Architectural design competition

An architectural design competition is a type of design 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 Steps 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 Royal 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 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

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: depending 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

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

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 NameLocationYearWinner(s)Design entries
White House Washington D.C.1792James Hoban9
Walhalla memorial Donaustauf1816Leo von Klenze
Houses of Parliament London1835Charles Barry98
Vienna Ring Road Vienna1858Ludwig Förster - Friedrich August von Stache - Eduard van der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg85
Hofoper Vienna1860Eduard van der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg
Paris Opera Paris1860Charles Garnier171
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam1863P.J.H. Cuypers
Law Courts London1866George Edmund Street11
Reichstag Berlin1872Paul Wallot
Beurs Amsterdam1884Hendrik Petrus Berlage
World Exhibition tower Paris1889Gustave Eiffel
Austrian Postal Savings Bank Vienna1903Otto Wagner
Stockholm City Hall Stockholm1903Ragnar Östberg
Helsinki Central railway station Helsinki1903Eliel Saarinen21
Peace Palace The Hague1905Louis Marie Cordonnier and J.A.G. van der Steur
Tribune Tower Chicago1922John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood260
League of Nations Building Geneva1926Henri Paul Nénot & Julien Flegenheimer; Carlo Broggi; Camille Lefèvre; Giuseppe Vago377
Lenin Library Moscow1928Vladimir Shchuko
ANZAC War Memorial Sydney1929Charles Bruce Dellit117
Termini Station Rome1947Leo Calini, Eugenio Montuori, Massimo Castellazzi, Vasco Fadigati, Achille Pintonello and Annibale Vitellozzi
Town Hall and Church Seinäjoki1950Alvar Aalto
Sydney Opera House Sydney1955Jørn Utzon233
Toronto City Hall Toronto1956Viljo Revell500
Amsterdam City Hall Amsterdam1967Wilhelm Holzbauer, Cees Dam, B. Bijvoet and G.H.M. Holt804
Supreme Court Tokyo1968Shin-ichi Okada217
Centre Georges Pompidou Paris1971Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers681
San Cataldo Cemetery Modena1971Aldo Rossi and Gianni Braghieri
Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Hong Kong1979Foster Associates
Parliament House of Australia Canberra1979Romaldo Giurgola329
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie Paris1980Adrien Fainsilber and Sylvain Mersier
La Grande Arche de la Défense Paris1982Johan Otto von Spreckelsen420
Parc de la Villette Paris1982Bernard Tschumi471
Opéra Bastille Paris1983Carlos Ott750
Carré d'Art Nîmes1984Norman Foster12
Shonandai Cultural Centre Fujisawa1985Itsuko Hasegawa215
New National Theatre Tokyo1984Takahiko Yanagisawa and Tak Associates228
Tokyo International Forum Tokyo1987Rafael Viñoly395
Kansai Airport Osaka1988Renzo Piano Building Workshop48
Jewish Museum Berlin1989Daniel Libeskind165
Bibliotheca Alexandrina Alexandria1989Snøhetta523
Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris1989Dominique Perrault244
Centre for Japanese Culture Paris1989–1990Masayuki Yamanaka, Kenneth Armstrong & Jennifer Smith453
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Bilbao1991Frank Gehry
Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum Helsinki1992Steven Holl516
Austrian Cultural Forum New York1992Raimund Abraham226
Royal Danish Library Copenhagen1993Schmidt Hammer Lassen179
Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal Yokohama 1995 Foreign Office Architects, Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro Zaera Polo 660
Felix Nussbaum Museum Osnabrück1995Daniel Libeskind296
Millennium Bridge London1996Norman Foster, Sir Anthony Caro, and Ove Arup200
Federation Square Melbourne1997Lab Architecture Studio177
GeoCenter Møns Klint Møn Island2002PLH Architects292
Philharmonie de Paris Paris2011Jean Nouvel98

See also


  1. 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
  5. UIA competition guide Archived 14 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2009-10-10
  6. Canadian competition rules Archived 9 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2009-10-10
  7. Finnish competition rules Archived 13 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2009-10-10
  8. Indian competition guidelines Archived 12 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2009-10-10
  9. German competition guidelines Archived 25 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2015-09-24

Further reading

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