Design Competitions

Design competitions are increasingly used to procure design of, well, just about anything you can think of. In the world of built and landscape environments, clients seeking an architect, landscape architect, or planner (if not a design solution) may announce a competition in which designers compete against one another for the commission. The competitions take many forms. Sometimes the competition is open to all comers, other times limited to an invited short-list. Sometimes the client provides some amount of money to pay for the effort, other times no payment is involved. Sometimes designers are asked to submit well-developed conceptual designs, other times they are asked to stay broadly conceptual. Sometimes the outcome is meant to be implemented, other times the competition is simply seeking ideas.

Design competitions have been used worldwide to select designers for new or adapted cultural and educational facilities, city halls, libraries, and public parks, among other building and landscape types. In some parts of the world, design competitions are required processes through which governments choose a designer. Recently, a design competition has been administered by the United States government to unearth design and planning solutions for rebuilding parts of the coastline after Hurricane Sandy. Although hardly widespread, private for-profit developers are showing interest in design competitions as a method for finding the right architect. And, as well, there is a long tradition of design competitions for industrial products such as chairs and other furniture.

Design competitions raise creative, business/financial, ethical, and legal questions for the participating designers and the clients who hold them. Do competitions enhance creativity in the production of built and landscape environments? Do they improve the quality of designs? Do they make for better business/financial outcomes for designers and clients? Are they an ethical approach for securing design? Who owns the designs that have been produced for the competition, and how can such rights of ownership be protected in the real world?

This course will examine the institutions, processes, individuals, and outcomes involved in the production and administration of design competitions. Viewpoints of designer, client, jurors, and public, among others, are considered. Case studies will reveal the methods, opportunities, and problems associated with the technique. Readings are drawn from professional and academic literatures, as well as from the briefs of design competitions worldwide. Invited guests, including designers who have competed, clients who have initiated, jurors who have judged, and critics who have criticized will enliven the class. A group or individual paper about some aspect of design competitions will be the key student project for the course.