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Awards presentations need to be as good as the architecture

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The skill required to produce a design of any sort can very easily disappear when it comes to the design of presentation boards, writes Paul Finch

The awards season is well and truly upon us. Last week I took part in two award ceremonies on behalf of the AJ: the Retrofit Awards and the National Homebuilder Awards. Next week we have the World Architecture Festival Awards (in Singapore) and then back in London, in short order, are the Stirling Prize and the British Construction Industry Awards. Add the Architectural Review’s House and Emerging Architecture Awards and you have a packed autumn.Are there too many? On the whole I don’t think so, but you do wonder about certain awards where the judges never meet, nothing gets visited, or there is no interaction between judges and architects. The AJ and AR have a long and honourable tradition of standing up for decent standards, and it shows. Both the RIBA via its comprehensive awards process and the BCIA generally make decisions based on visits. It is of course tempting to stay in the office and do it all online, but there is huge virtue in seeing things in the flesh.

For the World Architecture Festival we cannot, for logistical reasons, visit hundreds of buildings, so we do the next best thing: experience architects and designers presenting their buildings, future projects, landscapes and interiors live, before judges and festival delegates.

There is no perfect formula, but you can generally gauge an awards programme by the integrity with which its processes are carried out, not leastin relation to the conflicts of interest which are almost bound to arise - the question, therefore, is how do you manage them?

That is a subject all of its own in relation to many kinds of architectural and construction activity, which will be the subject of a future column. This week one aspect of awards, not commonly discussed, has struck me forcibly after a summer of judging various awards and competitions. That is the design of the award and competition entries themselves.

It is amazing how good practices can produce second-rate or plain weird boards to show off their design credentials. Some of the most common mistakes include: hopelessly tiny text (or sometimes virtually none at all); failure to spell-check; and images and drawing crammed unthinkingly into the available space.

Why anyone should think it is smart not to include a site plan/ground-floor plan/section of a building is mysterious. Similarly, sending in a couple of boards from what is obviously a set of six stands out a mile, usually because the two sent have scant relationships with each other. Even decisions about whether to use portrait or landscape formats and whether to stack them or place them side by side appear to be ignored.

On the whole, interior designers produce smarter boards, but information about materials and use of colour, for example, is still frequently basic, so that judges have to guess at the design intention.

In short, the extraordinary skill often required to produce a design of any sort can very easily disappear when it comes to the design of presentation boards - and when it comes to presenting online, a similar lack of considered thought is often evident. One suspects that, having put everything into the design of something real, the design of a presentation board can easily escape having the same care and attention. It may be produced with little reference to the actual architects and designers.

So this is a plea to all those taking part in all those awards, competitions and events involving selection: to enter is an act of design in its own right. It is a minor matter compared with the ‘real world’, but then design is design, whatever the scale and whatever the circumstances.

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