The Rewards of Awards

Alice Fawke

What is the real value of an award to a design practice? Undoubtedly there is benefit. Over the years S&R has asked developers and end-user clients how they decide which architects to approach and it seems that awards positively influence their decision as it suggests outstanding ability and informed third party endorsement.

But the exact value of awards is difficult to quantify. There are many factors to consider, including cost of entry and time required to compile the submission (a further cost). There is also a tendency for awards programmes to announce extensive ‘shortlists’, raising the question of whether there has been any filtration process at all. But does this matter? The commercialisation of awards could be mutually beneficial – organisations encourage entries and revenue by as good as guaranteeing your chances of being shortlisted, but when you post ‘XXX Award shortlisted’ on your website, no one reading it, except perhaps your peers, knows that the criteria for shortlisting is the following: enter the award. Maybe it’s win – win.

A lot depends on who your audience is. If you are targeting clients familiar with design and architecture, they are likely to know that the Gravy Train Award for Colour In Office Fit Out is not up there with an RIBA, Civic Trust or AJ Award.  For architects who are seeking to position themselves as design leaders it would be detrimental to highlight a fistful of mediocre awards. For a practice with different ambitions working in a less informed marketplace, the Gravy Train Award could provide useful endorsement.

If you are in doubt as to whether to spend the money or commit someone to preparing the award entry, here are some pointers to help you:

  1. Who is on the judging panel?

A good judging panel would ideally include the Editor of a notable publication, a developer, an industry influencer, a top architect, a corporate end-user (if relevant) and so on. These are people you want to see your work directly, who will refer you and spread your practice name in the right circles, even if you don’t win.

  1. What are the promised promotion tactics for shortlisted and winning entries?

Apart from being able to use the award logo on your marketing material and website, look into what the programme will do to show off your project. It is helpful if the award is run by a reputable magazine publisher as they can guarantee a certain amount of exposure. If it’s not, check who the media partners are and what coverage has been agreed. If there is an Awards Dinner, do you get free tickets if you are up for a prize? Will it provide useful networking, or a client entertainment opportunity?

  1. Don’t assume that the award will attract lots of additional media coverage

It is a mistake to think that an award – unless a Royal Gold Medal or The Stirling Prize – will attract media attention other than in the publication that owns the award, or through a media partner. There are hundreds of awards and thousands of winners each year, and news pages would feature little else if all awards were covered. On the other hand, local newspapers are sometimes keen to publish awards won by local practices or local projects.

  1. Is the competition UK only or international?

A double-edged sword. It is important to remind yourself who is your target market. Entering international awards offers the potential to be promoted on an international stage. It also means entry numbers will likely increase and your chances of winning are decreased. Again, check who the media partners are and consider where your project would be visible if you did win. Who is on the judging panel? If there is an awards ceremony, can you afford to go in order to benefit from networking opportunities?

  1. Which projects and practices have won in previous years?

The acid test. Firstly it indicates the quality of the award. If well-known and respected practices have entered and won previously, you can usually assume the award has clout or will gain traction in future years. Secondly, and most importantly, it allows you to review your chances of winning. Compare your own project with those that have won previously and you could be onto winner if the comparison is favourable… or save yourself a lot of money and time if not!

Good luck!

Binging on WAF by Hamish McMichael at Berman Guedes Stretton Architects

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Checking one of my favourite news websites during a short break in the marathon crits of the World Architecture Festival, I read that “Binge-Watch” has been named by Collins Dictionary as their word of the year, defined as “to watch a large number of television programs (especially all the shows from one series) in succession”.  This is a relatively new phenomena, enabled by the rise in popularity of on-line media delivery, where the viewer can indulge their curiosity or obsession with their programme of choice.

Whatever your area of interest or expertise, there is a constant stream of new information being generated and new platforms on which to present it. WAF (now in its eighth year) is perhaps the apogee of the gathering and dissemination of architectural content, a three day extravaganza with hundreds of architectural projects exhibited, being simultaneously presented and peer reviewed, leading to category winners and then the ultimate prize, world building of the year.

To assess the hundreds of exhibited projects, it is inevitable that we start to categorize, and make quick gut reactions as to which projects capture our imagination, or make a visceral impact. Old prejudices about style and substance surface, with the suspicion that amongst the exceptional projects there are also some less well considered schemes. However without the opportunity to hear the architects speak and justify their work, it is unfair to make such quick assessments.

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WAF was held at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

This is why WAF is a fantastic proposition, but also a victim of its own success, as the sheer quantum of projects becomes overwhelming, white noise. It is impossible to view more than a fraction of the crits, and I witnessed architects scurrying from one room to another, with their conference programmes marked up like a Glastonbury veteran trying to catch all of their favourite bands.

So I opted for the strategy to concentrate on a single category, in effect “Binge Watching”. “Binge- watching” is a symptom of our on-demand society, where inundated with an overwhelming array of choice, consumers seek comfort and solace in the known, helping to make (or more likely avoid making) a decision. They can therefore gather together the episodes of their programme of choice, and immerse themselves in the story, finding escapism.

This is a consequence of information overload, as we navigate through a torrent of information, we are looking for a haven. There is comfort in the familiar.

I found this a more rewarding and focussed approach to WAF, enabling a more critical evaluation of a small section of the projects on display, and looking for a consistency or narrative in the evaluation by the judges.

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Gary Collins from Berman Guedes Stretton Architect presenting the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum at WAF

However the negative side to “Binge-watching” is the tendency to fail to sensibly regulate the consumption, hence the binging, which can lead to negative repercussions. Research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin found binge television watching is correlated to depression, loneliness, self-regulation deficiency, and obesity.

I hope that my WAF marathon didn’t lead to any of the above… but given such a deluge of information, some truly inspiring and some critically challenged, there is a definite risk of screen burn, or at the least a blurring of one’s critical perception.

An obvious solution would be to reduce the number of categories, is there an unnecessary duplication of both completed and “future” versions of many categories? Conversely  this is perhaps the delight of WAF, the opportunity to give light and space to the hypothetical or whimsical projects,  (perhaps in the full knowledge that it will never truly be realised that way).

WAF feeds on the buzz of creativity from the sheer volume of architecture in different categories, therefore to reduce the pool would be to diminish the event.

Perhaps the solution is to capture more of the presentations and upload them to Youtube, so that we can binge watch them on the flight home at our leisure?

60 seconds with K&C REIT Construction Director Tim Oakley

Anna Skovgaard Pedersen

What is the aim of your forthcoming Arctic expedition?

We will retrace Roald Amundsen’s 700 mile sledging route that he made from Herschel Island to Eagle in 1905. Nobody has successfully made this journey since Amundsen. The expedition will take place in February and March 2016 in one of the coldest and most remote wildernesses left on the planet.

Is it just for fun or is there a more serious purpose?

I am not sure that ‘fun’ is the word! Yes, we are linking schools in Alaska, Canada, Norway and the UK to carry out historical, geographical and environmental projects around the expedition, and we will use the expedition as an educational tool to help raise awareness of global warming and its impact on the Arctic.

You have over 40 years’ experience in the property and construction sectors. What skills will help you on your journey?

Practical skills form the early years of working on sites and a determination to get the job done irrespective of obstacles.

What characteristics of the property and construction worlds will you leave behind?

The hassle and excitement of building and development in London which is not for the faint hearted. Also I will be leaving behind any type of structure other than a tent.

In terms of Arctic kit, what is the essential thing you will be taking that has been developed as a result of the digital revolution?

GPS and PLB (personal location beacon) which shows your position on a map on the website as well as having an SOS button.

If you had to add the skillset of an architect, a structural engineer, a QS or an agent to your team, which would it be and why?

A QS to help with the Logistics and weight problems for the fly in and on the sledges.

Which one would you leave behind?

All of them! For something like this you need a different skill set although I am sure there are plenty of architects, QS’s, engineers and agents who would be keen to give it a go.

You are also Chairman of LAMDA’s Building Committee  overseeing the building of its  £18m theatre, rehearsal studios etc. We know that one of Lamda’s tasks alongside the construction of its new theatre and teaching block is to fundraise. Have you found it easy to raise funds for your expedition?

I have been really fortunate to have had the support of the Royal Geographical Society via the Neville Shulman award which has helped financially and with raising the profile of the expedition and its aims. I have so far been dealing with permissions and logistics – in March this year I spent three weeks in Canada & Alaska getting things sorted which involved 13 flights in the three weeks. I now have to get on and raise the rest of the money – about £30,000!

Are you giving any talks about your expedition before you go? Where can we find out more?

I have given talks to the schools involved in the education side of the expedition in Canada and Alaska. I will be doing some talks when I get back. Before I go I will be busy with the day job, fundraising and final preparations. Further information is on my web site WWW.INAMUNDSENSFOOTSTEPS.COM where you can also sign up to receive the expedition blogs.