Love them or hate them, design competitions elicit strong emotions from architects and design professionals. But very little hard data exists to guide the people who enter them or those who organize them. “Some designers complain about competition organizers who write vague briefs, don’t respect intellectual property, and make everyone work for free,” says Van Alen Institute (VAI) competitions director Jerome Chou, adding, “But designers also tell us competitions offer opportunities to take on interesting challenges, to experiment, and to work in new sectors.”
Over the course of its 120-year history, VAI has organized hundreds of competitions and, as Chou says, “sees both the positive and negative sides of the system.” This week the New York–based organization, in partnership with Architectural Record, is launching a Design Competition Survey to formally identify those pros and cons. The survey also invites suggestions to improve the practice.
“With this survey we’re hoping to advance the dialogue about the future of competitions, develop new models, and reach new audiences,” Chou says. That work will build on VAI’S existing efforts to incorporate new knowledge into the competitions process. Responding to growing demand for community feedback, for example, “All of our competitions now create opportunities for design teams to work with local residents and many other stakeholders in unconventional ways.”
Chou expects a number of subjects—such as stipends, intellectual property rights, multi-stakeholder engagement, integrated design, and urban ecologies—to be recurring items of concern among the 1,500 anticipated responses. In order to disseminate the survey results as broadly as possible, VAI and Harvard Graduate School of Design are co-hosting a conference to discuss the findings on April 23 and 24. Architectural Record will publish the results of the survey in April.
The survey is open to all design professionals in the world who have participated in a competition. Click here to take the survey.
Nearly 70 respected architects and designers are serving on an advisory committee to the survey. For a list of committee members, click here.