If you've been following along with us here over the last few weeks, you've surely noticed that we've been bashing open architecture competitions and even suggesting alternatives to these time wasters.
So you may find it a bit hypocritical that today I'm announcing that we won a competition. That is, until you note the following differences between this competition and a typical open architecture competition.
Not Just an Architecture Competition
The competition we entered was through the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to develop housing for the chronically homeless. As I posted back in April, it was a team development competition consisting of other young real estate and social work professionals. Architecture was only a piece of the proposal. Our team had to find a property, create a program, design a project, determine the services offered, and develop a detailed pro forma of how the project would be financed. The process simulated a real project compressed into six weeks.
The site we selected in Glendale.
The Competition Wasn't Open
Our team had to apply in order to get accepted to participate. There were only five teams competing.
We even got to make our own cool logo. We were called Team HETED (Homeless Empowerment Through Efficient Development)
Each team was assigned a city to work with in Los Angeles County: Pasadena, Whittier, East Dominguez Hills, Long Beach and our sponsor city, Glendale. We also worked closely with homeless non-profit advocates and developers, Path Achieve Glendale
and Path Ventures. The city and these organizations acted like our clients. By working with them we got to make real connections. Connections that could lead to future work.
The project concept is a hybrid of preservation of 1920's bungalows and modern intervention of adding new elements to bring the project up to code and provide services for the residents.
Our team really enjoyed working with each other on this. I think we will collaborate again on future projects.
The Urban Land Institute is a diverse organization. It reaches all types of real estate professionals. We prefer this type of exposure over showcasing our work to a bunch of fellow architects.
This competition was our launch into pro bono work. We spent 130 hours working on this competition. This gives us a real gauge as to the level of commitment required to do future pro bono projects. We already have an idea for our next pro bono project. It won't be through a competition.
Overall view of the project
Whether or not you buy our arguments for entering this competition, I encourage you to check out our winning proposal. You can also view our online press release.
What do you think of our proposal?
A few weeks back, Bob Borson, AIA asked me to do a guest post on his Life of an Architect blog. Bob's blog is a favorite of mine and one of the few architecture blogs I follow regularly. The post, titled Rules for an Architect's Blog, is about the history and philosophy of our Modative blog.
The post even briefly covers the blogging history of some of architecture's greats like Frank Lloyd Wright.
I encourage you to check it out and stay for a while. Bob's blog is full of great content for both architects and those trying to learn more about architects.
Obviously, not everyone agrees with our last post "Why Architecture Competitions are Bad for Architects". A day after our post, archdaily, posted "Why open architecture competitions are good for Architects, a counter argument".
The archdaily post, some blog comments, and a few twitter posts claim that our argument against competitions is an attack on creativity and passion within the architecture profession. This couldn't be further from the truth. A few questions to ponder:
Do open competitions have a monopoly on creativity?
Are competitions the only way to progress the architecture profession?
Open architecture competitions actually take much of the creativity out of what architects do. They provide everything: the site, program, objectives, and deadlines. Then they judge your work in private, without any back and forth collaboration.
It's comforting for architects to have all of this delivered to them. It's exactly how architecture school works. All the architect has to do is design in a bubble. I can certainly see the appeal.
Many architects will never be convinced that open competitions are bad for them and that's fine. But I would feel bad ripping on open competitions without providing some viable alternates.
Architects will at some point inevitably find themselves with free time and/or needing a release from the daily grind. Instead of doing what architects have traditionally done (open competitions), consider one of these options instead:
1. Pro Bono Architecture
Pro bono work is more rewarding and has far more upside than an open architecture competition. And there are plenty of non-profit organizations that need an architect's help, but can't afford it.
The 1% program website is a great starting point to learn about pro bono architecture and connect with with non-profits looking for architects. The 1% program asks that you donate at least 1% of your time to providing free or deeply discounted design work. In exchange, you get a rewarding experience working with people and building connections. Your work is also likely to be constructed and the publicity and experience you'll receive can lead to future paid commissions -often times in project types where you previously had no experience.
2. A Design Intervention
This is how the 1% program got started. Public Architecture, a firm in San Francisco, decided that instead of entering another pointless competition, they would use that time and energy to improve their neighborhood through actual design interventions. They took an unused portion of the street and made it a temporary public park. The project was built with donated materials and labor. The neighborhood praised their efforts and the Mayor of San Francisco spoke at the project's opening. Now that's a great use of an architect's time.
Mayor Newsome at the opening of Public Architecture's Pavement to Parks Project. Photo from Public Architecture's website.
Your Mayor doesn't give a shit about your open architecture competition entry.
A design intervention is essentially like doing your own competition. If you're going to do free work, you might as well do it for yourself and for something you're passionate about. Find a problem in your neighborhood, your city, and solve it. Get the community involved. Publish the process and the results, even if it never gets constructed.
3. Non-Architecture Projects
If you want a release, try out your design skills on something new. A few ideas:
Furniture - A coffee table for a modern lifestyle (laptops and ipads).
Building Materials - I have yet to see a building facade system that can be easily removed and recycled (like carpet tiles).
Products - Why let Karim Rashid have all the fun?
Karim is laughing at you because you're letting him and Phillipe Stark design all the cool stuff. Photo by Roman Leo, New York
Textiles - There's a serious shortage of great modern rugs. I know, I've looked.
T-Shirts - A flooded market, but an easy one to get into nowadays.
4. Architect as Entrepreneur
Architects should be more entrepreneurial. We have some of the best problem solving skills around, yet we mostly wait for the phone to ring to get projects. We wait for the problem to come to us.
Imagine how much better our cities would look and function if more architects got involved in real estate development. Creating their own projects and developing them. Well, you don't have to imagine. Jonathan Segal, FAIA and Sebastian Mariscal have been doing this for years in San Diego with great success.
5. Go to a Bar
You are more likely to meet a stranger at a bar that will hire you to design them a real building than to win an actual architectural commission from an open competition. And even if you don't, you'll at least leave happy and having spent less money than you would on a competition.
If you have any additions to this list that you'd like to share, please add a comment.
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