You may be wondering what’s all the fuss with design competitions. You may have many doubts and ask "is it worth it?" As an architect (or architect to be) you have many other things that may seem more important. Things like work projects, school projects, learning new technologies and new programs take a lot of time. And I get it, you may think taking additional time of your life to do a competition is just too much. You may need to pay a small entry fee; it takes a lot of commitment and often you don’t even win. So why bother? We're not only going to answer that question, but also give you tips on how to make a great competition entry.
Projects, be it academic projects or professional ones, may be exhausting your creativity. You often start with an amazing (or crazy) idea, but soon you are brought down to earth. After some time, you may find yourself being creatively exhausted and somewhat demotivated. You feel that your ideas are not appreciated enough, sometimes your concept is drastically changed by stakeholders/tutors and so you don’t even recognize it anymore. Therefore, you become more of an executioner of someone else's vision. Taking part in a competition gives you an opportunity to step away from this, a chance to explore your creativity and exhibit the work you find most interesting.
We can’t stress it enough: creativity in our line of work is important. So, whenever you find yourself creatively exhausted, think about taking part in a competition. There are certain restrictions within any competition, but every project is a creative problem to be solved - How it is solved is entirely up to you and it is liberating! You can experiment with crazy ideas, developed technologies and tools that you are still learning to use. The more original idea often the better, it doesn’t even have to work on a construction level, it’s the creativity that counts. Though there are more restrictions within competitions that require a working solution, you can still creatively work around them without someone looking over your shoulder.
Another reason for taking part in competitions, is that it’s a great way to gain experience and recognition. For younger architects it’s an amazing opportunity to enrich your portfolio, which would raise your chances for your dream job. A good competition project can stand out in your portfolio and also show other skillsets that can be attractive to employers. As for practicing architects - an interesting take on a competition can give your studio a desired recognition. A boost in clientele, new projects, local or even worldwide acknowledgment.
Taking part in a competition is also making you a better designer. You don’t need to win every competition. You may even find yourself not winning at all! However, being able to create freely is (and should be) a goal itself. You should think of it as an exercise not only in creativity, but also designing, another opportunity to put a pencil to paper. The more you design, the better you get. Even if you don’t win, you can carry the experience throughout your practice. After all, experience is everything.
Finally, competitions are fun. Organizers want you to push yourself in creating something crazy: a lookout tower for birds, a meditation cabin, a hotel in an old castle hidden in Italian forests. There are so many competitions to choose from! Whether you do it with a group of friends or alone, it can be really enjoyable to sit down with a head full of ideas and workshop every one of them.
If you decided that you’re going to take part in a competition here are some tips for you.
- Have fun. Don’t stress out too much. These competitions are for you to create and to show off your skills. Yes, it is nerve racking and if you feel overwhelmed at any moment, take a break. Start with a brainstorming session. Write down your ideas and workshop ALL of them. Even the stupidest idea can become the perfect one. Don’t get too attached to ideas in the beginning, if you ever feel like you are coming back to one idea and don’t want to brainstorm others – take a break. We know it may seem like a waste of time, but not letting other ideas develop may be a mistake. There might be a hidden gem in one of them. Think about all the possibilities you have and try to think about all of them, and not just go for the most obvious one.
- If you don’t win, it doesn’t mean your design was bad. There are many competitors, but only three winners and maybe a few honorable mentions. Not all the good designs can be shortlisted. So maybe the fault is not in your design, but how you presented it. Remember that after all it is a competition and you need to SELL your idea for a chance to win. Therefore: presentation is key. Look up design boards and projects that won before and see how they are presented: look for color combinations, visualization styles, schemes and how the architectural drawings are shown. Composition is also very important.
- Don’t forget to look for inspirations - not only to aid your presentation but to generate that winner design. See what was already done and try to make your twist on it to create something new. Look up competitions that are already closed and see what kind of projects won and get inspired from that. Don’t be afraid to make an inspiration board with your favorite solutions, designs, details. Remember that inspiration can also come from the least obvious places: concept arts, movies, comic books, nature etc. Whenever you find something inspiring: write it down!
- Find a topic that suits your needs and is interesting to you. Remember that competitions are often done in your free time, so make it something fun. Otherwise it may quickly become a chore. And if you are not interested in what you’re designing, you’re not putting your whole heart into it. That will result in poor design.
Recently, Competitions.Archi celebrated their 5th anniversary and million annual visitors on the site by creating the architecture competitions yearbook. In making the yearbook they wanted to enhance values of creativity, work and to encourage other people to take part in a competition. To celebrate the designs that are not only interesting in their own rights but may also be a source of inspiration to ideas that are yet to be born.
If you want to take part in competitions and have an inspiration board on hand, we highly recommend their Architecture Competitions Yearbook. Throughout their 160-page book there are over 40 inspiring projects with a detailed description. All projects are winning entries in 12 of the most interesting and visionary competitions of 2019. Just by scanning you can find many ideas for your own designs and how to present them. After a few minutes of looking through you will find yourself bursting with new concepts and you will learn so much from previous designs. It is a great tool that allows you to find new inspirations and ideas for your own designs.
So, should you take part in architectural competitions? There are many advantages to doing them, that taking part in at least one is a must. It is a fun way to exercise your skills as a designer and to learn tools that you would be too scared to use otherwise. Competitions are also great for overcoming creative blocks, that you will encounter every now and then. The perks you get by not only taking part but producing a project yourself are great. By winning you can get much more recognition and a great boost in your portfolio, or your studio. So, should you find yourself in need of creating something different than another multifamily housing estate in your city - take up on competitions.
And maybe before you know it, you will be the one to inspire others and change the world.
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