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Competitive instincts

Maria Smith

Competitions – the gift that keeps on giving

So you’ve decided to undertake a building project. What do you do next? How do you make sure you get the very best architecture? Read on for some helpful advice.

First, if you thought the best approach would be engaging an architect with a port­folio of work that strikes a chord, agreeing a fair fee that would ensure appropriate resources would be committed, and embarking on a collaborative journey to together develop a design tailored to you and the unique, complex constraints of the site, well you couldn’t be more wrong.

Silly, naive client: why would you pay good money for one design when you can pay no money for loads of designs? This may sound like a too good to be true scam pyramid scheme, but it’s a real option for clients like you and what’s more it comes with a plethora of further benefits that bring fame and fortune all under a banner of moral high ground. So what is this extraordinary process? Why the architectural competition of course.

If you can present your project as an enticing opportunity, and write the brief in such a way as to avoid specifics (like a fixed budget) that might unduly constrain the fragile egos of the architectural community, you will have all the best architects beating at your door, more than willing to work themselves and their exploited employees into the ground for nothing more than the mirage of a potential future award-winning project. Instead of one set of sketchy proposals, you could have tens, even hundreds of sexy images and expensive models to choose from.

By running a competition, you don’t need to bother spending time researching architects and agonising over which is best for you and your project. Instead you can simply let them come to you. And don’t think you’ll just get the sub-standard desperate types putting themselves forward. On the contrary, you’ll be able to choose from the biggest names you’ve never heard of. 

By running a competition, you don’t need to bother figuring out what you want or need. Instead you can let the architects do the work for you, offering up squillions of options worked up to an impressive level of detail, leaving you free to simply cherry-pick whatever takes your fancy.

Not only will you get yourself an excellent, tireless design team for free, but you’ll be able to continue to milk their goodwill even after they’ve won

By running a competition, you don’t need to worry about engaging with neighbours or other interested parties and accommodating their concerns into your design. You can simply hold an exhibition of all the entries (before choosing the one you like) and invite them to come and offer some uninformed, easily disputed opinions, thereby negating the need to ever talk to them again. They’ve had their chance, who can say fairer than that?

By running a competition, you don’t need to concern yourself with criticism from the media or others over corruption or collusion or cronyism. By inviting everyone in the world you are clearly demonstrating an unsurpassable commitment to equal opportunities. One might even call you a bastion of impartial meritocracy. All the while you can still give the job to whoever you want.

By running a competition, you don’t need to be nervous that the slow pace of politics or design or construction might hamper the narrative of progress you present to your board or shareholders or hot dates you’re looking to impress. The beauty of a competition is that you will be drowning in headway with nigh on zero commitment or outlay of any kind from your end. You hold all the cards. You have all the power. You can sit back and relax and let the architects beat each
other up on their journey to your feet. When the designs come flooding in you can use them to win favour, publicity, and even elections.

Present yourself as an ‘enlightened client’ who cares about design and sees itself as a custodian of our urban fabric blah blah blah that makes architects cream, and not only will you get yourself an excellent, tireless design team for free, but you’ll be able to continue to milk their goodwill even after they’ve won. Once they’re on the hook, they’ll be in the same position as those who have already been waiting in the queue at the Post Office for 45 minutes so might as well keep waiting – or those 45 minutes of their life that they’ll never get back will all have been for nothing. They’ll come to meetings with funders and tweak their designs and do your publicity for you so long as you keep them believing they’re the lucky ones. Throw them a little bone every now and then to keep them believing the project is still possibly viable and you’ll have them eating out of your hand indefinitely.

So client, go forth. You know what to do. Clearly this is the best course of action for you. 

I wonder what’s in it for the architects... 



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