Architects duped as BBC and National Geographic deny involvement

The police have been asked to investigate an international design competition that architects believe is a sophisticated scam.

Architects spent hundreds of pounds preparing designs for the Treehouses in Paradise competition and paid $70 (£45) to enter, thinking it was backed by National Geographic and the BBC.

Both organisations have told BD the competition has nothing to do with them, and National Geographic issued a statement headlined “scam alert”. Its logo has now been removed from the website.

The competition also appeared to be run under the auspices of the respected US designer David Greenberg who ran a legitimate, and free, treehouse competition a decade ago, attracting 500 entries from 46 countries.

The competition website, which promised prizes totalling $12,000, uses the same graphics as Greenberg’s competition.

Greenberg told BD the apparently fake competition had surfaced several times over the years and was “a total, complete and exact copy” of his, down to the jury and rules.

He said: “I just felt so mad that there was nothing I seemed to be able to do about it. It was a great waste of a lot of creative energy inspired by a great idea I had a long time ago.

“He must have made tens of thousands of dollars out of this.”

Greenberg now plans to ask US police to involve Interpol.

Entrants received an email receipt signed “DavidG” from the British Biological Architecture Foundation but this appears to be a bogus organisation.

Graham Roebeck, a New Zealand architect who said he wasted £3,300 on his entry before becoming suspicious, traced the IP address to Cyprus and the domain name to an “interior architect” called Luke Clayden.

BD’s attempts to contact Clayden by email and phone were unsuccessful.

Roebeck, who spent 50 hours over New Year meeting the competition deadline, contacted police in Cyprus and New Zealand. He also contacted which handled the entry fees. It is now investigating.

Julian Conrad and Justin Hunt from the Buchan Group in Australia also entered but were concerned by delays, extended deadlines, multiple email addresses - and the fact they were allocated the same code as another entrant.

A statement on the website claims winners were selected on March 3 but does not name them.

The competition was featured on websites including BDonline which removed it as soon as suspicions were raised.

Architect hoped competition would launch her solo career

Julie Winrow worked on the Shard for Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Paris before setting up her own practice last year.

She spent three weeks and $70 on her entry (pictured) for Treehouses in Paradise, hoping it would get her solo career off to a flying start.

She said: “For a lot of competitions you need a big team of people but this looked simple and interesting.

“The brief said it was sponsored by BBC London and National Geographic and run by David Greenberg.

“I have Greenberg’s book from the original competition. The website used an image from that. There was an incredible amount of detail which made it convincing. It’s very disappointing.”