Making competitions work: running a design competition

8 September 2009

A well planned design competition can get excellent results if sufficiently resourced and targeted. This series of articles draws on the experience of people who have run successful competitions to help you understand what is involved.

Winning entry for Europan 8 Oldham. Copyright Loop Architecture Ltd and Harry Dobbs Design Ltd.

Winning entry for Europan 8 Oldham. Copyright Loop Architecture Ltd and Harry Dobbs Design Ltd.

Successful design competitions:

  • create a robust vision that can be used to focus the project, secure funding and set standards.
  • take place at the moment of a project when experimentation is most fruitful
  • allow scoping and testing ideas in a brief
  • help clients to champion quality from the start
  • help focus on the big issues of a project rather than barriers or premature detail
  • allow access to underused talent often locked up in big architectural practices
  • attract keen design teams.

Getting the best from a design competition

Nick Johnson from Urban Splash on how design competitions are best used to generate flexible and imaginative solutions rather than a fixed end product - and they require committed clients to be successful.

Creating an excellent competition brief

Linda Roberts from the RIBA competitions office on how the brief for a design competition should clearly and unambiguously set out all the relevant background material, the vision and the rules.

Connecting with landscape and open space

Landscape architect Annie Coombs on ensuring that the competition clearly respects and responds to its context. The brief needs to describe the physical and visual components of the landscape and public realm setting.

Making design competitions work within procurement structures

Procurement expert Malcolm Reading on how using OJEU processes does not preclude running a design competition but you should choose your methods and procurement processes carefully to suit your project aims.

Dealing with sustainability through competitions

Engineer Patrick Bellew on how design competitions can foster sustainable design by including high standards in the brief, but only if they are prepared to disqualify proposals that do not meet these standards.

Choosing what to ask for in submissions

Architect Louisa Hutton on why it's important to make sure the entrants understand the competition brief and ask them to provide drawings and models to help the judges understand their entries.

Making sure you get the right design team

Emma King from the Arts Council on the best way to find the right people to execute your capital investment programme.

Maintaining public and political support

Nigel Turpin from Nottingham City Council on securing public and political support throughout the design competition process.

Getting stakeholder buy-in

Dean Aggett from regeneration company Regenter on ensuring buy-in during consultation while maintaining the qualities that helped the project win.

Running competitions the European way

Competition veterans Antti Pirhonen and Dominic Papa on what we can learn about design competitions from our European partners.

Winning tips for design competitions

  • when wider support is important for success, make sure you consult widely at the shortlisting stage
  • get competitors to submit a statement of their vision along with the design. Are they on the same wavelength even if the design needs adjustment?
  • make sure your brief is precise and well communicated. Are you looking for a buildable solution or a concept to work with?
  • resourcing a competition properly - including paying the design team fairly- attracts the right calibre of entrants.