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WAN Competitions, United Kingdom

Monday 02 Mar 2015

The competitive world of architecture

WAN Competitions by WAN Editorial in United Kingdom
WAN Competitions by WAN Editorial in United Kingdom WAN Competitions by WAN Editorial in United Kingdom WAN Competitions by WAN Editorial in United Kingdom WAN Competitions by WAN Editorial in United Kingdom
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Maintaining a comprehensive database of international tenders gives World Architecture News a unique insight into the variety of competitions running across a broad scope of sectors. A breakdown of 1,900 competitions held over the last two years shows several trends, while examining current contests reveals the unexpected and intriguing.

The nature of competitions as highlighting prestige schemes in the public realm is reflected by the most popular sectors: Arts and Leisure, closely followed by Civic Buildings. As many involve the aesthetic upgrade of an underused space, the landscape category is also strongly represented.  

Among the world regions, Asia is prominent, largely due to ambitious developments in China. Schemes there frequently offer a broad canvas for concept and realisation, with the ‘Mount Lu Estate of World Architecture’ being a current example. Launched by Hua Yan Group as part of a project to develop a new town, designs are sought for a range of buildings next to the separately-planned 80-acre Flower Ocean Garden. The first class prize winner will receive 160,000 US dollars. Meanwhile, in Taiwan, a large-scale competition is running for the new Danjiang Bridge, conceived as a landmark to bring northern Taiwan on a par with world-class ports around the world, with the added benefit of enhancing the backdrop of Tamsui’s famous sunset. The construction budget is equivalent to 253 million US dollars.

Europe has a particularly high competition rate, often for residential or educational schemes with an element of ambition for high standards in socially responsible design.  Sustainability, for example, is a particularly important consideration amongst competition criteria. Typical of this category, the City of Helsinki, in co-operation with the Finnish Association of Architects, is currently looking for design solutions for a new school, and an emphasis will be on suitability for long-term use and energy efficiency.

Some architects in other parts of the world would like to see more competitions on the European model, as a standard means of procurement. On the other hand, the ‘open’ competition can be perceived as costly to enter, when the chance of winning is slim and the design is for an idea that may never be realised. At least this openness leads to visibility, as contrasted by the Middle East, where there are many developments but few competitions. 

Cultural events and festivals often give rise to international architectural competitions. These receive more publicity than would be expected from the actual scope, due to high artistic value and the reputation of the organising institutions. As part of the celebrations commemorating 150 years since the birth of the poet J.B. Yeats, a competition is running based on his poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, and will realise his vision with an installation to enhance the Isle. Similarly, in response to the 2014 celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’ birth, the Royal Society of Architects in Wales is exploring the qualities needed to make a ‘creative space’, and have launched a competition for a contemporary version of his studio in association with Literature Wales.

There are projects that defy category. The Jacques Rougerie Foundation is seeking ideas inspired by the possible expansion of human life into the space and the ocean. Last year, manufacturer Ruukki ran a competition for Santa’s logistic centre. It didn’t look like there was anywhere to house the reindeer, but otherwise the specifications were very precise regarding the necessary functional space, and attracted detailed entries.

Sometimes, it is exciting to hear about a competition whose goal is feasible, only to be disappointed to learn there is no intention that the winning entry will ever be built. On the other hand, there are ideas that should always remain on the drawing board. For example, we hope that that the winners of the former Zombie Safe House Competition will never face the need to realise their creations.

By Lucy Nordberg, Business Information Specialist

To subscribe to the WAN competitions database, contact Katerina Hojgrova on

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