Architecture Competitions: Worth It?

Architecture competitions. With two words, there is usually one of three reactions from architects –irritation, excitement or indifference. Some feel as though these competitions are a great way to push creative boundaries. Yet others feel as though it's a waste of time and money with little to no reward.

What are your thoughts on architecture competitions? Have you ever won and/or felt as though you were pushed creatively by participating? Did you spend a lot of time and money only to discover that there weren't many benefits to come of it?

Many architects struggle to decide whether or not to be involved in these competitions due to these factors and more. So you definitely aren't alone.

The other day, one of my clients (an architect who came to AMI to increase leads by learning and implementing effective marketing) approached me. He asked if I felt he should enter one of these architectural competitions.

I responded to his question in the video below. I hope you find it helpful!

After watching the video, let me know what you think. How your experiences with architectural competitions felt? Was it worth it?

In all the years that I've been working with architects, I've made my thoughts clear when it comes to architect consultation fees (outside of the Generous George strategy), and how giving away free advice can kill your chance of winning the project.

Enjoy and Happy Marketing!

7 comments on “Architecture Competitions: Worth It?

  1. Leon Kruger on said:

    I work in South Africa, and have specialized in industrial work for decades.
    I find your comments and advice very valid and useful.
    However there is a new trend here that is practiced by Multinational Companies investing in RSA. Due to the general perception that RSA is suffering from financial and other corruption, these companies are forced by their principals to ask for tenders for architectural services.
    I believe this may be the same as competitions, but it seems to be the only way to get a foot in the door. I have clients whom I serviced for more than a decade, who now ask for tenders which include first stage designs. Comments anybody?

  2. Peter on said:

    Competitions should be banned. Do you ever see a builder constructing a building or project for a competition for free?

    “Hey builders – can you each build a group of apartments as a competition and whoever builds the best building will get paid for it……?????!!!”

    Architect’s and creative design consultants are stupid (harsh but true) for entering competitions. Not only do they undermine their own designs, abilities and expertise – they do it for free.

    What could be more stupid than that? Universities need to stop promoting competitions.

    This industry needs to wake up and realize that entering unpaid competitions is what is destroying this industry. If people want ideas – they should pay for it from the beginning. If they want 5 ideas to choose from – they should pay for each idea – not ask for 5 free ideas and then choose the best.

    Wake up Architectural Industry and refuse to enter them. BAN THE COMPETITION!!!!

    Get professional and charge per 6 minute increments. FREE? You must be joking.

    • Michelle Stewart on said:

      Hi Peter- Thanks for taking the time to comment. We absolutely agree that architects (or anyone else, for that matter) should never feel as though they have to work for free (especially in order to gain work). A lot of other architects feel the same regarding architectural competitions. We were talking about this as a team and thought of one possible situation where a competition may be feasible and/or reasonable. This would be in the case of a historic or landmark type of memorial project or similar where they open the ability for anyone to submit an idea. What do you think of that particular circumstance? Thanks again for leaving a comment. Have a wonderful week!

  3. Stephen Korbich on said:

    I completely agree with what you are saying. My experience is that these “competitions” are just attempts to get a number of free ideas.
    I have used competitions as a way to give my design skills a work out, especially when I have some down time. But this is purely a personal exercise and while it would be fun to win, my experience has been that most competitions are biased in some way that makes it very hard to win. The results of the competition I use as marketing material to show my design talent.
    It also seems to me that designers who win competitions get in over their head or the “client” changes their design.
    Even invited competitions, where a small fee is paid that is never enough to cover the cost, can be a losing game.
    If you have work, don’t bother with competitions. If you need work, be carful with how much you give out for free.
    I think entering competition is something that all designers and architects should consider carefully. My feeling is that the general understanding is that you can get an architect to give you a lot of free work in order to get a job. Just say no.
    Thanks for the video.

    • Michelle Stewart on said:

      Hi Stephen- thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts! We love your sentiments about giving away free work and absolutely agree. After all, who can sustain that practice (of working for free) for very long without going under? Architects offer a valuable service and should be paid for every hour worked like everyone else. Have you tried any of our lead generation strategies, yet, Stephen? If so, let me know how they are working! Thank you for your support and comments- we value having you as a listener. 🙂

  4. Edward J Shannon on said:

    Some good advice, Richard! Design competitions are very popular in Europe, not so much here in USA. It is one thing to have a design competition for a very prestigious, public project (Viet Nam Memorial in Washington DC) and another for private compay, just looking for ideas. One thing that competitions negate, is the relationship between the client and architect. In order for a project to be successful, there needs to be a chemistry between client and Architect. Many architects are better at “serving” clients than others, and design competitions ignore this crtital truth. The other thing about competitions, is that many reputable firms will not enter (for the reasons you cited) and instead the entries are from young (unseasoned) architects and acedemics . And while some great ideas can be brought forth, most of these architects do not have the staff or expertise to serve the client professionally!

    • Michelle Stewart on said:

      Wow- a lot of great value here, Edward! We agree with you fully, especially where you mentioned the client service aspect, which is something we left out. We are on the same page with you when it comes to an open, public competition that allows any architect to try and be a part of a historical project (such as the Vietnam Memorial you mentioned). While those are rare, they seem like a genuine opportunity to be a part of something great. Thanks so much for commenting- we very much appreciate you taking the time to read and to respond. 🙂

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