architect in its title - not Architecture. This is the fundamental problem. I advise architects to find ways to avoid competition. Good marketing and sales strategy is based on making the competitor irrelevant. It is critical that architects realise what incentives people operate under. Read 'Think Like a Freak' - much better for your business than the hype surrounding competitions. The latest one in Preston is a great example - how much did the NYC location play a part in the decision of the LA in its PR strategy....If it occurs to me - it occurred to them for sure.

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  • Oops dropped a few words by error - "I can see how many successful practices have surfed the wave of a competition success - but for most the cost of the investment has to be calculated against the odds of winning". Research in 'Solution Selling' shows that the odds are never even.

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