A design competition is one way to obtain the best solution to a particular design brief and is likely to promote interest in and publicise a project from inception to completion. Properly run, it may require more time and a larger budget than a conventional commission but due to the preparation and pace, a competition is also likely to provide for a more measured approach and a wider testing of the brief. Competitions also create the opportunity for lesser-known practices to be commissioned, as well as publicity for both the client, the project and the practices taking part.

Competitions should follow recognised and accepted guidelines to ensure the process is transparent and fair to all parties. The Cape Institute for Architecture endorses the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) competition rules as paraphrased by the International Union of Architects (UIA), particularly for major buildings. A two-stage competition may take a minimum of eight months and can be expensive.

A properly conducted competition will ensure that competitors:

Work to a professionally prepared brief and programme
Work under fair and equitable rules
Have their anonymous entries assessed by a qualified, impartial jury

Suitable projects for a design competition are:

Special, unique buildings, possibly with civic or urban significance
Those where the design solution may require a fresh approach
Where the site is of unique or special significance

Unsuitable conditions for a design competition are:

Fast track projects
Those where the project may not be realised, or where financing has not been secured
Where there is insufficient funding for suitable prizes and the costs for undertaking a competition can not be met
Projects without a clear brief or programme and where the intention is to use the competition format incorrectly to provide this
Where the intention is to test options against an already selected design or where the principles of fairness are otherwise violated.

Types of Competitions:
  • Idea competitions- These may explore planning or design issues and are generally not intended for construction.
  • Open Competitions – For national or international competition.
  • Limited Competitions – Limited to a specific group of architects, possibly based on region, or other criteria.
  • Invited Competitions – Generally a small group of selected architects who are paid a fee to take part.
  • Student Competitions – Limited to students enrolled at schools of architecture; prizes may include scholarships, travel awards.
  • One Stage Competitions- Where the winner and other prize-winners are selected outright; suitable to ideas competitions and smaller scale projects.
  • Two Stage Competitions – These afford successful competitors the opportunity to further develop their designs and limit the amount of initial work required; suitable for larger projects.
  • Other types- Competitions around certain products, or some other criteria.

SAIA has issued guidelines on competitions, which can be viewed hereĀ SAIA Competitions Guidelines General PDF

Please contact the Institute if you are seeking advice on competitions.