This licentiate thesis investigates architectural competitions and quality assessment of architecture in an early phase. The project is developed out of a need of knowledge about the role of architectural competitions in design quality improvement and their outcomes in society. It focuses on a central part of the competition: the jury’s judging process and how jury members discuss and evaluate entries in order to select and award a winner. Usually, a competition jury comprises of both architects and laypersons. The architects have the responsibility to guide the non-professional members through the entries. Therefore, the architect members are forced to explain and justify their professional opinions about the design aspects of the entries. The discussions of architecture become pedagogical and straightforward, which facilitate my observations and understanding of the entire process. Besides showing a professional assessment of architecture, the jury situation reveals preferences in a more obvious way than discussions among only architects. The study strives to accumulate knowledge of architectural competitions, jury judgment and evaluations of architectural design quality. It is keen to find out: How is an architectural competition conducted and organized? How does the jury process work? How do they appoint a winner? Is the design assessment a matter of expertise or personal preferences? What is the architect’s role in a competition? Which are the jury’s central problems? Triangulation of obtained data as well as research methods has been used in order to secure the project’s credibility. The survey has been made in four steps by a feasibility study, an analysis of criteria and two case studies. The research is mainly carried out by using mixed methods of investigation. Analysis of the situation, document studies and case studies are shaping the important empirical foundations. The first step was a feasibility study of the architectural competitions in the Nordic countries.1 The study is made together with Dr. Magnus Rönn and Dr. Reza Kazemian and published in two scientific reports. (Kazemian, et al., 2005; Kazemian, et al., 2007) Three different methods of data gathering were used.
1) A comparison of the competition rules between the four countries.
2) Statistics extraction and interpretation of the competitions in the four countries from January 1999 to December 2000.
3) Interviews with 18 key-persons with experiences from competition juries, arrangements of competitions and competition secretaries.
The research results from the study have been quite unique and informative. One was the development of a preliminary model of a jury judgment process and how it is conducted. The study also indicated that the selection of casesshould be made at least by one open and one invited competition in order to get a variation-rich foundation. The second step was an analysis of evaluation criteria in competition assessments. Documents from nine competitions in different scales (town-planning, building design and furniture design) are investigated. They are compared to a checklist of evaluation aspects from a guide booklet to jury members published by the Competition Secretariat at the Swedish Association of Architects. The study indicates that a set of fundamental criteria exists, and is used in in various scales of professional design evaluation. The feasibility study and criteria analysis provides important information that are useful in the organisation and conduction of the case studies. Based on these premises, two project competitions were selected as case-studies, one was an open competition and the other was an invited competition. The first study was the open competition ”Visans hus i Västervik”2 in the south-east of Sweden. The major task of the competition was to design a building that should be used for conferences and cultural events in Västervik. The jury consisted of eight persons: four architects, two politicians and two experts in musical performance and music festival arrangement. The jury needed five meetings to find a winner among the 97 entries that could best meet the requirements of the competition program. The assessment process started with an out-sorting of entries and a gradual and thorough analysis of the remaining ones. The study showed how rhetoric influence the jury’s work. The entries contained both visual rhetoric in the way they were graphically organized and presented in written rhetoric in the way the texts were prepared. The jury members used verbal rhetoric in their discussions. The different types of rhetoric revealed the preferences and points of interest from the actors in a competition. The architects behind the entries directed themselves toward different parts of the jury. The jury members had different aims with the competition and different interests to look after. By the fourth meeting, the jury came to a critical point when no entry seemed to be good enough. Then in the last meeting the jury studied the entries in a scalemodel. This made them finally agree upon one entry that appeared as fitting in the surroundings. It was the eye that finally settled the competition. The second case study was the invited competition called ”Bildnings- och kulturcentrum i Hagfors.”3 Hagfors is a small town in Sweden. The task was to re-design an existing school. The building should be expanded and rebuilt to give space to the pupils from four other nearby schools that were facing to be closed down. The competition was used by the Hagfors municipality to find appropriate architects to cooperate with, as well as to promote the municipality through its attractive architecture. This project appeared to be controversial and created a debate among the inhabitants of Hagfors who were complaining about the closing down of the four schools in their town. The jury in Hagfors consisted of nine persons: two architects, one professor in education (pedagogy), three politicians, the technical director of Hagfors municipality, the principles from the affected schools and one representative from the Swedish Teachers’ Union. There were four competition entries, and the jury used three meetings in order to select a winner. In this process, two different strategies of assessment appeared. The experienced decision makers in the jury were in favour of an effective selection procedure that meant sorting out entries and using criteria in order to reach a final decision. The architects in the competition carried on their evaluation through architecture criticism. Their strategy was to compare and analyze all the entries in order to reach a common solution. The time pressure made it difficult for the jury members to see the other points of view. But by the last meeting, the jury succeeded to agree upon a winner. The four studies on different aspects of the competition system provides insights of the architectural competitions in Sweden, quality assessment of architecture and the decision making process of the jury. The study provides a complex and informative picture of architectural competitions. The research findings can be concluded as follows:
The jury’s judgment of the entries in an architectural competition is a creative process that follows general directions in combination with the unique competition’s preconditions. A general model of assessment has to be adjusted to the actual competition. The jury’s meeting with the entries cannot be fully predicted.
The architects’ particular way to assess architectural design aspects in its early evaluation phases can be questioned by other non-architect jury members due to time pressure. The assessment process must contain quick decisions as well as in-depth analyses of the entries.
In spite of the fact that the jury’s decisions are made behind closed doors, the assessment can be influenced by the external debate. The jury’s works, is in this respect dependent to the context.
There are some fundamental evaluation criteria that have decisive impacts on how the jury evaluates proposals in competitions. These evaluation criteria indicate a common ground of professional thoughts and understanding of design quality among architects.
In jury assessments, a positioning between architects and laymen that represent the arranger can appear. This is due to different professional belongings among the jury members as well as to differences in the interests and aims of the competition. In spite of this, the studied juries succeeded to find a winner.
There is a genuine insecurity inherent in the assessment and decision making process of a competition. This is due to the fact that there can always be more than one good solution for a design task.
1 Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland
2 ”The house of the song in Västervik” (my translation)
3 “Educational and cultural centre in Hagfors” (my translation)
Stockholm: KTH , 2008. , 37 p.