The Pros and Cons of Design Competitions

Making the decision to enter

So, you’re thinking about entering an architectural design competition. It may be your first, it may be your hundredth. Either way, you’ve got some big decisions to make. Competitions require numerous employees and consultants, many hours of work, and immense creativity. You have to decide if the competition is the right one for your firm, if the work is worth doing, and what the potential outcomes will be.

To help you decide whether or not competitions are for you, we put together a pro and con list. Here’s what you should consider before entering a design competition:

Pro: prestige and newly open doors

Winning. It may be the most obvious pro to entering a competition. The notoriety that comes with winning a design competition can be a game changer for you. Of course, you should keep the mission of the project in mind but winning always feels good. Regardless of whether you win the competition or not, even being named as a finalist is an honor. Your name, your design, your ideas will receive coverage in various media outlets. And you know what that means? New business and more business.

Competitions are rarely a solo endeavor. The prompts are usually so extensive that designs require input from landscape architects, planners, engineers, and consultants. New partnerships with other design firms and organizations will open doors for you in the future.

Con: financial burden

Every architecture firm owner knows how difficult it can be to keep up with finances and accounting. Before entering a competition, you have to investigate whether it’s financially feasible. The costs can easily outweigh the benefits, and that could be dangerous for your business. Costs during the design phase will come out of your overhead, so you need to make sure your safety net is intact. Factoring in staff time, current project load, pending contracts, and revenue goals will be crucial to assessing the amount of resources you can spend on a competition design.

Pro: New experiences and challenges

Architects are trained to problem solve and think through challenges. Competitions provide new and exciting design problems. They add variety to the normal workload. Designers get to step out of their comfort zones, stretching the imagination and expanding the realm of what they think is possible in the day-to-day. Competitions are also often for building types that most architects only ever dream of designing like libraries, memorials, museums, concert halls, and stadiums. The fun factor of doing a competition can’t be ignored.

Con: Wasted time and resources

A big anxiety that comes with entering a competition begs the question: will it be a waste of time? Of course, it depends on how you look at it, but some might say yes. Architects are already facing many challenges like how to maintain relevance and how to keep from being undercut by other industries. If they’re spending so much time on work that may not result in a profit or a really great project, why do it at all?

Ahead of his TedX Berlin talk, architect Daniel Dendra, founder of anOther Architect did the math. He looked at the number of entrants in a European design competitions over the course of a few years and determined that most competition entries require a minimum of three architects to dedicate multiple months of full-time work. Dendra found that the competitions he analyzed were getting so saturated with entries, that the work was equivalent to ten or more architects working for their entire careers. That’s thousands of hours spent designing projects that may never even be built. “For sure, this is not a sustainable way, or economically sustainable way to design and decide what is built well,” he said. Thinking of all those unused design plans compelled Dendra to collaborate with other industry professionals to start an open source design network and think about how architects can use their time more effectively.

See the TedX talk in full length:


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Making competition entries the best they can be

Entering a competition comes down to your priorities. It’s really up to you; if you enter, it could be a great way to get more business, to open new doors, to tackle new challenges. New technologies like METABUILD can help you on your way.

Taking a data-driven approach, METABUILD helps architects analyze design elements from window-to-wall ratio and orientation to materials, systems, and everything in between, which can be beneficial for architects who want to tackle competitions but need help making design decisions. Dendra and a Russian client partnered with METABUILD to find design solutions for a large architectural competition, which helped cut down on some of the wasted time Dendra was previously concerned about. METABUILD analysis optimized daylighting and orientation through the power of artificial intelligence, presenting more options for the client to consider in the competition entry.

METABUILD provides detailed insights on lighting comfort, thermal comfort, air quality, environmental performance as well as investment and operating costs, allowing architects and their clients alike to make well-informed decisions. And when you’re spending your discretionary time and resources on a competition entry, you’re going to need to make the best decisions; not only so you can win, but also so that your building is the best it can be.