Using Competitions to Develop as an Emerging Professional

In one of my past articles, I mentioned that I have done a number of competitions during my architectural career. Personally, I love doing competitions. It brings me back to the days of studio learning, and getting fully immersed in a project I was truly excited about. I also think competitions have some other great benefits; the opportunity to get published, for acclaim, as a resume builder, to stay active in the architecture world, and (of course) prize money. And while I love doing competitions, I do find it hard to find the time/balance between them and my regular job, family/friends, housework, obligations, and life in general. I have three main tips to dive into, or get back into, the world of competitions.

Finding the Time
Finding time to do competitions, I feel, is the biggest deterrent to entering them. Most of us, I’m assuming, have a typical 9-5 job, aren’t independently wealthy, actually sleep, and have a bevy of other obligations whether it be family, friends, hobbies, etc. Finding the time to do them can sometimes seem impossible. My first suggestion would be to first (unsurprisingly) find out about competitions the moment they are released. There are plenty of resources to tap into. Architectural Record and Architect magazines have notable competitions on the back of their publication each month. Also, websites like and have almost all known architecture competitions going on. My second suggestion would be to find the competition’s time table and determine if it would be feasible to enter. Some competitions are due within the month of being released, while others can be up to a year. Obviously, the timetables will often go hand in hand with how rigorous the competition will be.

Finding the Right Competition
The websites mentioned above often have 50-100 open competitions going on at any given point. When you find you have some extra time to do a competition, the next best thing to do is find a competition that you actually want to do. Not all projects we do in our daily job are created equal, and not all projects we get will get us overly excited. The same goes for competitions. While a prize package of thousands of dollars and all sorts of publications may be a big lure to enter a competition, ultimately, you should actually want to spend your free time doing the project. Pick something that interests you. In the past, I have made the mistake of entering competitions that I wasn’t excited about. This led to many hours spent as if I was doing a chore rather than something fun, and ultimately either a poor design, or an unfinished project.

Determine if You ‘Should’
There are many articles and blogs that try to make a case against participating in open design competitions. While I respect these opinions, I think they are…dumb. Sure, there are going to be competitions out there that have little to no awards, no recognition, and sometimes are just looking for a free design without having to hire someone. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens in almost all professions, and is nothing new. This idea shouldn’t deter anyone from participating in competitions, but it is up to us to use our discretion when picking them. Before diving into the competition, you need to ask yourself what is important. Are you doing it for the money? The reputation? The fact that you might be hired for the commission, or maybe because it will actually be built. Maybe the competition program is an issue you take very seriously, or you would like to learn more about. I implore everyone to sort of ‘check’ the credentials of the competition before getting involved, what will be required or necessary to enter, and make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. For example, many competitions are open to only registered architects. Some international competitions might require you make a presentation at their local spot, and can often be on your dime.

So, all that being said, at the end of this month we will be kicking off the annual AIANH EPN Design Competition. I am very excited to be involved in the programming of this competition, and am even more excited to hopefully get a great turnout and some great submissions. Over the next few weeks, there will be a new EPN blog on the website that will have all pertinent information. Anyone in the New England region is able to submit, and it will run from the end of the month, until early December. At the yearly AIANH banquet, all submissions will be on display, and winners will be recognized and receive cash prizes. Be sure to check the website in the coming weeks!