How to run the perfect design competition

crop-Alan Berman portrait 2

Architectural contests are a minefield to get right. Alan Berman has been on both sides of the fence, as architect and advisor

Competitions are the best way to select an architect – and the worst. They can deliver to a client the best of buildings or the worst of buildings. They encourage established well-resourced and suave practices at the expense of the small, the lean and the less articulate, and they cost everyone time and money. In short, they are dangerous territory.

So the competition organiser (the CO) carries significant responsibility. Having retired from Berman Guedes Stretton Architects (BGS) where I participated in many well- and less-well-run competitions, I’m now asked by institutions to help with theirs in various ways, so I’m aware some of the dangers. I try to mitigate them in the following ways:

1. It is essential to invest time to understand the client’s aspirations and culture, what it hopes the building will do beyond the functional and how it will reflect the institution’s ethos. This can be difficult particularly with multi-headed clients: unanimity among decision makers and, if possible, users is essential. I’ve known chief executives and COs left to run competitions who are later told by colleagues when they see the winning project: “No thanks, this isn’t what we want.”

This is premium content. 

Only logged in subscribers have access to it.

Login or SUBSCRIBE to view this story

Gated access promo

Existing subscriber? LOGIN

A subscription to Building Design will provide:

  • Unlimited architecture news from around the UK
  • Reviews of the latest buildings from all corners of the world
  • Full access to all our online archives
  • PLUS you will receive a print copy of WA100 worth over £30 when it is published in December.

Subscribe now for unlimited access.

Alternatively REGISTER for free access on selected stories and sign up for email alerts