Why run an architectural competition?

An OJEU to joy! Colander Associate Louise Harrison discusses the rewards of commissioning an architectural competition...

  • Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge, London
  • Dulwich College, Science Building
  • New home for Theo and Oskar
  • Primary School, Cambridge
  • Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, Cancer Care Unit
  • London Olympics, Velodrome
  • Newnham College, Cambridge
  • Halley VI, Antarctic
  • North West Cambridge Development
  • Library, Birmingham

I would go so far as to agree to eat an OJEU contract notice if a client were ever to say at the end of a competition that they had not enjoyed the experience - so confident am I of the value of architectural competitions.

So what is the allure and fascination of a competition and what can you, as someone wishing to engage an architect, expect to gain from setting one up - what is the reward for embarking on such a journey? 

In a nutshell it is about accessing amazing talent, getting under the skin of your project, working closely and imaginatively with colleagues and stakeholders and, importantly, having a very enjoyable experience along the way.   

The very mention of the word ‘competition’ ignites a professional touch-paper within the design fraternity and instigates an intense response from across the profession.  Architects will rise to the challenge and pull out all the stops to impress; you, in turn, will be given the opportunity to explore different approaches to your project and really understand how a successful solution might be developed.  Intriguingly, the design teams with whom you will engage could have local, national and international reputations, and all will have track records in delivering high quality ideas for challenging briefs.   The reach of a competition cannot be overstated nor can the breadth and depth of talent that it will attract if it is properly promoted.

A competition can also galvanise your stakeholder group and see them working more closely together to agree the scope of the brief, timescales and roles and responsibilities within your client group, providing an opportunity to consolidate views on the project and bottom out any discrepancies.  Moreover it will present an opportunity to invite external experts to join you – a high profile individual with long associations with the design profession will add gravitas to an assessment panel, as could a celebrity, keen to be associated with your project or cause.  An invitation to join a competition assessment panel will be generally well received with many ‘elder statesmen and women’ within or associated with the design world delighting in having an opportunity to support such initiatives.

If, as a client, you have vision and ambition, the experience of holding a design competition, to secure either a design team or a design, will be invigorating, enlightening and thoroughly rewarding.  Contrary to what you might think it need not be expensive or excessively time-consuming – but it does need to be set up and managed professionally, with a clear structure and audit trail in place to satisfy your specific and unique needs.   With these safeguards in place you can be assured of a truly rewarding experience.

So, whether you are looking for a high profile architect for an internationally significant project or a young up-and-coming team for an intriguing and complex design challenge, I commend the competition system to you and recommend that it is a journey worth taking – and one on which you will reflect with both satisfaction and pleasure. 

To find out more about Colander's competition management services please visit our competitions webpage