Architectural design competition

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An architectural design competition is a type of competition in which an organization that intends on constructing a new building invites architects to submit design proposals. The winning design is usually chosen by an independent panel of design professionals and stakeholders (such as government and local representatives). This procedure is often used to generate new ideas for building design, to stimulate public debate, generate publicity for the project, and allow emerging designers the opportunity to gain exposure. Architecture competitions are often used to award commissions for public buildings: in some countries rules for tendering public building contracts stipulate some form of mandatory open architectural competition.[1]

Winning first prize in a competition is not a guarantee that the project will be constructed. The commissioning body often has the right to veto the winning design, and both requirements and finances may change, thwarting the original intention. The 2002 World Trade Center site design competition is an example of a highly publicized competition where only the basic elements of the winning design by Daniel Libeskind appeared in the finished project.


Architecture competitions have a more than 2,500-year-old history. The Acropolis in Athens was a result of an architectural competition in 448 B.C., as were several cathedrals in the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, many projects initiated by the church have been decided through design competition. Examples are the Spanish Stairs in Rome or in 1419, a competition was held to design the dome of the Florence Cathedral, which was won by Filippo Brunelleschi. Open competitions were held in the late 18th century in several countries including the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, France and Sweden.[2]

In 19th century England and Ireland there have been over 2,500 competitions in five decades, with 362 in London alone. The Institute of British Architects drafted a first set of rules in 1839, and a set of formal regulations in 1872. The German Regulations were introduced in 1867. In the same period in the Netherlands an association for the advancement of architecture (Maatschappij tot Bevordering van de Bouwkunst) started organising conceptual competitions with the aim of stimulating architects' creativity.[3]

Competition entry by Otto Wagner
Entry by Franz Heinrich Schwechten
Entry by Hendrik Petrus Berlage
Building by competition winner Louis M. Cordonnier
Competition for the design of the Peace Palace in The Hague, 1905
Entries (from left to right) by Otto Wagner, Franz Heinrich Schwechten, Hendrik Petrus Berlage and built design by Louis M. Cordonnier

Competition types[edit]

There are a variety of competition types resulting from the combination of following options:[4]

  • Open competitions (international, national or regional) or limited, selected, non-open competitions, depending on who is allowed to participate.
  • Project competitions or ideas competitions: depending on the intention of building the project or generating new ideas.
  • Single-stage or two-stage competitions: dependending on the scale and complexity of the competition.
  • Anonymous or cooperative procedures: anonymity supports greater objectivity during the evaluation and award-granting deliberations. In cooperative procedures, the authors are invited to make in-person presentations to the jury in order to explain their design strategies and allow individual discussion.
  • Student design competitions.

Rules and guidelines[edit]

The rules of each competition are defined by the organiser; however, these often follow the guidelines provided by the International Union of Architects,[5] respectively the relevant national or regional architecture organisation. Competition guidelines define roles, responsibilities, processes, and procedures within a competition[6] and provide guidance on possible competition types, eligibility criteria, jury composition, participation conditions, payments, prizes, publication of results and other aspects.[7][8]

In France and Germany design competitions are compulsory for all public buildings exceeding a certain cost.[1][9]

Major international architectural design competitions[edit]

Most significant among architectural competitions are the ones which are internationally open, attract a large number of design submissions, and the winning design is built.

Competition Name Location Year Winner(s) Design entries
White House United States Washington D.C. 1792 James Hoban 9
Walhalla memorial Germany Donaustauf 1816 Leo von Klenze
Houses of Parliament United Kingdom London 1835 Charles Barry 98
Vienna Ring Road Austria Vienna 1858 Ludwig Förster - Friedrich August von Stache - Eduard van der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg 85
Hofoper Austria Vienna 1860 Eduard van der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg
Paris Opera France Paris 1860 Charles Garnier 171
Rijksmuseum Netherlands Amsterdam 1863 P.J.H. Cuypers
Law Courts England London 1866 George Edmund Street 11
Reichstag Germany Berlin 1872 Paul Wallot
Beurs Netherlands Amsterdam 1884 Hendrik Petrus Berlage
World Exhibition tower France Paris 1889 Gustave Eiffel
Austrian Postal Savings Bank Austria Vienna 1903 Otto Wagner
Stockholm City Hall Sweden Stockholm 1903 Ragnar Östberg
Helsinki Central railway station Finland Helsinki 1903 Eliel Saarinen 21
Peace Palace Netherlands The Hague 1905 Louis Marie Cordonnier and J.A.G. van der Steur
Tribune Tower United States Chicago 1922 John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood 260
League of Nations Building Switzerland Geneva 1926 Henri Paul Nénot & Julien Flegenheimer; Carlo Broggi; Camille Lefèvre; Giuseppe Vago 377
Lenin Library Russia Moscow 1928 Vladimir Shchuko
ANZAC War Memorial Australia Sydney 1929 Charles Bruce Dellit 117
Termini Station Italy Rome 1947 Leo Calini, Eugenio Montuori, Massimo Castellazzi, Vasco Fadigati, Achille Pintonello and Annibale Vitellozzi
Town Hall and Church Finland Seinäjoki 1950 Alvar Aalto
Sydney Opera House Australia Sydney 1955 Jørn Utzon 233
Toronto City Hall Canada Toronto 1956 Viljo Revell 500
Amsterdam City Hall Netherlands Amsterdam 1967 Wilhelm Holzbauer, Cees Dam, B. Bijvoet and G.H.M. Holt 804
Supreme Court Japan Tokyo 1968 Shin-ichi Okada 217
Centre Georges Pompidou France Paris 1971 Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers 681
San Cataldo Cemetery Italy Modena 1971 Aldo Rossi and Gianni Braghieri
Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Hong Kong Hong Kong 1979 Foster Associates
Parliament House of Australia Australia Canberra 1979 Romaldo Giurgola 329
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie France Paris 1980 Adrien Fainsilber and Sylvain Mersier
La Grande Arche de la Défense France Paris 1982 Johan Otto von Spreckelsen 420
Parc de la Villette France Paris 1982 Bernard Tschumi 471
Opéra Bastille France Paris 1983 Carlos Ott 750
Carré d'Art France Nîmes 1984 Norman Foster 12
Shonandai Cultural Centre Japan Fujisawa 1985 Itsuko Hasegawa 215
New National Theatre Japan Tokyo 1984 Takahiko Yanagisawa and Tak Associates 228
Tokyo International Forum Japan Tokyo 1987 Rafael Viñoly 395
Jewish Museum Germany Berlin 1989 Daniel Libeskind 165
Bibliotheca Alexandrina Egypt Alexandria 1989 Snøhetta 523
Bibliothèque Nationale de France France Paris 1989 Dominique Perrault 244
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Spain Bilbao 1991 Frank Gehry
Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum Finland Helsinki 1992 Steven Holl 516
Austrian Cultural Forum United States New York 1992 Raimund Abraham 226
Royal Danish Library Denmark Copenhagen 1993 Schmidt Hammer Lassen 179
Felix Nussbaum Museum Germany Osnabrück 1995 Daniel Libeskind 296
Millennium Bridge United Kingdom London 1996 Norman Foster, Sir Anthony Caro, and Ove Arup 200
Federation Square Australia Melbourne 1997 Lab Architecture Studio 177
GeoCenter Møns Klint Denmark Møn Island 2002 PLH Architects 292
Philharmonie de Paris France Paris 2011 Jean Nouvel 98


  1. ^ a b Jacques Cabanieu: Competitions and Architectural Excellence, in Places 9:2, MIT, 1994, retrieved 2009-09-25
  2. ^ 130 Years of Finnish architectural competitions, retrieved 2009-09-23
  3. ^ De Jong, Cees and Mattie, Erik: Architectural Competitions 1792-1949, Taschen, 1997, ISBN 3-8228-8599-1
  4. ^ "Guidelines for Architectural Design Competitions" (PDF). Australian Institute of Architects. October 2003. Retrieved 2013-09-12. 
  5. ^ UIA competition guide, retrieved 2009-10-10
  6. ^ Canadian competition rules, retrieved 2009-10-10
  7. ^ Finnish competition rules, retrieved 2009-10-10
  8. ^ Indian competition guidelines, retrieved 2009-10-10
  9. ^ German competition guidelines, retrieved 2015-09-24

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]