The problem with competitions

A movement away from self-deception towards a creative discourse in architecture and design.

There were many late nights when I left studio to trudge through the snow back to my dorm room. As I would walk through the serene silence of midnight I would listen to the snow falling around me and think about the architecture project I was working on. One day it would be a luxury hotel, the next a hospital in South America, and the next a small home near a lake. It didn’t matter what the project was; I was in love with the process.

Andrews University in the winter

I loved the flow of ideas and discussions that were sparked by fellow studio members. I even loved the disagreements that professors had with us as ideas and visions collided in the colosseum of design ideology. This is what architecture is about; a physical conversation between the ideals & needs of today and the vision of tomorrow.

I went to architecture school at Andrews University in Southwest Michigan. This quiet, cold, but beautiful corner of the United States was my home for 6 years as I learned about design, community, and the important role that architecture plays in the development of a society.

Fast forward a few years…

I’m no longer in school, studio is a close memory but far enough to gain a rosy retrospection, and I’m bored. So what does the architecture community provide to keep the discourse alive?… architecture competitions

What a pitiful excuse.

Architecture competitions do not provide the collaboration and learning opportunities, that the profesion and its professionals deserve. Instead of fostering the “love of the game” that I and many designers have, they are more often tools of self deception and empty solutions.

Forces of Deception

The problem begins with the very structure of a competition. Participants are forced to view every other participant as an enemy to be overcome in the process of design. Needless to say, this eliminates any incentive to draw on the expertise of someone else or prove yourself as an expert in the community by fostering critical thought and answering questions.

This lack of collaboration leads to a self deception that you have all the answers and that the ability to create pretty pictures equates to design wisdom. We begin thinking our solutions, created in private, always function in a community driven world.

Competitions discourage the obsessive attention that design needs for the context and users of the solution. Competitions leave out the education and background needed to understand what a solution even means. After all, we aren’t here to simply design buildings, we are authors of physical answers to physical challenges. It doesn’t matter if it’s for an avant-garde museum, simple coffee shop, or futuristic space station; everything has a story to tell and we are not listening.

Siloed solutions

The solutions we create have more to say than whether they have won first, second, or third place. As designs are pressed into silos of “winners” and “losers” society suffers for a lack of those C ideas that can become B and A+ ideas. After all, we don’t need one solution, we need thousands, maybe millions for the most challenging of scenarios. Competitions destroy that post-creative process were ideas can be nurtured to find a voice.

The profession needs a better solution. One that is collabortive, provides the education, and focuses on the cultivation of ideas.

All is not lost

We are on a mission to create a solution for this need for a broader cultivation of ideas. Through GoArchitect we hope to bring the spirit of studio to a global audience and even begin the conversation with future designers at a young age.

Join us for this journey!