In Praise of Competition


The latter part of the architectural year tends to reveal the winners of various architectural awards that have been held, either annually or biennially. A number of awards programmes are sanctioned by the South African Institute for Architects and these include, amongst others:

  • The Fulton Awards for Concrete
  • The [Regional] Awards for Architecture, with further development into
  • The Awards of Excellence
  • The AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture
  • The South African Institute for Steel Construction

Over the next couple of months the latter three will be announced, which hopefully highlight and celebrate good architecture. The intentions of each award are interesting as the subtle differences are revealed in each respective programme. The materials based awards are obvious, whilst the architectural awards are made against general architectural design. It is hoped over time that all architecture will ultimately be sustainable and that no difference would be drawn.

There are a number of other smaller competitions and awards programmes but perhaps it is time to revisit the concept of competitions and the benefits that are offered.

The South African Institute of Architects has a fairly comprehensive guide to the subject and includes classification and types of competitions. Awards are generally made to work that has already been completed; whereas competitions tend to be offered for work to be done. 

The range of competitions is quite wide and include:

  • Open
  • Limited
  • Invited
  • Student

They may also be project competitions or ideas competitions.

The European architectural landscape already has a well developed competition culture, with many firms surviving purely on competition submissions. South Africa still remains patronised, especially with government projects. We need to develop sufficient confidence to through the market open equally to all; to allow young and smaller practices the opportunity to compete on a level playing ground.

We have the guidelines let’s throw the gauntlet down for good architecture.