Architectural Competitions and Participation: What is an Architectural Competition?

by Participation Factory

Welcome to the first article which is part of our small series focusing on the relationship between architectural competitions and participation. Our ambition is to show when and how these two activities can fit together, why it makes sense, and what projects to consider. We will present practical examples and interesting case studies, but we won’t shy away from a little theory either. 

You can find a lot about participation on our blog. But what about architectural competitions? Let’s start by explaining what an architectural competition is, how it works, and who is involved.

In order to build any building, you first need a project. Whether it’s a new building, a redevelopment, a reconstruction, a public space improvement, or a technical or transport infrastructure, we simply need a project and a designer who will take on the preparation and implementation. According to Czech law, the designer is obtained by awarding a contract in a negotiated procedure, preceded by a design competition – an architectural competition. The winner of the architectural competition becomes the future designer, and the investor can then commission him to prepare all phases of the project.


What types of architectural competitions exist in the Czech Republic?

Architectural competitions can take different forms. If the client wants to obtain a specific design, a design competition is the solution. If the aim is to obtain a broad set of proposals that serve to better understand the architectural and urban planning complexes and clarify the local problems, it will be a conceptual competition.


The type of competition also depends on who is to participate. If we are interested in the broadest possible range of solutions, we will opt for an open competition, which is anonymous and legally available to anyone who meets the conditions of the competition. If we want to target proven studios and select the most suitable one, we will choose a restrict or invited competition. The restrict competition is open to applicants whose experience meets a predefined criterion. In the invited competition, the selection is made from among the proposals of at least three directly approached teams.


Who selects the winning proposal?

The evaluation of proposals has, of course, its own rules and usual procedure. The selection of the best quality proposal is carried out together with the contracting authority by an expert jury, whose activities are regulated in detail by law to ensure that the decision-making is transparent, democratic, and impartial, while at the same time providing the highest possible professional service to the contracting authority. By defining the terms of reference and setting up the jury, the contracting authority retains control over the whole process. The jury consists of dependent members with links to the awarding authority and independent members. The independent members may be architects and other professionals, such as conservationists, who form a counterbalance to the dependent members of the jury. 


What happens after the competition?

After the jury selects and announces the winner, the competition ceases to be anonymous. The organizer of the competition will pay the prizes and awards and organize an exhibition of the competition designs. The exhibition is a way of informing citizens about the decision-making process for the whole project and serves to promote the project and the promoter. However, the various stages of the competition must be communicated to the public on an ongoing basis to avoid confusion or unrealistic expectations on the part of the public.

The individual steps leading to the realization of the project itself are then part of the new procedure. A study is followed by design phases for the necessary permits, and this is followed by the most detailed phase of the project – the design for the selection of the contractor and for the implementation of the construction.


Why do a competition at all?

The benefits of architectural competitions are historically proven and continue to prove their validity today. An architectural competition ensures a quality range of designs that meet the client’s requirements and allows the client to connect with relevant industry experts to help set the conditions for selecting the best quality project. A clearly formulated brief and subsequent quality design leads to an economical design, eliminating changes during construction and saving resources. The launch of an architectural competition is also an opportunity to involve citizens in the architecture and urban design plans of a city or municipality. But more on that next time!