A couple of weeks ago I was reading Bob Borson’s animated rant about his distaste for design competitions. And glass block, we can’t forget that. I actually peed myself a little bit I laughed so hard. But more than that it inspired me to write this post.
In this rant he compares design competitions to glass blocks, something we both hate, loathe even, with a passion equal too none on this earth. In Bob’s own words, “they make my face hurt. I talk to them when no one is looking…” And I truly believe there are few things on the planet more disgusting, more horrific, more a danger to human taste, good sense and general well-being than glass blocks. The man who invented them should be publicly flogged and put on display for everyone to ridicule. Competitions, however, I have a different opinion about.
Claim #1: Design competitions are a waste of time
I actually have to agree with this one, just a little. Time spent on design competitions is time you could have been spending on some other endeavor. But then, this supposes that design, or anything architect-y in general, is something that you would rather NOT be doing in your spare time. I personally am a huge archi-dork. Just ask my wife. There are few things I would rather be doing than designing SOMETHING, anything, even just staring off into space THINKING about designing. Yes, I am that pathetic, but it works for me so it’s ok.
Claim #2: The competition is plentiful
Again, this is very true. Design competitions, especially well advertised ones, attract dozens, if not hundreds, of submissions that you are only ONE of. So the odds of you winning a high profile design competition are fairly slim – typically somewhere near zero – so why bother, right? Wrong. It’s very simple, if you don’t ENTER you will never WIN. The competition is what keeps us sharp, keeps us on our toes, keeps us growing as architects. Without competition we would have no real reason to improve.
Claim #3: The Project will never get built
……Well, ok, yeah….I can’t really argue with this one. Moving on.
Claim #4: No one will ever know your name if you don’t win
Well, that’s not entirely true. Thanks to these nifty things called blogs, we can publicize the living hell out of OURSELVES and all our failed competition entries, thus getting our work out there for critique. Perhaps someone will see your work, something purely design in nature, fall madly in love with it and call you immediately with a contract for that new and exciting project you’ve been waiting for to get you down off that ledge….it’s possible….really.
Claim #5: Architects who enter design competitions diminish the value of all architectural services
Bob puts it that, if you’re giving away services to one group while trying to charge for those same services to another, it’s just bad business. I see the logic in this point of view, but I still have to disagree. While the entry for a competition is essentially being done “for free”, in most (if not all) cases there is at least the hope of some level of compensation for that work either in the form of prize monies or a contract. I also understand the fallacy in my own statement there (see Claim #3). But one has to have at least some faith in the competition process otherwise we’re all nothing but lowly service providers beholden to one ridiculous needy client after another which I don’t think does any service to our profession either. Sometimes we need that proverbial feather in our cap, the accolades from our peers, the slap on the back and a “at-a-boy” for good measure.
For me, design competitions are a way to keep my design skills sharp, to have a bit of mostly unrestrained design fun and maybe, just maybe, one day (fingers crossed) win something. Competitions aren’t for everyone (like those of us lucky enough to be too busy with paying clients to have enough free time to waste on design competitions 😉 ), which is why not everyone enters or has the time to enter. But for those of us willing to step out and throw our designs into the hat for consideration, I don’t see design competitions as quite the evil doer that some do. But I still hate glass blocks. I mean, seriously, there is no use by which they will add any benefit to a building. Unless maybe you use them as crushed aggregate in concrete, and even then you want to be sure that no one sees them. :-\