24. Design Competitions

Image from http://sites.google.com/site/architectjournal/Frank-Gehry-Wizard.jpg

It seems that the majority of architects have certain traits in common.  No, we aren’t all equipped with magical design powers like the Frank Gehry Wizard above (which, by the way, is hilarious).  Instead, we seem to all think and act in a particular way that we can’t escape, no matter how hard we try.  For better or worse, most architects are:

CREATIVE.  This title is almost a rite of passage when we graduate with an architecture degree.  It doesn’t matter how good we actually are at designing or coming up with practical solutions, it only matters that we took at least one drawing course during our lifetime and built models that stood up…mostly.

EDUCATED [to the point of being “high and mighty”].  How could the average citizen understand what we do, when we do it all? All hail the renaissance man!

VERBOSE…and that’s putting it nicely.  At least we learned how to do something in school – bullshit until they give in defend our creative vision! – even if we are the leading cause of comas.  (FACT!)

STUBBORN.  I’m the designer, and I know best – you can’t convince me otherwise (unless you sue me because the building is falling down…even then…it was a really good design)

BITTER.  There is no doubt that my work is awesome.  Now why is it that every totally lame design is given press coverage and awards while my totally awesome design is looked over?  Damn you, mass appeal!!!

EGOTISTICAL.  Not only am I creative, well educated and unequivocally awesome, but I’m better than everyone else who claims the same.  (FACT!)

POOR.  It is a sad fact of life that we are not paid what we’re worth.  But after all, who could really afford us?  We really design as a charity service; greatness is priceless.

PESSIMISTIC.  Perhaps hearing ‘you can’t do that’ a million times during our education really did affect us after all.  Anything outside the comfort of ‘known design and construction’ will cause an architect to assume the fetal position and mutter on about how “that’s going to cost a fortune…they’ll just value engineer it out anyway…the client will never stand for it!…the planning committee will give me hell!” and thus perpetuating the problem.

On any given day, you might notice an architect showing one or two of these traits.  However, if they are given the chance to enter a design competition, you will witness the beautiful and terrifying convergence of all these traits into a single torrent of ‘architect-fury’.  It is within the confines of a design competition that an architect’s true nature will be revealed.  Though each architect may claim that their intentions are pure, each of these traits will show up during the course of the competition design, presentation and results.  The only difference is the order in which they are revealed.  Seems like the making of an architectural mad-lib/choose your own adventure hybrid!


1) The architect was not selected for an important role and honor, even though he is well qualified and spent countless years paying his dues as a CAD monkey.  The architect becomes bitter.

2) His inflated ego has lead him to believe that his unparalleled education and creativity make him the best choice; a true winner!

3) The architect is quite verbose in his complaints around the office, and after colleagues tire of listening, they encourage him to ‘man up and prove it’.

4) Not being one to back down from a challenge and too stubborn to admit anything other than being awesome, the architect enters a design competition.  Once he realizes there is a fee to enter, pessimism grips him: how will he ever be able to enter!? Hope is lost! He’ll never be able to prove himself unless he wins this local bus shelter design charrette!

5) Although he’s too poor to pay for the entry fee, he borrows some money from his parents and enters the competition.  At least someone believes in him. Bitterness ensues again.

6) The architect finishes his design entry and submits it.  Newly emboldened by completing a seemingly impossible task, he then brags to colleagues about his achievement.  Repeat step 2.

7) He wins! Repeat step 2 for all eternity.

8) He loses.  Repeat steps 1 and 3.


1) The egotistical architect wants to prove his superior education and creativity.

2) He enters a design contest because he is poor and needs the prize money.  Also, he deserves it.

3) He’s pessimistic that the jury will even understand his lofty design ideas, but it is for the good of humanity (and his portfolio) that he presses on.

4) Against good advice, he stubbornly refuses to reduce his verbose project descriptions and submits his entry for judging.

5) He wins! Repeat step 1.

6) He loses. He is now bitter about the jury selection.  Who picked these narrow minded ‘designers’ anyway!?


1) The well meaning architect is a creative genius whose education was merely for fun.  He knows that good design can change the world.

2) He is bitter about the other architects who seek only fame and glory.

3) He is skeptical and even pessimistic that they want to help people; he bets they’re only in it for the prestige and the money.

4) He doesn’t understand why other architects can’t just be happy being poor.

5) He’s quite verbose when he discusses his design philosophy; to the point that no one cares about the purpose of architecture.  He enters a design competition to find an outlet that will listen.

6) He loses.  After all, he’s a pessimist and the best designers with the best ideas never get recognized.  Egotistical? Never! He’s above those types of architects…

7) The architect who won the competition had a more profitable design solution.  Repeat step 2 and 3.


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